Pride

Photos of a coin and booklet commemorating 50 years of Pride since the 1st protest in London, 1972

Various articles etc

One:

This is an interview with a journalist for the Observer in 2022, re the 50th anniversary of the first Pride march in London 1972. In the event, the article wasn’t published, as the Guardian did a similar article which would have involved duplication [https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jun/25/danced-naked-then-changed-the-world-uk-pride-50-years-on] so I decided to post it here anyway, together with a picture taken and kindly shared by photographer Dean Chalkley, who worked on the article.

Why did you go to that GLF march in 1972? I was only in the Gay Liberation Front for a short while, and can’t claim any credit for doing much, but it was an intense and life-changing time. We were angry, we were rising up in protest, there was huge joyfulness and creativity in taking collective action.  By the time of that first Pride march, most of the women had left the mixed organisation to campaign autonomously and work within the Women’s Liberation Movement. Many of us saw that the oppression of lesbians was part of women’s oppression generally: denial of our right to bodily autonomy, control our own lives, bodies, sexuality and reproductive rights, freedom from patriarchal control. So some women felt the march wasn’t for them; others of us thought that lesbian visibility was important at the event, so chose to go. 

Do you have any stories that stand out from that first march? I recall that first march as an amazing experience, though blurred with memories of so many actions we took. Quite daunting as there was public hostility, people throwing stuff at us, a large, intimidating police presence. Very different from subsequent London events. It was exhilarating and exciting too, to be taking over the streets, insisting on our visibility and validity, protesting the ways we had been treated 

What did you think of LGBTQ+ rights in 1972? What was it like? To understand the importance of GLF and Pride then, you probably need to know what it was like prior to that, what we emerged from. Lesbian women were stigmatised, pathologised, regarded as mentally ill, perverts, liable to be sectioned and given ECT, seen as unfit mothers so losing custody of their children; we could lose jobs, housing, families. Well-and-truly Othered. Subjected to misogynist violence. Having to hide. This affects mental health, and the legacy of that is felt by many of my generation still.

Of course, this situation and worse exists now in many places in the world today where same-sex relationships are criminalised, people are dehumanised and harassed, violence and murder are legitimised. Joelle Taylor writes that ‘it is illegal to be a lesbian in almost a quarter of the world’s countries.’ [C+nto and Othered Poems, Westbourne Press 2021]

Some ground-breaking campaigning had been done [Sappho, the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, e.g.] but it had not irrupted into the mainstream like GLF. Which was defiant and revolutionary, making radical demands, wanting a transformation of heterosexist society, analysing patriarchy and gender. 

Do you have any personal stories you are comfortable sharing regarding your experiences, being open about your sexuality/gender identity and discrimination? I think discrimination is too a mild word, really; lesbians, gay men, LGBT+ people – whatever terminology you prefer – were persecuted, harassed and ridiculed.  My experiences were common to many women, of being shunned, being gaybashed outside a club, micro-aggressions at work, that sort of thing. Subjected to abuse and threats by neighbours, discriminated against by landlords and having to move. 

What was it like being part of the LGBTQ+ rights movement back then? Do you have any particular fond memory/memories you could describe? When I look back at that period I picture it as being like moving into the light, emerging from a grey monotone: a process of coming alive. A time of buzzy energy, sharing ideas, living our politics, demonstrating, meeting, arguing, debating, celebrating, constantly – it heralded a new phase of life for many of us. 

The context was a time of great hopefulness in many parts of the globe, with movements for justice happening – the Women’s Liberation Movement, the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, anti-colonialism struggles in Ireland, Africa e.g., the anti-apartheid movement etc. 

The best part of GLF for me was that which made connections between movements, took an internationalist approach. The same approach that appealed to me within feminism – not a seeking of equality within an unjust society but a radical, transformational politics. We didn’t ask for our rights, we demanded and took them.

It was good to feel less isolated, and coming out and asserting our validity, not just to claim equality but develop a political understanding, saying yes actually we are a threat to patriarchy – we reject male control, we refuse heterosexist family structures and stereotyped roles.

