Pride London: From gay protest to street party

When 700 people marched through central London in 1972 to hold Britain's first Gay Pride event, the participants suffered homophobic taunts and heavy-handed policing.

When 700 people marched through central London in 1972 to hold Britain's first Gay Pride event, the participants suffered homophobic taunts and heavy-handed policing.

More than 60,000 will today take to the capital's streets once more for Pride London in circumstances that organisers of the first march 32 years ago would barely recognise.

Rather than the "protest" by a barely tolerated minority of the past, this year's event boasts sponsors ranging from Ford to the Metropolitan Police and has for the first time been designated a parade rather than a political demonstration.

Organisers hope the change of terminology, which is costing them an extra £100,000 to pay for requirements from road closures to street cleaners, will help to transform Pride into a full-blown carnival to rival Sydney's Mardi Gras and draw thousands of tourists to the capital.

Jason Pollock, the chairman of Pride London, said: "The fact it is costing a lot more money was a bit of a shock but we're convinced this will help achieve our goal - to make this an international event.

"Certainly it's a quantum leap from the early marches. They were protests at the start of gay liberation. People would boo from the pavements and you could be arrested at the drop of a hat. Now it is a party by the gay community for everybody."

When the parade leaves Hyde Park for Trafalgar Square at midday, it will include 30 floats, 10 samba bands, two double-decker buses and a phalanx of lesbian bikers.

Participants will include gay employees from the police, fire brigades and Prison Service through to Battersea Dogs Home, which is sending its dog ambulance to drum up interest in its work.

A separate £1.5m concert, Big Gay Out, will be staged in Finsbury Park, north London, with performers ranging from Sugababes and Jamelia to Marc Almond and Peter Andre.

Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, who will lead the parade and address a rally in Trafalgar Square, said he wants Pride London to rival the Sydney Mardi Gras, which last year had 500,000 in attendance.

In answer to critics who point to increasing commercialisation and corporate sponsors, Mr Pollock said: "Those who want to go and have a party can do so. But Pride is also still a political event because however much progress has been made, there is still a lot to be achieved for the gay rights movement."

ON PARADE

Midday-2pm: Pride London parade begins at Hyde Park, marching to Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square before finishing at Victoria Embankment.

1pm-10.30pm: Big Gay Out concert starts in Finsbury Park with 11 stages and 45 bands. Tickets cost £25.

2.30pm: Rally starts at Trafalgar Square with speakers and musical performers.

3.30pm: Show by the Asian dance band Sister India.

5pm: Rally finishes with performance by the Pink Singers community chorus.

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