The Pride march in London was a snapshot of the strides LGBT politics have made over the years, writes Colin Wilson. And despite the huge corporate presence, it showed signs of a growing left. Photographs by Steve Eason.
I went on my first Pride march in 1980. A few thousand people took part. I was 19, and it was still illegal for me to have sex with another man – the age of consent was 21, and remained so until 1994.
There were no anti-discrimination laws of any kind for LGBT people. Marriages between trans men and women, or between trans women and men, were invalid – they remained so until 2004.
I think there were a few union banners on the march, and a presence from the revolutionary left. But there certainly weren’t any mainstream political parties.
How things have changed 35 years on. We’ve won equality across a range of civic institutions, and we’re protected against discrimination by law. Pride is now a vast celebration that brings London to a standstill.
And yet the applauding spectators that line the streets are covered with stickers advertising Channel 5, Tesco and every corporation under the sun.
Friends of mine who hadn’t come to Pride for a few years were astonished to see balloons from Unilever and little flags from Nando’s (“worth coming out for”). Microsoft had a banner announcing that Windows 10 lets you live life in your own way, or something.
Nestling among the corporates, and despite an earlier refusal from organisers, a gaggle of UKIP supporters joined in. The stewards let them march on condition that they move away from African LGBT groups.
But there’s always a left presence at Pride, most of all in the form of the unions. This year that presence was boosted by members of Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), who led the trade union section along with the Tredegar Town Brass Band and the South Wales Gay Men’s Chorus.
Hundreds of us had attended LGSM’s pre-Pride party the night before, where people from South Wales mingled with LGBT activists, including many who had attended last week’s TUC LGBT conference. There were tears in many eyes as we all joined together to sing “Bread and Roses”. The following day saw the historic banners of the National Union of Mineworkers join the march – as they did in 1985, when miners and LGBT people were both pariahs in the eyes of Thatcher.
There was also an increased presence from union branches and trades councils. Prominent among them there were banners from National Gallery strikers, fighting privatisation and the victimisation of their union rep Candy Udwin.
We also saw members of a younger generation, hit hard by austerity but fighting back. Workers from the Ritzy cinema in Brixton, who won a pay rise after repeated strike action with community support, marched behind a Bectu union banner.
Students from National Campaign against Fees and Cuts kept up anti-cuts and anti-racist chants all the way along the route.
Around a thousand onlookers, though covered in corporate stickers, took postcards against “pinkwashing” – Israel’s attempt to hijack LGBT liberation for propaganda purposes.
Then and Now
Back in the 1980s we assumed that acceptance of LGBT people would be incompatible with capitalism. We were for the most part mistaken about this – significant changes for the better have taken place within the confines of the current system, in ways we did not expect.
But I can’t help thinking we were still on to something back then. What we fought for wasn’t integration into capitalism, or a Pride march led by Barclays Bank.
We fought for a different and better world – one where social justice and solidarity were commonplace, one where sexuality and gender were liberated rather than commoditised.
In 1980 that was a vision shared by tiny numbers in an isolated movement. Now millions of people are beginning to grasp that another Pride, and another world, are possible.