EVERY SUMMER, WHEN the days are, hopefully, hot, and the skies clear, people congregate in cities across the world in a celebration of identity, of community and of progress. Pride season is upon us, and with it comes controversy and debate.
In the past it was a festival I, at best, held an antipathy towards. On the surface it can seem a shallow excuse for a public piss-up, but I have come to appreciate it as something far more important.
LGBT Pride celebrations have been criticised on a number of grounds; to some they seem like hypersexualised and immoral hedonism; to others they have served their purpose, to some they have been taken over by corporate interests seeking a marketing opportunity akin to sporting events and there are those who believe there should be no LGBT Pride without Straight Pride.
There are, of course, those who feel we have entered an era of Pride as a celebration rather than a protest. We have come a long way from the context in which Pride originated.
On June 28 1969, New York’s LGBT community rebelled against the repression and violence they faced at the hands of the police and state.
A peaceful, non-confrontational approach had left much to be desired, and thus a fiery response in a period of protest and civil rights movements marked the beginning of a new phase of LGBT activism. One year later, the first Pride marches were held to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
In Ireland, it was the murder of Declan Flynn on September 9 1982 that triggered the modern LGBT movement. This was the culmination of a series of beatings of gay men in Fairview Park, Dublin.
Despite mostly pleading guilty to manslaughter, the perpetrators walked away with suspended sentences. This outrage resulted in hundreds marching from Liberty Hall to Fairview Park on March 19 1983, including LGBT groups and pro-choice activists, an alliance that has continued in recent referendum campaigns.
Dublin’s first Pride
Later that year, on June 25, the National LGBT Federation organised the first Pride parade in Dublin, but it was another decade before homosexual activity was decriminalised in Ireland.
In my new home of Liverpool, the tragic beginning of Pride was far more recent. August 2nd 2018 will be the ten year anniversary of the death of 18-year old Michael Causer who was assaulted because of his sexuality on July 25 2008.
Pride began as a reaction to violence, oppression and injustice, with an aim of advancing LGBT rights. Now, Pride is a celebration of progress, for we have come so far, but it remains a commemoration of our losses and a protest against the continued marginalisation and assault of our community.
June 12 was the two year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, and there are frequent reports of LGBT people being attacked in Dublin and London as well as in Moscow. As a young, queer man I have had to deal with less than others, but I have grown up learning how to handle the harassment and the fear of assault.
Our struggle for equality
The LGBT community joined the campaign to repeal the 8th much like feminists have long been allies in our own struggle for equality, but now there is the risk that abortion legislation will exclude trans and non-binary people who do not identify as ‘women’ but for whom pregnancy is still possible.
LGBT teenagers in Ireland are three times more likely to attempt suicide, 70% of young LGBT people don’t think schools are safe for them, and they are deprived of adequate sex education that could protect their wellbeing.
The government is only just issuing an apology for the convictions of gay men prior to 1993, but the damage done to their lives continues.
Marriage equality and the Gender Recognition Act were major steps, but pretending we have achieved all there is to achieve is to abandon those who continue to suffer as a consequence of their identities.
Pride will no longer be necessary when researching attitudes towards LGBT people is no longer a routine part of planning travels abroad.
In a world where an LGBT character in a TV show leads to accusations of trying to influence children, because we are still seen by many as abnormal, unnatural and predatory, a positive expression of our identities to counter this is protest.
In a world where revealing our identity can be met with hostility, a public celebration of marginalised identities to show ourselves, in James Baldwin’s words, as ‘birds of paradise’, is a protest. Even if you view Pride as nothing more than a celebration, it is still a protest.
Pride will only cease to be a protest when there is nothing left to fight for.
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