Opinion

50 years of Pride: Why this year's milestone is bittersweet for LGBTQ+ people

This year's Pride month marks 50 years since the UK's first official march. But much still needs to be done for LGBTQ+ equality to be realised.

Image: Ian Taylor/Unsplash

When members of the UK’s LGBTQ+ community took to the streets of London for the very first official Pride rally back in 1972, 50 years ago, there was an awful lot to be fighting for. Organised following the momentous Stonewall riots in the US three years earlier, the two thousand participants were marching in the face of unfathomable bigotry and discrimination. 

In the decades that have followed, much has happened that should be rightfully celebrated, both in legislation and on a cultural scale. Since 2000, gay and lesbian people have been able to serve in the armed forces. For nearly 20 years, same-sex couples have had the right to adopt a child. In 2014, same-sex couples were granted the legal right to get hitched.

Culturally, in the last month alone, 17-year-old professional football player Jake Daniels came out as gay, Doctor Who cast trans actress Yasmin Finney to play Rose, and Netflix’s Heartstopper, centred around an LGBTQ+ couple in secondary school, has become an international sensation. On the surface, the tide has well and truly turned.

Yet, while the UK has seen 50 years of immense, undeniable progress, celebrating this milestone will undoubtedly feel bittersweet for much of the country’s LGBTQ+ population. Right now, life for the community doesn’t feel particularly care-free, and the UK’s current approach to tackling LGBTQ+ issues doesn’t exactly evoke a sense of pride.

Back in 2018, the government announced its ‘LGBT Action Plan’, following a survey consultation with more than 100,000 LGBTQ+ people across the country. It was, and likely remains, the largest survey of its kind globally, painting a detailed picture of what life is like for the LGBTQ+ community.

It came with big, bold promises: a pledge to ban conversion therapy, a commitment to tackling hate crime, and the extension of programmes aimed at tackling anti-LGBTQ+ bullying in schools, to name but a few. Yet, four years on, and following a quiet announcement from now minister for women and equalities Liz Truss that the LGBT Action Plan is no more, it feels as though these promises have been all but inverted.

Conversion therapy U-turn

First, there’s the government’s shambolic approach to so-called conversion therapy. At the end of March this year, four years on from the government’s initial pledge to ban the harmful practice, which aims to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, the proposal was ditched. Then, in a whiplash-inducing U-turn just a few hours later, the plan was reinstated.

However, this promise came with one gaping hole — trans people are no longer included as part of the ban. Considering that nearly one in 10 trans people have been offered conversion therapy, this feels like a particularly hard punch to the gut.

Now, the issue is set to be debated in Parliament on 13 June, after almost 150,000 people signed a petition urging the government not to leave trans people vulnerable to a practice that the government itself has deemed “abhorrent”. For most LGBTQ+ people, a ban on conversion therapy does not exist until it covers all members of the community.

Rising hate crime

While conversion therapy happens behind closed doors, the community is also increasingly concerned about what is happening out on the streets. While LGBTQ+ acceptance as a whole has undeniably come on leaps and bounds since that first Pride march 50 years ago, there is a worrying trend occurring when it comes to hate crime. 

Home Office data shows that over the course of the last four years, the number of recorded hate crimes related to sexual orientation has doubled, while the number of transphobic hate crimes has gone up by 120 per cent.

This could, of course, be in part due to an improved police response to anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime, which formed part of the government’s ditched LGBT Action Plan. Yet, with figures from charity Galop indicating that only one in eight people report their experiences of LGBTQ+ discrimination to the police, it seems plausible that hate crime really is rocketing at an alarming rate.

Plus, with the recent homophobic murders of Dr Gary Jenkins in Cardiff and Ranjith Kakanamalage in London barely seeming to make the headlines, it’s unsurprising that the community as a whole is perhaps feeling more vulnerable than it has in a long time.

Impact on LGBTQ+ youth

For young LGBTQ+ people, the conflicting realities must feel incredibly confusing. On the one hand, they are able to tap into a seemingly ever-expanding library of affirming LGBTQ+ content on streaming services or online. On the other, they will no doubt hear about the rise in real-life discrimination. They will no doubt see the newspaper headlines that continue to force the discussion around trans rights into the gutter.

Just last week, in an interview, attorney general Suella Braverman stated that UK schools are under no legal obligation to affirm trans students by letting them use the pronouns, bathrooms, and uniforms that align with their gender.

In a tweet over the weekend, comedian Matt Lucas suggested that this stance aligned with the abominable section 28 legislation, which saw schools being prohibited from ‘promoting’ homosexuality. This, compounded by the fact that funding for LGBTQ+ bullying projects has been cut in recent years, leaves a sour taste in the mouth as we head into Pride month.

While the younger generation of LGBTQ+ people are seen as enjoying a host of freedoms that could have only been dreamt of back in 1972, it’s erroneous not to admit that they are facing barriers and enduring troubling anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment of their own.

UK no longer one of the best places in Europe for LGBTQ+ rights

When the government’s LGBT Action Plan was published, threaded through it was an acknowledgement that the UK has always been regarded as one of the leading countries on LGBTQ+ rights in Europe. Now, this is questionable. Last month, the publication of the ILGA Europe Rainbow Map and Index saw the UK fall out of the top 10 European countries for LGBTQ+ rights, falling to 14th place. In 2015, it was number one. 

Lack of action on banning conversion therapy and failing to reform the gender recognition act are just some of the reasons behind the fall. 

We’ve come a long way in recent decades, sure, but celebrating 50 years of Pride as though it’s a battle won simply doesn’t sit right. The government’s world-leading LGBT conference, set to happen this month, has been cancelled. Parliament’s LGBT advisory panel has been disbanded. Plans to send refugees to Rwanda continue to pose a particular threat to LGBTQ+ people. This is without even beginning to discuss the high rates of homeless among LGBTQ+ youth, or the worryingly levels at which LGBTQ+ people experience poor mental health.

So, yes, the progress made in the last half a century deserves recognition and celebration. But, unless the UK seriously rejigs its approach to tackling LGBTQ+ issues across the board, I won’t be giving the government a pat on the back. 

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