On reflection, I’ll always be grateful for that moment in time, I learned a lot, I met some wonderful openhearted inspirational people. Some of whom have not survived and whose memory should be honoured. 

Not to say it was easy. Most movements can be fraught, full of contradictions, in need of finding expansive ways of managing complexity.

Flashback memories of GLF activism include: aggression against our street theatre at the ghastly Mary Whitehouse’s Festival of Light; being crushed against a wall by police horses in Whitehall demonstrating about Bloody Sunday; dancing in huge circles in Hyde Park; surrounding the Albert Hall demonstrating against Miss World.

What did you do after that march – for example, did you stay in activism? Please describe a bit about your work/life since then. There followed a great flowering of women’s activism that I was lucky to be involved in – in lesbian squatting communities taking control of our own housing, working against male violence against women, setting up refuges, publishing and bookshop collectives, women’s centres, helplines, conferences, art, myriad forms of feminist resistance. 

On a personal level, it gave me some confidence, to do more, to take part in forming rock bands and creating feminist music, to go to university, to undertake more satisfying work, paid and voluntary. 

What do you think of the progress of LGBTQ+ rights? I don’t think progress is a linear path or a uniform one, it depends so much on many factors – location, class, racialisation, disability.

The backlash to any progress we had made came in the 1980s, Thatcher’s vile Clause 28, part of a draconian rightwing and fundamentalist attack on local government policies that supported inclusive educational practices and ridiculing our relationships as not valid – the infamous denial of ‘the acceptability of homosexuality’ and the insult to our relationships as ‘a pretended family relationship.’ Too many women were disobeying heteronormative structures, imagining new ways of being, independently of men! Had to put a stop to that. 

These surges of repression continue to surface. We have again, still, constantly to guard against repressive right-wing and fundamentalist legislation, violence and ideology, threats to human rights. 

What do you think of LGBTQ+ rights in the UK today? I think it’s a clumsy acronym that not everyone feels we fit into; we have some overlapping interests and also major differences. Lesbians can be subsumed within the term ‘queer’ as under ‘gay’, nevertheless at times coalitions are vital, creating a unity which doesn’t mean uniformity, as we do tend to be beaten up by the same people. [See e.g. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/may/26/the-network-of-organisations-seeking-to-influence-abortion-policy-across-europe]

For me the best aspects of politics going on now are those that embody the same sort of values I was drawn to in the 70s: transcending national boundaries, showing solidarity with oppressed or dispossessed people, e.g. women are doing fantastic work challenging the racist cruelty of British policies by supporting lesbian asylum-seekers escaping horrific abuse. And campaigning against pinkwashing, when corporate powers, or oppressive regimes such as Israel, pretend to be progressive. 

Pride in London seemed to become co-opted, depoliticised, commercialised. I wasn’t generally interested in participating. As an anti-militarist, against war and state violence, against the arms trade, I obviously don’t want to march with the army, and certainly don’t want anything to do with Tories or other right-wingers. But the celebratory, carnivalesque part of Pride is always great, especially at smaller Pride events at local levels, and where the rainbow is not a corporate logo but an image of light refracted through prisms, symbolising our common humanity, in all its variety.

I can however relate to the term ‘queer’ in the sense that bell hooks refers to as ‘being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live.’ 

That is what we started to do in the early 70s, to create a new reality; when we were/are alienated and horrified by the unjust way the world is organised economically, politically, socially. 

So my hope is that people who are now the age I was then, and indeed people of all ages, will be supported and thrive, and that with solidarity and activism we will change social conditions so that they are safe to do so. 

Any thoughts on the trans issue?

I think it should be recognised that transgender people were part of the movement back then, from the start. 

