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'We all changed the world in our own ways': How the first London Pride march changed lives

Speaking at the 50th anniversary of London's first Pride march, one veteran from 1972 explains how it changed lives - and what's changed since

‘It was born of activism, of having the example of turning round and saying: ‘We are not taking it any more’,” says Julian Hows, reminiscing about the first Pride march in London.

“When you learn that the sky doesn’t fall down, the Earth doesn’t shatter, slowly there are incremental changes. And what’s more, by your example, you learn that there are other people out there who are with you.”

Wearing rainbow everything, Hows is speaking from the seat of a rickshaw, at the head of a historic parade. Exactly 50 years ago, on July 1 1972, a group organised by the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) took to the streets of London.

London Pride
Julian Hows, leading the parade in a rickshaw, says the fear and excitement of 1972 has given way to only excitement. Image: Greg Barradale

Half a century on, they’re back – the day before the official Pride in London parade.

Leading the march are a group of “veterans”, holding placards telling the crowd they were here in 1972.

Campaigner Peter Tatchell leads the group in chants, echoed by a rainbow of protesters behind them.

Hows, one of those veterans, believes that day changed everything – setting the group on a lifelong path of activism that can “totally and absolutely” be traced back to July 1 1972.

Pride, London Pride
Protesters gathered on the steps of a church near Trafalgar Square before marching to Hyde Park. Image: Greg Barradale

“I went off and what I learned with the GLF about creating family and collectivism, I have been working all the way around the world with people living with HIV and LGBTI communities. You create communities in the face of oppression,” Hows tells the Big Issue.

“It was a case of thinking we are gonna change the world. And even if we didn’t change the world, we changed ourselves, because that is the first stage.

“You can’t change the world until you change yourself and we have all done our own little bit in changing the world in our own little ways. And that is all you can expect of anybody.”

Veterans held ‘I was there in 1972, still fighting for global LGBT+ freedom’ placards. Image: Greg Barradale

The march half a century ago was heavily policed, with protesters staging a mass kiss at Marble Arch which led to the police dispersing.

“Of course it was illegal then. That was an arrestable offence. They have strategically thought ‘can we really fucking arrest all these people? No, perhaps we will just disappear quietly.’ So that’s what they did,” Hows remembers.

This time around, it’s less so – with organisers liaising in advance, and Transport for London even providing an open-top bus.

As the hundreds-strong parade, made up of marchers young and old, works its way from Trafalgar Square and down Oxford Street, Hows reflects on how he felt then – and how he feels now.

On that morning in July 1972, he says, he was “fearful and nervous but excited.”

“I think the fearfulness and nervousness has actually gone away about what people might think, what the repercussions might be. Now it’s more fear and nervousness about what I’ll be wearing,” he says.

“The fear has totally gone down. But still that same excitement.”

That change, he says, feels “fabulous”.

“One can be relaxed in one’s identity whereas 50 years ago you were having to check about how one could be relaxed in one’s identity, about how other people, and still having to be strident about asserting your right to an identity.”

Things have changed, Hows says, from the seat of the rickshaw: “Now you can relax in your identity and you know wherever you’re sitting, probably, if someone turns round and makes a homophobic remark you will not be the person who will have to call it out. Somebody else will on your behalf.”

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