Every year at this time, I celebrate Pride with my LGBTQ+ brothers, sisters and genderqueer family. For me, it’s a time each year when I come together with my LGBTQ+ family, friends (and those friends who have become my family) and allies in love and friendship. It’s a time when we can celebrate how far gay rights – our human rights – have come, but also recommit ourselves to the work yet to do. It’s a time when I remind myself of our history and the battles won in striving for equality for all, but also the ongoing need to teach tolerance and acceptance within our community and beyond it.
Where it started.
June is Pride Month because it commemorates the Stonewall riots, which happened on the 28th June, 1969 in New York City. The Stonewall Inn was a bar in Greenwich Village, which had become home to some of the most marginalised and poorest folks in the gay and lesbian communities that had started to grow there after the First World War.
In the early hours of the morning, in what many of the patrons would have considered the only safe place in the world where they could truly be themselves, four plainclothes policemen in dark suits, two patrol officers in uniform, a Detective and a Deputy Inspector, arrived at the Stonewall Inn’s double doors and announced, “Police! We’re taking the place!”
I often think about what it must have felt like to be in that place, our place, and hear those words. “We’re taking the place.” The fear of being arrested. The indignity of having your right to privacy taken away and being humiliated in public. The rage of having nowhere else to go. And having that space violated.
When I first started going to Pride, I used to discuss with friends what we would have done had we been there. We like to think we would have had the courage of Marsha P. Johnson or Sylvia Rivera (a drag queen and a trans woman of colour) or any number of the brave LGBTQ+ folks who said: Enough!
I’d like to think – and I know I say this today from a position of exceptional privilege and as someone who believes passionately in civil society and respectful discourse – that I would have resisted arrest, loudly and perhaps even violently. Not because I believe it would have been the right thing to do, but because I believe there was no other option.
Not in our place. Enough.
I try not to dwell on the violence of that morning, or of the many struggles that have ensued, but of the victories won that have made our society more civil and of the ongoing discussion (not always as respectful as I would like) for ever more tolerance and acceptance.
From the Christopher Street Liberation Day March commemorating the riots a year later (and the simultaneous marches in Los Angeles and Chicago) to the global Pride movement we have today, to my right to marry and have children, to not being criminalised because of who I chose to love, to being able to work protected in law from discrimination, to being seen in our national census which recognises my gender identity and sexual orientation, to Alan Turing’s pardon, to the creation of Stonewall in response to the hateful Section 28 and its subsequent repeal, to being able to donate blood, to seeing openly LGBTQ+ representation in our elected parliaments, and to RuPaul’s Drag Race (seemingly on a loop, 24 hours a day).
Here in the UK, we have seen huge strides in legal and social reforms. From the decriminalisation of homosexuality towards almost full legal equality – with the advent of reforms including gender recognition, civil partnerships, equal marriage, anti-discrimination and equality laws and protections.
At this time of year, I’m thankful for all those brave folks who came before me, and to celebrate their achievements which let me be me. Accepted without exception.
…but we’ve got a long way to go.
For every step taken, there’s another ahead.
And whilst Pride is a time of celebration and love, I remind myself that it is also a time of protest and to re-energise for the fights not yet won. Even here in the UK, where being LGBTQ+ has been legalised for decades, there are still homophobic and transphobic attacks – and these are on the rise. Many members of the LGBTQ+ community feel they have to hide their sexuality. LGBTQ+ youth are disproportionately impacted by homelessness and mental health crises.
Remember who stood up for us in Greenwich Village in 1969. The marginalised and poorest folks. We’ve got a long way to go.
We’re still having to justify why a ban on the inhumane practice of conversion therapy shouldn’t be protected by religious freedom exceptions. My husband ultimately left a job he loved because he chose to marry me. And our trans friends continue to face discrimination and violence. More transgender people (+13%) hide their identity at work now than they did five years ago.
Remember acceptance without exception. We’ve got a long way to go.
Further afield, homosexuality remains illegal in over 70 countries. Pride marches, like the ones I have joined here in the UK and Australia, are often met with violent police presence, or attacks from the general public. Pride in Uganda in 2012 was raided by police and in 2017 Pride was banned and the organisers were threatened with arrest or violence by the Ugandan Minister of Ethics. In 2012, the Court in Moscow banned Pride parades for 100 years as they are believed to spread ‘homosexual propaganda’. Moscow Pride was meant to take place annually from 2006; these years of parades had been met with a brutal police presence and attacks from civilians.
Remember they said: they were taking the place. We’ve got a long way to go.
Hopeful not hopeless.
I don’t wonder so much any more what I would have done in 1969. I know there are things I can do right now because of the things they did back then. I’m going to celebrate, to join as many colourful parades as I can, I’m going to dance (my ass off) with my friends, and – most importantly – I’m going to keep going. Until we can say equal, instead of enough.
We’ve come a long way, baby, but we’re not there yet.
Happy Pride 2021.