I find the current level of debate dispiriting. What could and should have been a reasonable one has involved vitriol and ignorance from many of those involved. Having been pathologised and othered myself, I am very disheartened to witness anyone else being treated that way.

copyright Dean Chalkley

Two Pride in History – a film by Zach Cole  https://youtu.be/4-muuse85A0

“1972 saw the Gay Liberation Front march from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park in what was to be the very first Gay Pride march in the UK. We hear the memories of those involved in that iconic protest as they fought for the right to Live and Love the way they wanted. The success of Shrewsbury and how it not only makes history, but it hosts the National Festival of LGBT History each year. We talk to those involved in making LGBT History month a success and why they love being part of it.” Zach Cole, filmmaker, 2016

Dear Flo,
 
I was very lucky to be able to take part in the first Pride march in London during time within the Gay Liberation Front. In your article in Pink News asserting that your group had a right to march in this year’s Pride, you cite that original march as an historical precedent that your group is heir to. It seems to me that you have somewhat misunderstood the facts regarding that event, and I am therefore writing to provide some information that may be useful. In light of the welcome news of the decision that your group will be disallowed, I would like to add my comments to the debate.
 
Firstly, despite your thinking that the first march almost completely consisted of gay men, I assure you that many women were amongst those ‘few hundred men who marched, years before my birth,’ who faced ‘serious abuse and threats when they set off from Hyde Park. They were pioneers and must be celebrated for their courage.’
 
Those women, of whom I was one, went on to work in hundreds of organisations working for the rights of lesbians because of what we had experienced including losing custody of our children, our jobs and housing, being stigmatised and ostracised or incarcerated as mentally ill. Some of us have worked in coalitions with gay men and others and in Trades Unions against class exploitation, racism, ableism and sexism. We have also worked in the overlapping causes of justice for those, including LGBT people, seeking refuge after fleeing persecution elsewhere in the world (often as a result of British military intervention in their countries of origin) and combating racism in its myriad forms (also a direct legacy of British imperialism and colonialism) and the principles of human rights, feminist and anti-racist causes – and continue to do so. 
 
I’d like also to let you know those women and men in GLF came from and celebrated a variety of European and world-wide backgrounds. We were well-aware of the traditional practice of scapegoating immigrants, and anyone regarded as ‘other’ by racist mindsets (as if Britain was not a nation formed by migrants), by the political establishment, as a means of turning people against one another and diverting attention from real common enemies, such as unjust systems of power, economic greed and mean-minded notions of nationalism. In the current rightwing climate, we see the same old same old dynamic in the hate-mongering attempt to stir up resentment against involvement in Europe, immigrants and people in need of safety. Ironically, all the while – if preserving national sovereignty were something you cared about – it should be obvious that the real threats to democracy actually come from the machinations of global corporate capitalism such as TTIP, e.g.
 
I remember clearly how our intentions back then were based on progressive principles of sharing, open-heartedness, internationalism and human solidarity. We were not simply about ‘equality’ – a much-misused term. Most of us were not seeking equality within an unjust system, but radical social transformation. The clue to what was going on is in the names! Gay Liberation Front, Women’s Liberation Movement. If you are interested in history then you will see that at the time of our movements’ flowering, the world was undergoing huge changes brought about movements in countries throwing off colonialism, the Black Power movement, the civil rights movement … in that context we analysed the political situations of patriarchy, capitalism, white and male supremacy, and developed an understanding of the links between oppressions.  We felt ourselves part of a time in which the struggle for universal liberation from oppression was in ascendency. We were joyful and celebratory as part of that zeitgeist, not only because of developing a pride in being lesbian or gay. Our activism was carnivalesque in the sense of turning the world upside down, inverting and mocking the traditional power structures. I cannot speak for other women and men who formed that original contingent, or subsequent generations of activists (though if any of them read this they are welcome to add their names to mine), but I can say for myself that I believe most of us in that optimistic era never dreamt of a time when a group such as UKIP would co-opt our activism, our language and our cause in a specious attempt to give itself legitimacy. You misrepresent the notion of inclusivity and render it superficial at best if you think we could be connected in any way to the kind of narrow, xenophobic views espoused by UKIP. 
 

