Tomorrow’s Pride march in London marks the 40th anniversary of the first Gay Pride march in Britain, when 700 people marched from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park to demand “Gay liberation”.
Saturday’s Pride march will be led by veterans from the first Pride parade. They will assemble at 10.30am, at the head of the march in Baker Street, near the intersection with Wigmore Street W1.
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“In 1972 we decided to organise a Gay Pride march, with the theme of being out and proud. This was a very controversial idea. In those days, nearly all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people were closeted and many felt ashamed of their sexuality. Few dared publicly acknowledge their gayness, let alone march for LGBT rights,” said human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, who helped organise Britain’s first Gay Pride parade and who is currently the Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
“Not surprisingly, only 700 people joined our first Gay Pride parade. Many of my friends were too scared to attend. They thought everyone would be arrested. We weren’t arrested but we were swamped by a very heavy, aggressive police presence. They treated us like criminals; abusing us with impunity. Confident and unfazed, we just smiled and chanted: “2-4-6-8! Is that copper really straight?”
“Despite police intimidation, we were determined to have a fun time and make our point. The march was a carnival-style parade, from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park. There were lots of extravagant costumes and cheeky banners poking fun at homophobes like the morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse.
“We got mixed reactions from the public – some hostility and some support but predominantly curiosity and bewilderment. Most people had never knowingly seen a gay person, let alone hundreds of queers marching to demand human rights. “Aren’t you ashamed?” one man shouted. “No”, we shouted back, as we blew him a kiss."
“The 1972 march never demanded mere equality. We didn’t want to be equal in an unjust society. Our goal was social transformation, to liberate all of humanity. We stood in solidarity with the liberation struggles of women, black people, workers and the movements for colonial freedom. Many of us veterans of 1972 still strive to achieve these ideals.
“Over the last four decades LGBT Pride has grown from one march with less than a thousand people to two dozen nation-wide parades with a combined attendance of hundreds of thousands of people. We’ve come a long way, baby.
“The increased acceptance of LGBT people is another big change. In 1972, homosexuality was still viewed as an illness, lesbian mothers had their kids taken off them by the courts, LGBT people were witch-hunted out of the armed forces and the police arrested thousands of men each year for consenting gay behaviour.
“These injustices are history. But there are still prejudices to overcome, such as homophobic bullying in schools, the ban on same-sex marriage and the refusal of asylum to LGBT refugees fleeing persecution in violently homophobic countries like Iran, Jamaica, Cameroon and Uganda. According to the British Social Attitudes survey, 36% of the public still believe that homosexuality is mostly or always wrong. That’s why, 40 years after the first march, we still need LGBT Pride,” said Mr Tatchell.
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