Pride London's Paul Birrell: All we want are the rights that everyone else enjoys

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The Independent Online

Pride London is in its fifth year and remains the UK's largest Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) event. Why do we have it, though? Prides are often seen as little more than parties, a chance to catch up with friends and drink and dance the day through. Quite often it seems as if LGBT people have achieved equality, with civil partnerships, general acceptance in the workplace, the abolition of Section 28 and other huge leaps forward. Even HIV is no longer the headline-grabber it was during the dark days of the Eighties. So why do we need Pride?

Pride is still with us because that perception just isn't quite right. There are still tremendous problems for the LGBT community. "Gay" is a term of abusive school-yard slang, and has even been picked up on mainstream radio stations. Now we needn't get too worked up by schoolboy slang, but think how this impacts on you if you're young, don't know any other gay people, and are frightened that others find out you're gay, in case you get ostracised or worse. That can have a long-term and damaging impact. Abolishing the draconian Section 28 doesn't make it any easier to come out.

Sure, we have civil ceremonies, but are they equal to marriage? No is the answer, as the Government made clear when passing the legislation. It's the thoughtless second-class nature of much legislation that's passed that is offensive. How would it seem to the wider public if the Government turned around to another community and said that they could have something similar to marriage, but not marriage itself?

In Northern Ireland, we've just seen Iris Robinson, a representative of the Democratic Unionist Party call homosexuality an "abomination". How an allegedly educated woman can hold such a belief is simply staggering.

These problems in how the LGBT community is talked about, treated and perceived can have immense ramifications not only towards that community, but towards how individuals are generally encouraged to see their fellow men and women. Denying equality to any group is not the mark of a civilized society. And it is simply equality that's been looked for.

This is all very well, but what's it got to do with Pride? Pride London is unique among the UK's major Pride organisations in offering a platform to raise awareness of these issues to the wider public. It is that platform, in Trafalgar Square, that enables Pride London to get its message out there. What other event in the UK will see, as Pride London will on 5 July, the Deputy Prime Minister, Harriet Harman, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg, and the new Conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to name a few, get together to support equality for LGBT people?

Pride London's location at the heart of London, with tens of thousands hitting the city centre in the middle of a Saturday afternoon is a platform no other organisation can put on. And Pride London doesn't simply attract LGBT people: Pride London is proud that it attracts people from all walks of life to watch the parade and listen to some of what is being said. Pride London doesn't waste that opportunity, but makes sure that once it has people there, they stay there – hence our bars and other stages – in the hope that as wide an audience as possible hear our messages while enjoying a day out.

With so many people in attendance, Pride London hopes to tackle these perceptual challenges, and try to change attitudes. That's why Pride London isn't fenced off in a ghetto as London's Pride events used to be.

This year, we're hoping that we can produce an event that is not only hugely enjoyable but also goes some way to helping change perceptions. We welcome everyone to our event, and hope that everyone who comes listens for even a short while, and enjoys one of London's best days out.

For more information on Pride London (Saturday 5 July 2008), visit