People from GLF marching ay WOrldPride London 2012, carrying banner: 'Veterans 1972 - UK's first LGBT Pride.'
WorldPride London 2012

In 2012 I was again fortunate, being able to be amongst people at the front of the London march with the banner “Veterans of 1972,’ marking the fortieth anniversary of that first march. Simultaneously I was proud to be part of the anti-pinkwashing campaign, marching against the attempts by Israel’s government to hijack hard-won rights as a propaganda smokescreen for its oppression of the Palestinian people under the slogan: No Pride in Israeli Apartheid. (This follows a slogan adopted by an Israeli LGBT group opposing the ongoing theft of Palestinian land, ’No Pride in Occupation.’)

Large stage in Trafalgar Square, GLF veterans in front of a big crowd with their banner.
GLF veterans on Trafalgar Square stage during WorldPride 2012
Trafalgar Square viewed from the stage: crowds waving a sea of rainbow and Palestinian flags.
The view from the stage, WorldPride 2012

I saw this as a continuation of GLF’s radical tradition of solidarity; standing opposite the South African embassy I recalled countless demonstrations in Trafalgar Square calling for an end to that previous vile apartheid system. With thousands of other people I’ve marched for that cause and many others, including subsequent Pride marches and anti-Clause 28 with my family and friends comprising a hugely diverse mixture of humanity. 
 

Outside the South African embassy at WorldPride march, London 2012,
with sisters in solidarity Diane and Sarah

I didn’t march for this: a noxious political party representing an appeal to the basest elements: fear of others, ignorance, bigotry and repression. The presence of UKIP on a Pride march is an affront to those who took part in long struggles for justice. The racist and anti-democratic nature of UKIP cannot be disguised by its adopting a tactical veneer of respectability, and it is a travesty to present yourselves as victims bravely facing intolerance. 
 
I sincerely invite you to rethink your positioning of yourself in alliance with this party and to join the worldwide movements for justice and liberation.
 
Yours sincerely, 
Frankie Green

Marching WorldPride 2012, sign behind me says Global rights for LGBT people
On WorldPride march, London, 2012, with other GLFers
Poster: 'not in out name - queer solidarity with Palestine.' A drawing of an activists throwing a bunch of flowers.

http://mondoweiss.net/2012/07/palestine-takes-center-stage-at-world-pride.html

http://www.nopinkwashing.org.uk

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Four

From: Frankie Green
Subject: Woman’s Hour and transgender issues 
Date: 2 July 2019 at 11:12:42 BST
To: womanshour.yourviews@bbc.co.uk

Dear Woman’s Hour,

It was positive to hear a civil conversation on this, as the debate generally seems to be on the level public discourse has generally sunk to now: mean-minded and dismissive of diverse opinions. I was on the first UK Pride demonstration in 1972 and I believe that to disrupt Pride events is inappropriate, hubristic and contrary to Pride’s celebratory spirit of resistance, and must have been hurtful to many people. Lesbian identity being subsumed within the terms ‘queer’ or ‘lgbt’ as it was with ‘gay’ is an important issue to debate – but Pride marches are the wrong place and time. Holding up the march last year spoiled the event for many who had to wait for ages in exhausting heat, and as numbers were limited it was unfair the disrupters were able to then not only join the march but in effect lead it … 

In the thousands of people there must have been many who have fled their home countries to seek asylum, or their communities here, because of persecution, and some of them will be transgender. They should be welcome and safe here. Already dealing with the Tories’ anti-immigrant hostile environment policy, they should be free from insult or harassment at Pride. And Pride is one time when LGBT people are in the majority, taking over the streets in a carnivalesque reversal of normativity. So I believe it is not the place for protest against one of the groups of participants, which led to the absurdity of an LGBmarch being led by anti-protesters! And it was unacceptable to override the planning of the event, which I understand was for it to be led by NHS workers’ unions who are struggling valiantly to save services from privatisation. 

Sometimes the most marginalised and rejected in political movements as well as wider society have been trans people – I don’t feel that my respect for their rights, or my concern for impoverished trans people who experience exclusion, and racism if they are people if colour, and violence and murder, in any way compromises my commitment to women’s liberation and women’s rights, or my rage at the oppression of women subjected to male violence. It’s not either/or for me. 

Sincerely, Frankie Green