Activism

Yes, LGBTQ+ Pride still matters. A lot. Here's the many, many reasons why

Rainbow flags are a common sight nowadays. But make no mistake, advocates and queer campaigners urge: Pride still matters – a lot.

Pride in London draws thousands of revellers every year. Image: MangakaMaiden Photography/flickr

It’s Pride Month. And corporations are keen to celebrate.

With everyone from Burger King to Shell to the United States Marine Corps adopting rainbow flag imagery, perhaps you feel a little cynical about the annual event. But make no mistake, advocates and queer campaigners urge: Pride still matters – a lot.

“We have come a long way, but there is a long, long way to go,” said Christopher Joell-Deshields, the CEO of Pride in London. “The fight continues. We want people to be able to live authentically, loving whoever they wish to love, not just in the UK but around the world.”

In 63 countries, being gay is still criminalised; in 12, it is punishable by death. In the UK, hostility towards the trans community has surged, and shame is shockingly common among queer young people.

Pride is a chance to fight back, says Nancy Kelley, former CEO of charity Stonewall and executive director of queer publication DIVA magazine.

“We are far from done when it comes from creating a safe and welcoming society for LGBTQ+ people,” she said. “But Pride is a massive, visible, powerful celebration of who we are, without shame, without fear. That is so important.”

What is Pride Month?

Pride Month honours the history, struggles, and achievements of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community.

It is celebrated in June each year to mark the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York. On 28 June, 1969, NYPD raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar. Homophobic ‘vice’ legislation gave law enforcement the right to arrest and forcibly hospitalise gay people.

But Stonewall patrons fought back. The riots – and subsequent anniversary marches – galvanised the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement.

Pride has since expanded beyond parades to include a wide array of activities: rallies, workshops, protests and memorials for those lost to hate crimes or HIV. The first official UK Pride march took place in London on 1 July, 1972.

Why does Pride Month still matter?

The LGBTQ+ community has come a long way in the last half-century. In the UK, equal marriage has been a reality since 2014. Section 28 – the law prohibiting the “promotion of homosexuality” in schools – has been consigned to history. Meanwhile, changes in the law mean that more schools, employers and public services can better tackle anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination and bullying.

“We’ve had lots of milestones,” Joell-Deshields says. “But there are still issues… look at the inequalities, or the rise in hate crimes.”

From 2013 to 2023, homophobic and biphobic hate crimes in England and Wales escalated by 465%, according to the Office for National Statistics, while transphobic hate crimes surged by an astounding 1,211%.

 “Culture war rhetoric” against trans people is driving this spike, said Kelley.

“What is happening right now is really worrying,” she said. “We are going backwards, some of the policy changes we are seeing could be even more damaging than Section 28 was.”

Prime minister Rishi Sunak has promised to fight a ‘war on woke’ by cracking down on gender-neutral toilets, restricting access to puberty blockers, and limiting the discussion of gender identity in schools.

“I think it felt previously like progress was kind of inevitable, and then suddenly you find yourself looking around wondering, how did we get here?” warned Amy Ashenden from Just Like Us, the LGBTQ+ young people’s charity.

“Why are there daily headlines that are very negative about trans young people? Why have we got an election and a culture war based around minority that represent roughly 1% of the population?”

Home is often not a safe place for young queer people: Up to 24% of young homeless individuals identify as LGBTQ+. But bullying is still common in schools – not just for queer children, but for the children of queer parents. More than half of lesbian and gay parents (56%) face negative comments about their families, Just Like Us research shows, and 42% of their children have experienced remarks about having LGBTQ+ parents.

Previous Just Like Us analysis found that a staggering eight-in-10 young queer women feeling ashamed of who they are.

Pride is “crucial” to counter this, says Ashenden.

“As older LGBT+ people, we can see that things come in peaks and troughs,” she urged. “It’s easier for us to hold hope that things will improve again. I think if you’re a young LGBT+ person right now things are probably looking quite bleak.”

“We really need to claim Pride as a space for community, solidarity and unpicking shame, because we’re getting so much negativity in the news. We need to reclaim space for ourselves and remind ourselves that there’s no shame in being LGBT+, and that it’s something to be really celebrated.”

Pride can also act as a “beacon” for other countries around the world, added Kelley.

“There are so many countries in the world where you can’t even hold a Pride march,” she said. “But things can be different, hopefully these massive pride marches can be a beacon to some of the people living in some of the hardest contexts around the world.”

What about the corporate aspect of pride?

Cynicism around corporate involvement is fair, says Joell-Deshields. But he insists that Pride in London will not tolerate any “rainbow washing” – they require partners who join the celebration to engage with related causes year-round.

“Allyship with the corporate world can be very can be very delicate,“ he said. “There are some corporates out there that are doing fantastic work in terms of the support that they give to their LGBTQ+ employees… they should be able to raise the rainbow flag above their organisation. Rainbow washing, however, is not acceptable. You cannot just talk the talk.“

Pride’s origins are in protest – and that tradition continues. Some queer groups will boycott the main event this year due to its ongoing affiliation with some climate polluters.

But even if you don’t attend the main event, Kelley says, don’t let Pride pass you by.

“Go to a big Pride. Go to a small Pride. Go to a picnic. You know, throw a barbecue in your own backyard,” she said. “There isn’t one way to recognise Pride, but if you’re part of the community, or if you love somebody who is part of the community, then celebrate!”

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