Pride isn’t a celebration yet – for LGBT+ people across the globe, it’s an act of defiance

As we reflect on the events of the last few weeks, let them serve as reminders to continue to strive for a world where everyone is free to be themselves and no one is left behind

Ruth Hunt
Sunday 23 June 2019 13:48
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Pride Month

Since the Stonewall uprising 50 years ago, Pride has been a vital part of LGBT+ communities’ campaign to assert our right to be seen, accepted and celebrate who we are. That’s as true today as it was five decades ago, and we’ve had plenty of reminders this Pride month that our fight for equality is far from over.

June kicked off with Ann Widdecombe, a newly elected politician, saying science could still find an “answer” to LGBT+ identities. While at the same time, protests continued online about the morality of LGBT+ inclusive education after the High Court rightly ruled it was unacceptable for people to be protesting outside primary schools in Birmingham – where teachers were just telling their pupils that some people have two mums and some two dads and that’s OK.

The language being used by some individuals and groups is straight out of the vicious campaigns of the 1980s when Section 28, the law that banned local authorities from “promoting homosexuality”, was introduced. This legislation was the trigger that led Ian McKellen, Michael Cashman, Lisa Power and our other founders to set up Stonewall.

Our goal since those dark days 30 years ago has been to change the way people think about lesbian, gay and bi people, and build acceptance in our communities, schools, workplaces and places of worship. And I’m proud of the fact that since I became chief executive five years ago, we have joined with trans communities to fight for acceptance of trans people as well.

To be honest, the events of the past month come as no surprise to me. And if you talk to many LGBT+ people it will be no surprise to them. Our research last year showed that throughout the UK many LGBT+ people still face discrimination, abuse and violence.

The violent homophobic, biphobic and misogynistic attack against two women on a London bus this month is one shocking example of that fact. As was the anti-LGBT+ attack on two actors in Southampton. For lesbian and bi women, like myself, these incidents were reminders that despite the huge progress we have made, we still face the risk of serious attacks like these.

To show solidarity with these women, many other lesbian and bi women began bravely sharing their own stories of harassment and abuse to show how women in same-sex relationships are forced to constantly edit our behaviour just to stay safe. We know these incidents were motivated by a misogyny that affects everyone who dares not conform to typical forms of gender expression, from feminine men to butch women, as well as trans people.

In the month that’s meant to be for the LGBT+ community and when many of us take part in Pride to celebrate who we are, these stories make us acutely aware of the small acts we still take to protect ourselves in public. Whether that’s deciding what to wear for a day out, unclasping our partner’s hand when walking down the street or glancing over our shoulders before deciding how to greet each other.

One of the women, named Chris, who was attacked, has since spoken out to say what many of us have been thinking. The shock and disbelief this incident generated among the general public is not shared by the LGBT+ community – we know this is our reality. Recent figures have shown that anti-LGBT+ hate crime levels in England and Wales continue to rise and this is something that should concern everyone. The simple fact is that these kinds of attacks are all too common in 2019.

What Chris also rightly pointed out is that many similar attacks do not receive the same level of attention because the victims are not white, educated or as privileged as she and her date were.

That violence against certain marginalised communities doesn’t warrant this level of moral outrage is hugely important to remember this Pride month.

Pride started because of the Stonewall uprising, 50 years ago on 28 June 1969, wherein a diverse coalition of LGBT+ people rose up and said no to violence, intimidation and exclusion. They sparked the modern LGBT+ rights movement we know today. Many of the leaders at Stonewall, including figures such as Marsha P Johnson, Stormé DeLarverie and Sylvia Rivera, were part of groups that continue to exist at the margins of our community and in society today.

The events of the last few weeks tell us that we need to use this historic occasion to reflect on how far we still have to go to achieve equality for everyone within our community. We cannot afford to be complacent. We need to question why so many of the marginalised communities who were pivotal to the Stonewall uprising are still underrepresented across society and face significant barriers to equality.

In the UK, trans communities face discrimination and abuse across all areas of their lives and the validity of who they are continues to be debated in the media and online. And LGBT+ communities of colour continue to face racism, both from outside and within the LGBT+ community, compounding their experiences of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

It is our collective responsibility to be active allies to those who continue to be under-represented and oppressed. We can’t eradicate homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in any meaningful way if we aren’t addressing issues like racism, sexism and ableism as well.

This 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising is a chance to pay homage to those who came before us and recognise how their courage paved the way for the progress we’ve made. That’s why at this year’s Pride in London, Level Up, Mermaids, Imaan, Stonewall, UK Black Pride, ParaPride, Sparkle and many other LGBT+ groups from different parts of our communities will be marching as one collective group – Together in Pride.

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It is by standing together, arm in arm with each other, that we show the true power and resilience of our diverse community.

As we mark this historic occasion and reflect on the events of the last few weeks, let them serve as reminders to continue to strive for a world where everyone is free to be themselves and no one is left behind.

For so many LGBT+ people in Britain and around the world, Pride isn’t yet a celebration but an act of defiance. We owe it to those who came before us to continue that fight for change this year and in years to come.

Now, more than ever, we must stand together and build a world where all LGBT+ people are accepted without exception. Let’s continue to raise each other up. Together we are stronger.

Ruth Hunt is chief executive at Stonewall UK

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