On the night before Pride Cymru 2017, SWGMC Chairman Nick de Figueiredo muses on why marching is still relevant today.
This weekend Pride Cymru is being celebrated in Cardiff. Tomorrow I March through the city with my friends in South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus, alongside other members of the LGBT+ community and our allies, in a display of pride, visibility and and community. I’m sure it will be a sight to behold, and there may even be a song or two if you catch us at the right time.
But that’s tomorrow. I’m writing this the night before, after a long week and a glass (read: half a bottle) of wine, and the weekend ahead has me thinking.
Because Pride as a concept is a tricky one, isn’t it. On the one hand, the LGBT+ community say that sexuality and gender identity are things we don’t choose – it’s just how we are made, and it’s only a small part of our personalities anyway, and actually there’s a lot more to us, and how about you just stop trying to label us okay! – yet at the same time we will happily parade through the streets together claiming to be proud of ourselves. But if we don’t have any control over these aspects of ourselves, how – and why – are we proud of them?
I’ve taken to the internet for a spot of light googling, and one prominent definition of Pride that I’ve found goes like this:
“A feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of one’s close associates, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.”
To unpick it a little, this definition is two parts achievement and one part admiration. Seems a little smug, doesn’t it? Does this mean Pride is a just big festival of back-slapping and mutual adoration before we all take our shirts off and dance to Kylie? Looking at it in this way, it sort of resembles another definition of Pride I found online: “the quality of having an excessively high opinion of oneself or one’s importance.”
Why then, in 2017, are Gay Pride celebrations still a thing? Are they relevant, or are they just an excuse for a big, gay, self-congratulatory love-in?
I think the answer lies in the context. If you know your gay history then you’ll know about the Stonewall Riots, arguably the birthplace of the gay liberation movement. The Riots happened at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, an establishment known to be popular among the poorest and most marginalised people in the gay community including drag queens, trans people, effeminate young men and butch lesbians. When police violently raided the Stonewall Inn in the early hours of 28 June 1969, the riots that followed – and the organised activism that came shortly afterwards – paved the way for the first gay pride marches. These took place in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago on 28 June 1970, marking the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. One of my favourite gay rights quotes ever is about the Stonewall riots. Sadly I can’t find it now (I have just searched through my entire twitter feed looking) but I think it was something like: “You don’t have gay rights because of what straight-acting white guys did. You have gay rights because of a sissy with a brick.”
So Pride as a movement is a direct response to oppression and marginalisation. But fast-forward to 2017 – by now well reported as being 50 years after the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales – and some people claim that Pride’s work is now done. Sure, there was the infamous Section 28 in the UK which prohibited the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools between 1988 and 2003, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell which effectively banned LGBT+ people from serving in the US military between 1994 and 2011, but those are now off the statute books and resigned to history, aren’t they? We’ve got equal treatment under the law now – heck, we can even get married – so why do we still need Pride?
I am aware of Stonewall but some of the dates and details above I had to look up to educate myself. I have set out below a list of homophobic and transphobic things that I am aware of – without having to even google ‘homophobia’ – which are happening in the world right now. Although some of the details may be off (as I say, I have not researched these and all of the information below is off the top of my head), the fact that I can call these things to mind so easily – and particularly the homophobic and transphobic rhetoric that I am aware of which surrounds each of them – genuinely worries me.
- Chechnya, Russia, 2016/2017. Journalists report that gay men are rounded up and put in concentration camps, beaten, and potentially murdered. We don’t know the full details because the media coverage in Russia isn’t what you’d call gay-friendly. What we do know is that, when questioned, the government official in charge of the area in Chechnya where this is happening – the (ostensibly) democratically elected government official – commented that there couldn’t be a problem because there were no gay people in Chechnya. In saying this he failed to acknowledge that certain people living under his jurisdiction even exist, much less that they are being persecuted by the state.
- Donald Trump’s America, Summer 2017. In (apparently) the “land of the free”, their Commander in Chief attempts to bar trans people from serving their country with a tweet. This was apparently to do with costs, however on closer inspection many have reported that the actual costs of supporting trans soldiers are essentially no problem at all for the US military and even Trump’s generals don’t want to support his trans military ban. Some have claimed that his tweets about the ban were a smokescreen to distract from other things, possibly building on the pre-existing anti-trans rhetoric around the “trans bathroom bills” that keep being pushed in southern states (in response to no documented threats or incidents whatsoever). Either way, a President promoting and reinforcing this sort of anti-trans rhetoric in 2017 is very worrying.
- Donald Trump’s America, still 2017. White nationalists march through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia (I think), apparently protesting the removal of confederate statues while most definitely carrying swastika flags (yes, actual Nazi flags), chanting racist and anti-semitic chants and fighting, resulting in injuries and at least one death.
- UK, 2017. After losing an election she didn’t need to call in the first place, Prime Minister Teresa May’s government unashamedly bribes the DUP – a Northern Ireland party with staunchly homophobic, misogynistic and anti-feminist views and policies – with £1.5 billion of public money in return for propping up her now majority-less government.
So from a logical point of view it may not make sense to be “proud” of sexuality, gender identity or any of our other inherent characteristics. But we don’t need Pride because of what it is, we need Pride because of what it fights against. Context and circumstances make Pride – as an event but also as an LGBT+ concept – absolutely vital, because the alternative is toxic and deadly. I am 28 years old, and I don’t recall a time in my memory when Pride has been more necessary.
Pride is the antithesis, the cure, the rallying cry. Pride says: “I am here. I am this. I demand acknowledgement. I demand respect”. And yes, some aspects of Pride events can be light-hearted or silly or overtly sexual or camp, but it doesn’t matter whether we’re at Pride to march or to dance – what matters is that we’re there at all. What matters is that Pride – and gay bars, and gay social groups, and gay choirs – exist as a space which is our own, and within which we can express ourselves, be who we are, and be visible. Because Pride isn’t shame. Pride isn’t being alone. Pride isn’t being rejected or murdered just because of who you are or who you love. Pride literally saves people’s lives.
But Pride’s work is not yet over. Disrespect, intolerance and violence are all alive and well. They manifest themselves in homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, ableism, classism, and many other outlets that we don’t even have names for. They are happy to create misery, even take lives, whether through violence or through shame. Only pride – big, brash, loud, unashamed pride – can fight back.
So I will march tomorrow because I need Pride, as we all do. We need to be proud of our sexuality, and our LGBT+ community, because the alternative is shame, and shame can kill us.
I hope that one day we do not need Pride. Sadly, I don’t think tomorrow is that day.