The year : 1971
A not so tender and not so innocent 17-year-old recently thrown out of school for being gay goes to their first GAY MARCH in London.
Yes somewhere in that lot was me… not only having been thrown out of school I had run away from home and joined a commune of gay men in Notting Hill gate, living in a film studio, sharing all possessions, money and clothes, beds, and each other ….
PRIDE then was indeed not just a yearly march… spaces and places to be openly and publicly ‘GAY’ were so few and far between (a few clubs and pubs, and heavily policed cruising areas) that any public open meeting of more than three ‘obvious’ gay men and women had to be turned into an ‘event- for safety, for strength in numbers, to show the world that we were not hiding no more – and to show our more ‘closeted’ brothers and sisters that there was more to life than living ‘lives of quiet desperation’ and in fear. Tune in, turn on, drop out – the flower power generation and the radical politics of the GAY LIBERATION FRONT was a heady mix. Then we were living lives that were going to smash the patriarchy. For what did we have to lose… though decriminalised we had few civil freedoms.
So a time of radicalism, gay men and lesbians meeting together in consciousness raising groups, and local ‘chapters of GLF, finding new (communal) ways of living, organising dances in municipal town halls, having gays days in parks and of course demonstrations… against the Vietnam War, against the ‘Festival of Light’ an anti-gay, anti-abortion, Christian group that wanted to ‘curb the tide of permissiveness and bring back family values’, against books that called us sick or perverted. Picketing the pubs and clubs that threw out those of us who were ‘too gay’.
As the early flame that was GLF burnt out we were left with a way of collective action and organising that resulted in a movement – the first GAY PRESS, London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, 1001 gay groups and, student societies, trade associations, up and down the country… slowly and surely more people coming out, challenging discrimination.
And the yearly PRIDE marches grew… slowly but surely… and for me it was always an opportunity to show that we were not marching to be accepted to be as Good As You but still to say that we all could be polymorphous perverse, to take the curtains down and flaunt it in the streets – to show the world that we could all be different – that indeed for a man there was more to be learnt by wearing a ‘frock for a day’, than a suit for a lifetime.
And of course, there had to be a breaking point – when did the march come of age? For me that was in 1980 at that Pride March.
At the back end of the march one of the radical queens was being arrested. Arrested because a police officer decided that a 50p ‘meat cleaver ‘ sewn into their hat as part of a Divine tribute costume was in fact an offensive weapon, and unless they destroyed the hat and handed over the cleaver they would be arrested.
The last quarter of the march sat down… refused to move… and several more arrests took place… Including my self and Terrence Higgins (yes he who THT was named after) who, dressed head to toes in leather leaped from the ‘HEAVEN’ float leather belt in hand, attacking the police with it screaming ‘how dare you bitches attack my friends’.
The main march had now arrived at its destination the University of London Union all set for a dance, a ‘fayre’ swimming, and performances… When news came of the arrests the march reformed and despite the police trying to barricade the streets and not let it, some 3000 marched the mile or two to demand the release of the 12 arrested from Bow Street Police Station… A sit down in the street, blocking the traffic… until we were all released.
Since that year the Marches got bigger and bigger… one year I even needed a chauffeur so I could give the royal wave to all my subjects.
Now marches attract 100,000 or more – a far cry from 70’s – you have to be a ‘registered marcher’ too – and the rainbow flag is used to adorn every building every billboard, and every commercial and corporate opportunity… sometimes benefitting the LGBT community and sometimes not.
And of course, we have the arguments of has it become all to commercial, has it lost its radical roots, why should the police, or the military, or those who sell arms, be allowed to march? Has PRIDE been taken over?
In many ‘PRIDE’ has turned into a celebration of the reforms, equality, ‘acceptance’ that we have achieved… a victory march! This is no bad thing whoever is allowed to march, and great that there is a discussion about it every year – keeping the discourse alive in the LGBT community about ‘is our struggle just for equality – or is it to ‘upset the whole apple cart of the patriarchy?’
Our who ‘owns’ PRIDE and who March can seem like a first world irrelevance for the LGBTQ people in countries where even if there is legal equality for same-sex relationships, and must be even more confusing in those places where it is still illegal to be gay (57 at the last count).
But the legacy of PRIDE for me?
It meant that when attacks came along upon our liberties – such as the infamous ‘Clause 28’ we knew how to organise… and to do so in a way which included ‘chutzpah’ and humour.
It gives hope and space to many still coming out, or something to aspire to for those in countries where such numbers are only a dream… there is enough space within it for all.
In the UK when AIDS came along in the 80’s it made possible all of the early responses – whether THT, GMFA, ACT-UP – had learnt the lessons of from early GLF as we lobbied and protested, mourned and organised.
And great that PRIDE continues to evolve, to continue to be a broad tent, with many flags and factions – that there is no ONE way of being different – and we can explore how different, outrageous, shocking, connected to each other we can be – as a trial run for the other 364days !
One is reminded of
WHATEVER THE PUBLIC BLAMES YOU FOR, CULTIVATE IT; IT IS YOURSELF
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