London declares: 'Make Prejudice History'

Despite clashing with the biggest event on the planet, there was a mood of celebration about this year's parade
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The Independent Online

Grey skies and the Live8 event combined to produce a smaller turnout than normal for the 35th Pride march.

But there was a mood of celebration over the landmark civil partnerships legislation passed earlier this year, which means same sex couples can be legally recognised for the first time.

The march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square featured the traditional exotic mix, with feather boas, scantily clad dancers, drag Britney Spears characters (right), a pink tank and a group who described themselves as "Gay, Muslim and Unveiled".

Bob Geldof took time out from Live8 to address the London Pride march and call on the gay community to think about the plight of Africa, saying: "We are going to stop one vast oppression of a vast minority - that's what we are going to do today."

Stephen Fry declared the day to be "a celebration, but also a memorial, because, if you're of my generation, so many people you know have died of Aids". He also warned that despite the successes of the previous years - gaining an equal age of consent, and the passing of the Civil Partnerships Act - there were still "highly organised groups of right-wing people who want to sweep us into the fires of hell".

A decade ago, Gay Pride was attracting hundreds of thousands of participants. Despite the reduced turnout, the veteran rights campaigner Peter Tatchell described it as a sign of progress: "It's still a big change from the 700 who were on the first march in 1972," he said.

But he was critical of the decision to stage Live8 yesterday. "Gay Pride has always been held on this weekend," he said. "It's a pity that the Live8 organisers couldn't have done it on another weekend. We do support their campaign, but we also want to make homophobia history."

The TV mogul Waheed Ali said: "Eight years ago we were fighting about an equal age of consent, so look how far we've come. It's not just about changing the law, it's about winning hearts and minds. And they've even closed the centre of London for us."

Not all shared his enthusiasm. As two young men in strappy leather skirts left a newsagents by Westminster Tube station, the vendor shook his head disapprovingly. "We've made great strides," said Tatchell, "but there are still areas of inequality."

As if to prove his point, as the parade rounded Haymarket, a group displaying Christian Voice posters waved placards. "God gave them (sodomites; lesbians) over to a reprobate mind. Romans 1:28" read the words on one. A red-faced man pointed at the sign. "Bible," he shouted, "Bible," as a float carrying the choir of the Metropolitan Community Church passed by. Rainbow flags were much in evidence - but not above the shopfronts of London's "gay village" in Soho.

They have been a source of controversy throughout the year thanks to a decision by Westminster council to clamp down on all flag flying. The row has generated ill-feeling not least because one of the premises keen to fly the flag is the Admiral Duncan pub, hit by a nail bomb in 1999. The flags, first designed in San Francisco, spread to gay and lesbian communities around the world as a symbol of pride.