I’ve said it many times: the key to acceptance is visibility. Casual racism stopped being acceptable in polite society – bar over a family Christmas dinner, all evidence indicates – when people made ‘openly black’ friends and realised that the tabloid myths were just that. So it is with queers, faggots and poofs, FTMs and MTFs, puppies and masters, bears, cubs, otters, twinks, bis, bois, ladyboys, gym bunnies, muscle marys and even those of a lesbianic disposition. We are all god’s children, for very small values of god.
Nowhere are these disparate flavours of humanity more visible than at Pride, which I attended for the first time at the weekend. I’d always thought of Pride as a festival of tack, a freak show, Invasion of the Mansnatchers. And, of course, it is: but, it turns out, gloriously, visibly so.
I attended Pride not as a spectator but as a participant, invited (with gaychums John, Roger and Vitaliy) by friends Rob and Jimmy to march, camera in hand, with the group Families Together London. No official role, just beefing up the numbers: the group helps parents, family and friends of LGBT people through what is often a confusing and scary time, and unsurprisingly many feel unable to join in with such events.
The parade route took us from Baker Street along Oxford Street and Regent Street to Piccadilly Circus, down to Pall Mall and across to Trafalgar Square, ending up in Whitehall. It’s a walk I won’t soon forget: through a long, snaking tunnel of spectators three, four or more deep, smiling, cheering, taking photos. Even cynical old Avaragado found it uplifting, exhilarating even, and more than a little moving. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it before.
Many highlights: the sheer number of gay couples in the crowd; the man who watched the parade from inside a phone box; the drag queen who danced the entire route near us and constantly posed for photos; the cheers; the surprising appearance of Peter Tatchell, banner in hand, standing by himself near the end of the parade route; and seeing people I knew in the crowd.
There were protestors, of course: some purple-faced proselytisers ranting from a safe, police-enforced distance. And a curious gentleman dressed in various manifestations of the red and white cross of St George – wig, cape, make-up, the works – who marched the route just behind us but seemed to be an interloper. Not sure what he was up to but his cape was covered in images of England footballers. He argued at one point with a few other marchers but was otherwise harmless and silent. Whatever: these things were insignificant, lost in the literal noise of celebration.
We marched for two hours or so; it was only at the end, as we left the crowds and descended back to Earth and reality, that my smile faded and my feet began lazily to ache.
The Pride party continued: Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square were both fudge-packed. Soho extended and embraced the entire West End. I suspect Grindr imploded under the load – as I can’t think of any other reason I received no messages.
It’s easy and simplistic to extrapolate from London at Pride to the rest of the world, or even to the rest of the country. During and after the march we were visible and accepted, therefore everyone is accepted everywhere. Not true. Some countries still suppress Pride marches. Some countries still imprison, beat, torture and kill gay people. There are still places in the UK where it’s not safe to be gay; still bigoted, powerful people who preach hate.
That’s what Pride is for. That’s what makes the sheer number of happy, cheering, accepting people in the crowd – straight and gay – so memorable, and so moving. Because it shows how far we’ve come, and reminds us how far we still have to go.