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London Pride 2023: We’ve Come a Long Way

Drew Payne



It was London Pride last weekend and again we attended it. It has been a tradition in my life ever since I first moved to London. It is “our day” when LGBTQ people can celebrate out and openly on London’s streets.

This year again I noticed a trend that I first saw at last year’s London Pride, the teenager attending their first Pride, but they aren’t alone. I saw fourteen, fifteen and sixteen year olds so obviously on their first Pride and accompanied by their mothers. The mother was dressed up for the day, wearing rainbow flags in her hair, or a rainbow garland around her neck, or a rainbow t-shirt, or a rainbow waistcoat, or a rainbow skirt, or a rainbow flag draped around her shoulders, or all of the above. And she’s having so much fun. She hasn’t had so much fun since her uncle married his boyfriend. And walking a few paces behind her is her child, who wanted to go to their first Pride, wearing that very familiar teenage expression, “Mum! You’re such an embarrassment! You’re so uncool!

I went to my first Pride March when I was twenty-two. I’d moved to London just under a year before. I’d made the move so I could finally be gay, something I’d never felt I could fully do back home in Liverpool. There I was at my first Pride March and I almost couldn’t believe what I saw. Everywhere I looked were LGBTQ people, so many of them, all looking so different and looking so happy. It was one thing to be surrounded by gay man in a club, but this was different because it was out on London’s streets and I was surrounded by LGBTQ people.

That was back in 1988 and the London Pride March was a very different thing. London, and Britain, was a very homophobic place. Homosexuality had only been partly decriminalised, but only partly, and there were no protections against homophobia in law. Politicians, religious leaders and tabloid newspaper editors were using AIDS to attack and punish the LGBTQ community. And the march was much more of a protest march, there were a lot of campaign banners and many of us chanted as we marched. The route was lined by police offices, as if they were protecting the “normal” people from us. And the only people wearing drag were men, the women were almost uniformly dressed in jeans and t-shirts.

With all that, I loved every moment of it. It was our day, I could be openly gay on the streets of London without fear, without having to look over my shoulder, without worrying about being too gay and drawing attention to myself. I was also surrounded by “my people”, or so it felt.

As much as I enjoyed that day, it never occurred to me to invite my parents to it, I didn’t even tell them I had been to it. They were the last people I would have imagined there. We had such an awkward relationship with my sexuality, I’d come out to them, but after their initial shock, they had ignored it.

I’ve been to almost all London Pride Marches since then, but never with my parents.

The first change I noticed, somewhere in the mid-1990s, was that more and more women were dressing up in costumes and even drag, and with that slowly came a change in the atmosphere there too. Slowly, by degrees, it changed from a protest March, us being defiantly out on the streets, into a celebration parade, a joyous celebration of our difference. The slogans on the banners changed from cries of protest into ones of celebration, and the humour there increased. Now London Pride is such a celebration of the diversity of LGBTQ life, this year there was a group of LGBTQ farmers on the march, and people are there to have a good time. I love it. I love the spirit of celebration.

I still hear people complaining about the change in London Pride, looking back to the protest march it was. To me, I welcome this change, it is a sign of the change that has happened in society at large. Since my first Pride March we have seen such changes in Britain. LGBT couples can now adopt, we have equal marriage, the Equality Act has given us so many protections, Combination Therapy has changed the landscape of HIV & AIDS, and the tabloids are now pillared if they use blunt homophobia the way they did. But we don’t live in a LGBTQ utopia. We are experiencing an almost tsunami of Transphobia, nasty and many of it old and illogical, this Government still hasn’t banned Conversion Therapy, five years after they said they would, and internationally we are seeing so many countries enacting homophobic laws. We still have a long way to go, and London Pride reflected that too, this year. There were many banners and signs supporting Trans Rights, the float for Diva magazine brightly proclaimed their support for Trans Rights. Many marchers supported Black Lives Matter too. There was a sit-down protest outside the Ugandan High Commission in Trafalgar Square, against Uganda’s obscene anti-gay laws.  And so many banners demanded that Conversion Therapy is banned now.

Those first years I attended London Pride, the only parents I saw there were a small group marching as parents of lesbian and gay children (that’s what they called themselves) and the very occasional couple of same-sex parents. This year I saw so many parents attending with their LGBTQ children, and not just teenagers but adult children too. London Pride has evolved and changed over the years and that is only a good thing because it keeps it relevant, unlike the small number of homophobes who tried to protest against it.


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