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Pride in London – Saturday 7 July

David Salcedo, Member of FRC's Diversity & Inclusion Group

The Stonewall Riots – a violent, political protest
 
The annual LGBT Pride marches which now take place in cities around the world are generally thought to originate with the riots that began in the early hours of 28 June 1969 at the Stonewall Inn – a gay bar in the Greenwich Village area of New York City.  That night, nine police officers entered the Stonewall Inn, arrested its employees for selling alcohol without a license, roughed up many of its patrons, cleared the bar, and – in accordance with a New York criminal statute that authorised the arrest of anyone not wearing at least three articles of gender-appropriate clothing – took several people into custody.[1]
 
Raids like this were not uncommon at the time.  The difference was that on this occasion, the people milling outside the bar did not retreat.  They jeered at the police and threw bottles and debris.  The police officers called for reinforcements and barricaded themselves inside the bar while some 400 people rioted.  The police barricade was repeatedly breached and the bar was set on fire.  The riots outside the Stonewall Inn continued for the next five days.
 
Pride in London – just a party?
 
These days, Pride marches are held in cities around the world.  Pride in London, which this year will take place on Saturday 7 July, is one of the biggest: some one million people are expected to attend.  The celebrations will focus on a parade, which will begin at Portland Place at 12 noon, moving through Oxford Circus, Regent Street, Pall Mall and Trafalgar Square, before finishing in Whitehall.[2]  There will be stages in Trafalgar Square and in the streets of Soho, which will host speeches and a variety of entertainment.
 
In recent years, Pride in London has been criticised for being “just a party” and for being overly commercial.  It is certainly true that the parade now looks more like a carnival than a political protest.  Thousands of marchers dressed in spectacular outfits walk, sing, play and dance along the route, accompanied by all manner of wonderfully decorated floats, many of which will be sponsored by large corporations, government organisations and NGOs.
 
But for all the party atmosphere, I think there is still a clear political justification for Pride in London.  While the UK is now one of the safest places for LGBT people in the world, a government report of the findings of the National LGBT Survey published this week found that:

  • LGBT respondents are less satisfied with their life than the general UK population, with trans respondents reporting particularly low scores;
  • More than two-thirds of LGBT respondents said they had avoided holding hands with a same-sex partner for fear of a negative reaction from others; and
  • At least two in five respondents had experienced an incident because they were LGBT, such as verbal harassment or physical violence, in the 12 months preceding the survey.[3]

And while there is more to be done to address these issues in the UK, the position in many other countries is dramatically worse.  As of July 2017, homosexuality was criminalised in 72 countries and could result in the death penalty in eight countries.[4]
 
So, if you do go to Pride this weekend, have a fantastic time.  But take a moment to think about the circumstances facing those people at the Stonewall Inn in June 1969 and the reason the marches are still important today.

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