This weekend London will play host to EuroPride, the largest gay and lesbian festival in Europe. Half a million people are expected to line the route as a carnival atmosphere greets a colourful parade of floats, including the Royal Navy marching in uniform, as it makes its way through the packed streets of London.
"Gay" has become a byword for stylish trendsetters. Endless column inches are devoted to the efforts of the corporate world to tap into the powerful pink pound, and VisitBritain markets the country as the United Queendom.
The first Pride march in London took place in 1972. It was attended by just 200 brave men and women, against the back-drop of a country that had only made homosexuality legal five years previously. Among them were even braver participants from Scotland and Northern Ireland; these marchers would not see homosexuality made legal in their homelands until 1980. In 1972, gay and lesbian people faced routine persecution and discrimination, suffered physical abuse, and were often denied their basic human rights.
In 2006, we live in an era of civil partnerships, equal age of consent, openly gay politicians, gay adoption and laws to prevent discrimination in the workplace. We live in a society where increasingly gays and lesbians can feel comfortable with their own sexuality and lead open and enriched lives where they are free to express themselves without fear.
We have made truly remarkable progress since that first gathering in 1972. Yet despite this, many gay and lesbian people in London, the United Kingdom, other parts of Europe, and all over the world face oppression, violence and abuse each and every day of their lives.
The Pride movement has been a powerful vehicle to promote the messages of tolerance, equality and justice since 1972, and this must continue the journey towards a world where all human beings, whatever their sexual orientation, are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
In this country we still have more to do to change attitudes and challenge bigotry. We still live in a nation where people are bullied, abused and even murdered simply for being gay. We live in a nation where the word "gay" is still accepted as a term of abuse in school playgrounds, in offices, and all too often in everyday life. Even the BBC governors have recently stated that it is acceptable to use "gay" as a derogatory term for "rubbish".
By increasingly becoming an inclusive and uniting force that brings the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people together with their families, friends and contemporaries, the Pride movement remains a unique force to bring society together and break down barriers of prejudice and ignorance.
On a practical level, the Pride London charity, by attracting the attention of corporate sponsors, can channel the commercial interest back into the community. Among our aims is to provide funding for a drop-in centre for the LGBT community, many of whom still suffer from rejection, violence and bullying despite the progress made since 1972.
Pride is now an international movement with over 2,000 events around the world. In the year when London has the honour of hosting EuroPride, it is vital for the festival to not only celebrate the strides made towards equality in the UK and many other European countries but also recognise the 1972 conditions, and in many cases much worse situations, facing marchers in Eastern Europe. These countries are only just beginning their journeys on the road to freedom and equality.
In 2006, the first Pride march took place in Moscow amidst opposition from city authorities, police brutality, and violence from fascists and religious fanatics. The brave marchers suffered greatly, but have joined the Pride movement and it is our responsibility to support their cause so that over the forthcoming years they can replicate the progress we have made in Britain. Indeed this will be the subject of the Prides Against Prejudice conference as people from all over Europe come together as part of EuroPride to discuss how to organise Pride in hostile environments.
Ask a young person on Old Compton Street on EuroPride Day to name the year of the first Pride march in London and very few will know the answer. It is an achievement for all of us that so many of them can live their lives without the scars of battles of equality. However, Pride must also take the message to them. Not about 1972, but about 2006 and how the Pride movement is still relevant for them and their contemporaries who are only just embarking on the difficult journey towards a tolerant, open, and free society.