Today is Pride Day, a significant event for the LGBTQ+ community because of the historical – but still ever present – hardships they face
June marks the official Pride month, which celebrates the LGBTQ+ community; allies who believe in equality are also welcome at Pride events. LGBTQ+ is an acronym meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer – an umbrella term for non-heterosexual people. The plus signifies the inclusion of intersex, gender fluid and asexual people.
Pride month began in the United States to commemorate the Stonewall riots which occurred on June 28th 1969. The Stonewall riots were a series of violent confrontations that happened outside The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York, where the solicitation of homosexual relations was illegal. During the riots, the police raided the bar and arrested anyone who was not wearing at least three articles of ‘gender appropriate clothing’. Bystanders got involved in the situation, leading the police to barricade themselves in the bar; the barricade was breached and the bar was set on fire. With around 400 people rioting that night, the conflict continued for another five days.
In the aftermath of the riots, people were encouraged to celebrate their sexuality with pride. Stonewall became a symbol for resistance against social and political discrimination. A year after the riots, the first Gay Pride march was celebrated, with the creation of the rainbow flag as a symbol for gay pride following suit in 1978. The pride narrative remains at the heart of celebrations as means of support for those closeted in the community.
Events such as Gay Pride have increased acceptance of people’s sexuality; when I discovered my sexuality, I received a lot of support from those around me, which made me feel seen. Although I was lucky, there continues to be an unnecessary sexualisation of bisexual women, who continue to face discrimination and invalidation of their sexual identity.
Huge strides towards equality have rippled across Europe since the late 1960s, with liberation movements only serving to further the plight for full legal equality. Since homosexuality was decriminalised, steps towards full legal equality such as civil partnerships, gender recognition, the right to adopt and anti-discrimination laws have helped the LGBTQ+ society.
This year’s Pride looks very different to the bright, loud, communal celebrations of the past with most marches being a mixture of online and smaller in-person events. Each year the largest Pride march, World Pride, is held in a host city; this year the celebration is split across two Scandinavia cities: Denmark’s capital Copenhagen and Malmo in Sweden. The last World Pride occurred in June 2019 with millions of people celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York. In 2020, Pride took its first step into the online world with over 300 million viewers tuning in for a 24-hour livestream Global Pride celebration. Musical artists, gay rights activists, and even world leaders, such as Canadian prime Minister Justin Trudeau, attended the livestream.
Currently, London Pride is set to go ahead in September after reaching its biggest turn out of 1.5 million people in 2019. However, other marches across the UK have sadly been cancelled. Instead, many countries are hosting a virtual pride instead of in-person celebrations, which organisers hope will lead to greater inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in hostile areas. Those living in such countries like Saudi Arabia can perhaps attend their first pride – something that would have been impossible to do in-person due to the death penalty. As expected, a virtual pride brings forward the threat of trolling with organisers preparing for trolls to crash such events and harass participants with homophobic, transphobic, sexist, and racist remarks.
Although the LGBTQ+ community celebrated numerous notable achievements over the past decades, the International Gay and Lesbian Association concluded that 69 countries continue to punish homosexuality with imprisonment. Included in this are the 11 countries where being LGBTQ+ is punishable by death. Of the 53 countries in the Commonwealth – the association of countries that used to be former British colonies – 36 continue to criminalise homosexuality.
Legislation changes the law, not people’s attitudes. It is clear that there is still far to come in terms of social reform. The LGBTQ+ community continue to face violent hate crimes, with over 80% of incidents going unreported. Since same sex marriage was legalised in England in 2014, homophobic hate crimes almost trebled to nearly 18,500 in 2020. Many same-sex partners remain afraid to show affection in public in fear of verbal or physical abuse. These attacks are not limited to the streets, but also the online world with many high-profile people using their platform to direct hate at such minorities.
In Poland, right-wing President Andrzej Duda referred to “LGBT ideology” as worse than communism, with dozens of small towns passing resolutions to declare themselves as “LGBT-free zones”. Albeit these resolutions are not yet legally enforceable, it has increased the oppression of the LGBTQ+ community in the country. Similarly, lawmakers in Hungary passed legislation prohibiting the sharing of homosexual content with minors. The country’s current right-wing government led by Viktor Orban does not recognise gay marriage and restricts gay adoption.
Consistently LGBTQ+ children face homophobic and transphobic abuse from their peers and are continually discriminated against in a range of health, care, and social care environments. This discrimination has led to a disproportionate amount of LGBTQ+ people being affected by mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression and loneliness. In the UK alone, nearly half of all transgender children have attempted suicide.
Rights for transgender people in the UK alone still have far to come. Although the government reduced the cost of applying to change one’s gender, medical requirements still remain. Transgender people have referred to the system as “intrusive” and “humiliating”. The transgender community especially continue to fight discrimination on a daily basis, with at least 28 transgender people killed in 2021. In the last three years, transgender hate crimes in Britain have risen by 81%, with nearly 2,000 incidents in 2020 alone. Within the LGBTQ+ community itself, there remains some level of discrimination with 51% of people of colour stating that they have experienced racism from the community.
COVID-19 has unfortunately exposed continuing inequality, leaving members of the LGBTQ+ community vulnerable to infection, abuse, and isolation. Anti-LGBTQ+ bias is evident in multiple countries’ responses to the pandemic. In Uganda, police detained 20 LGBTQ+ homeless youth for allegedly breaking COVID-19 restrictions – they were tortured in prison. In South Korea, social media users blamed the LGBTQ+ community for the spread of COVID-19 by denoting gay clubs as the key hub of the disease. In Panama, police enforced a gender-based quarantine and continued to deny the identity of transgender people.
Sadly, the pandemic has pushed many LGBTQ+ youth onto the streets, seeing a rise in homelessness. Lockdown has left them in difficult situations, like unaccepting or abusive family members, seeing many going back into the closet. Lockdown has seen students lose access to LGBTQ+-friendly resources, networks, and spaces, leaving them once again isolated from society.
Despite the restraints of COVID-19, the LGBTQ+ community celebrated a monumental, yet long-awaited triumph this year with the Queen announcing that conversion therapy will be banned in England and Wales. This alleged therapy acts to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity, often through unethical and harmful practices which cause mental and physical harm. Data shows that 2% of the LGBTQ+ community have been subjected to the abhorrent practice; more than half said it was conducted by a religious group.
Over recent years, organisers have come under fire for the commercialisation of pride, with some arguing that it is losing its protesting roots and focusing on having big celebrities attend the marches. For me, there is no issue with the commercialisation of pride as it gives the LGBTQ+ community greater visibility. Pride remains a historic and monumental occasion to reflect on the amazing achievements for the community. It acts as a place of solace for people, by giving a sense of belonging to people that may feel outcast from society. Pride is essential for validating someone’s sexual or gender identity, it shows acceptance and care that such individuals may not receive elsewhere. To me, pride means feeling safe, accepted and proud no matter who I choose to be or choose to love.
Evidently, we need Pride now more than ever to support the LGBTQ+ community as well as educating society about equality and the dangers of discrimination. Pride helps show that love beats hate in a society where homosexuality used to be considered a mental illness. It allows the LGBTQ+ community reflect on its successes through celebration and solidarity, whilst acknowledging that sadly there is still so much more to do.