The year was 1993.
I remember it because it was the year the Gay Slayer, Colin Ireland was embarked on his killing spree, and there had been many warnings for us to take special care while he was still at large. Even so, it had been a perfect day, and as the sun started to set on Brockwell Park with Jimmy Somerville singing the words, “As I watch the sun go down, watching the world fade away”, I had never felt so content, never felt so much that at last, I belonged. This was my first ever Pride and, unbelievably, I was 41.
Not that I had been closeted till then. Far from it, but I had never really fitted in with what I perceived to be gay life or the scene. I had come out as gay fairly late I suppose, at about 27, and, having fallen madly in love with my first boyfriend, whom I had met through work, went straight into a domestic, monogamous relationship. We never went out on the scene and most of our friends were straight. When that relationship finished, I went straight into another that was much the same, and then when that finished, I hardly dare go anywhere at all. AIDS was taking hold and sex became something to fear rather than enjoy. The gay scene terrified me and so I took refuge amongst my straight friends. My life became monastic and I practically gave up sex altogether. Looking back, this could well be the reason I am still around today, but it’s certainly not a time I’d like to live through again. In a way I was denying who I was, denying myself the right to be happy, to be considered the equal of my straight peers; and, actually, I was no better than the likes of David Starkey, who believes the owners of a B&B should be able to deny a room to a gay couple, and Andrew Pierce, who believes that we don’t need equal marriage. Urged on by my ultra Conservative mother, I am ashamed to admit I joined with those who condemned the opening of GLC’s London Lesbian and Gay Centre, which opened in 1985, another waste of rate payers’ money by Red Ken. This was not my finest hour. I was no doubt suffering from the kind of internalised homophobia I detailed in my article for TheGayUK earlier this year.
You’d think that as I worked in an environment where it was ok to be gay (the theatre), I’d have happily embraced my sexuality, and to an extent I did, but I never felt I fitted in with the majority of gay guys in a company, those ultra flamboyant, often screamingly queeny dancers, with their hilariously witty, but often bitchy, repartee, and consequently I distanced myself from them. To be honest, they scared the living daylights out of me, and I tended to mix instead with the straight guys and girls in the company. It was safer to stick with what I knew, even if it meant sometimes tacitly colluding with the occasional unintentional homophobic remark. I wasn’t like other gays, so that made it ok. But of course it didn’t.
I’m not quite sure when all that changed, but, over time, I realised that something was missing from my life. I didn’t truly fit in with any of the people I mixed with. So it was that in 1993 I found myself marching through the streets of London with thousands of other gay men and women, with their families, and with their friends. I was surrounded by men and women from all walks of life, from the flamboyant to the ordinary, from drag queens to soldiers. I couldn’t believe the size of the crowd, and as I looked back down Piccadilly from Hyde Park Corner, my heart swelled with a pride I’d never felt before. I was not alone. At least for one day I could walk through the streets without being afraid of who I was.
I think that was the turning point for me. From that day on I became more involved in the scene and more fully embraced the gay community. I think I’ve attended every London Pride since, and been to a few more around the country. I’ve been involved in Pride in various ways too, from stewarding, to dancing on a float in leather, to gogo dancing in a shop window in Soho and then gogoing in the clubs afterwards. I’ve had a lot of fun, and of course Pride should be fun, but it is also a lot more than that. It is a chance for us to show the world that we are a diverse bunch of people, that we exist in all corners of life. We might be drag queens and leather guys, disco bunnies and dykes on bikes, muscle guys and formation dancers, but we are also policemen and firemen, soldiers and office workers, doctors, politicians and nurses. It is a chance for us to show the world that we are not going away.
As London is one of the busiest, most multi-cultural cities in the world, it makes London Pride important on an international level, so that those living in countries less tolerant than ours can see what can be achieved. Urged on by anti-gay religious groups, gay rights are going backwards in most countries in Africa and the Middle East. Hardly a week goes by without some new anti-gay law being passed or some new atrocity against the gay community. Things are no better in many Eastern European countries. Russia has just passed more anti-gay legislation, precipitating a wave of anti-gay violence. Even in seemingly enlightened France, there has been an outbreak of violence against gay people since the passing of the equal marriage act. The Catholic Church’s roots obviously go down deeper there than most would have imagined; and if the recent House of Commons and House of Lords debates on equal marriage are anything to go by, there are still plenty of bigoted homophobes in this country, who will go to extraordinary lengths to deny us our basic human rights. There could not be a time when it is more important to stand up and be proud of whom we are.
I’ve always believed that Pride should be both a celebration and a political statement, and have never had any truck with those who say all the excessive flamboyance at Pride makes them feel ashamed, the gay homophobes who believe we should play down our differences, who believe that only by attempting to blend in with the straight world will we get the rights we are asking for. Well I don’t hold with that. We should not deny that a large part of our community is made up of wonderfully flamboyant, inventive, artistic, talented and sometimes wacky people. When better to show off our fabulousness? When the gay community stood up against police brutality at the Stonewall Bar back in 1969, were those drag queens trying to blend in? No. They were demanding their rights as individuals. So the media tends to concentrate on the drag queens and the scantily clad muscle boys. So what? Being different is not a reason for withholding human rights.
If, like me, you have been to so many Pride events now, that they all start to blend into each other. If you are feeling jaded, or feel that it has nothing to do with you anymore, perhaps you should remember the reasons that Pride is still important, and that each Pride will always be the first Pride for someone somewhere, that first moment when that person, whatever their age, can feel that they can be who they really are. Take part in the march, or just come down and watch, but, be part of it and be Proud!
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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.