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After 50 years of Pride—fly red flag with a rainbow one

The first Pride in London was held fifty years ago. While there have been gains for LGBT+ people, struggle is needed to achieve liberation
Issue 2811
a crowd shot of people at reclaim pride

Protesters at Reclaim Pride in London (Picture: Guy Smallman)

It’s 50 years since the first London Pride march, the first of its kind in Britain. Some 2,000 people attended in 1972, organised by the Gay Liberation Front. It was not supported by the state, much less by brands and companies.

Pride was a defiant stand against rampant oppression and a deliberate effort to continue the Stonewall riots’ radical legacy of fighting for LGBT+ rights. In 2019, over 1.5 million people celebrated London Pride, and it’s still a day of rejecting oppression and claiming LGBT+ existence.

Not only has attendance skyrocketed, but there are now Prides in cities and small towns across Britain. Defiant campaigns and broader struggle has shifted attitudes towards LGBT+ people. In 1972 the age of consent for gay men was 21. It became 16 in 2000.

Civil partnerships were legalised in 2004, followed by same sex marriage in 2014. Transgender people were given some rights under the 2004 Gender Recognition Act (GRA). But alongside this, the last 50 years have produced state pushbacks that hit LGBT+ people. Section 28 in 1988 banned discussion of homosexuality or gender fluidity in schools.

The AIDS crisis led to the victimisation of gay men while thousands died. Today more than 25 percent of homeless people are LGBT+. And a huge clampdown from the Tories on trans people has stifled liberation. Positive reforms to the GRA have been scrapped, and the Tories’ ban on conversion therapy excluded transgender people.

Pride season has the ability to mobilise huge masses, giving LGBT+ people a space to gain a sense of liberation. It’s important that New York City’s pride last weekend was led by Planned Parenthood in the wake of attacks on abortion in the US. But with growing commercialisation has come a watering down of the radicalism that can hit back at the attacks.

The homophobic Met police take part, as does the Home Office which deports LGBT+ refugees.True liberation can only be achieved through taking protest to pride. Some 40,000 people took to the streets for London Pride in 1988 supported by the TUC union federation. We need more of this today.

The newer, more radical London Trans+ Pride creates an open space while demanding change. Reclaim Pride events have become popular as they see through the hypocrisy of multinational corporations. The rights won in the last 50 years are only because of mobilisations from LGBT+ people from below.

To push forward and win liberation fightback means placards as well as flags. It means celebrating how far LGBT+ rights have come but being clear that the fight isn’t over. We need a liberation movement that is part of the broader struggle against the capitalist system that exploits and oppresses us all.

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