By Richard Lawrence-Allen
This month marks LGBTQ+ Pride month across the globe, a time for people of all gender identities and sexual orientations to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. Pride means many things to many different people, and there is no “correct” way to mark the occasion. The roots of Pride lie in protest, demanding the freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression for all LGBTQ+ people.
The very first Pride March took place in 1970, on the one year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, an uprising against the police harassment of LGBTQ+ people on the streets of New York City. These riots are widely considered as being the inciting incident that lead to the Gay Liberation Movement, something that we will look at closer in another blog later this month. Since its relatively small beginnings, Pride has spread across all corners of the globe giving voice and visibility to LGBTQ+ people in dozens of different countries.
London held its first Pride celebration in 1972, and this has been an annual event that has grown and grown exponentially over the years. However, not all LGBTQ+ individuals are lucky enough to be able to hold these annual celebrations, with Pride events being cancelled and even banned in many areas. For example, Russian LGBTQ+ activists have attempted to hold Pride demonstrations in Moscow, the country’s capital, since 2006. Demonstrations in 2006, 2007 and 2008 were all met with homophobic attacks and in June 2012 Moscow courts enacted a one-hundred-year ban on gay pride parades. A year later, in 2013, Russia introduced a Russian federal law “for the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values”, typically referred to in the West as the “gay propaganda law”. The introduction of this law, as it stands, prevents LGBTQ+ people in Russia from making themselves overtly visible in public life, under the guise that this will “protect children” and “traditional family values”, effectively quashing the hopes of an organised Pride event taking place in Russia until the law is changed.
In other countries, the situation is even more difficult for LGBTQ+ people. In many countries, homosexual activity is still illegal and can be punished with fines, several years of jail time, and in some cases even death. We are very lucky here in the UK in that rights for, and acceptance of, LGBTQ+ people are some of the best in the world. However, these are, in relative terms, fairly new developments.
Pride month is a great opportunity to look back at the achievements that the LGBTQ+ Rights Movement has accomplished so far and educate those who perhaps aren’t aware of the struggles LGBTQ+ people have faced historically. Homosexual activity between two men was illegal in the UK until at the late 1960s, when the Sexual Offences Act 1967 decriminalised homosexual acts between two men, in private, when both parties are over the age of 21. This act applied only to England and Wales, and it wasn’t until 1980 and 1982 that Scotland and Northern Ireland followed suit respectively. It wasn’t until the turn of the new millennium, less than 20 years ago, that the age of consent for homosexual males achieved equal status to that of heterosexual acts in the UK, when it was lowered to the age of 16 with the introduction of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000. Interestingly, the UK has no legislation relating to female acts of homosexuality and never has. This means that lesbianism has never been illegal in the UK, however, nor is there any official legal age of consent in lesbian sexual acts. It is assumed through common law that the age of consent for lesbians should be 16, matching other sexual consent ages, but there is no official legislation to support this currently.
As of 2014, not only are homosexual acts legal in the UK, but same-sex marriage ceremonies are now legally recognised as well, in England, Scotland and Wales. This is of course a huge landmark in LGBTQ+ rights and something to be celebrated. Pride is seen by many as a huge celebration; it is a celebration of freedom to be who you are and love who you love without fear of judgment. Huge parties are held all throughout Pride month, and at Pride parades across the world. Here at RSVP, we love that spirit of celebration, and while London Pride won’t be held this year until the first weekend of July, we wanted to get the party started early. We have decked out our reception area with rainbows, and other LGBTQ+ symbols and last Friday we piped out our favourite pops songs, enjoying rainbow-coloured vegan treats and fizzy pop to kick off Pride Month with a bang!
The Pride flag, a rainbow of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet has been a symbol for the LGBTQ+ community since 1978, when famous gay activist, Harvey Milk challenged Gilbert Baker to create a new symbol for the LGBTQ+ community for the San Fransisco Gay Freedom Day Parade to replace the previously used Pink Triangle. The Pink Triangle became a problematic symbol for the LGBTQ+ community after being used in Nazi concentration camps to brand the uniforms of LGBTQ+ prisoners and Milk felt it was time to find a new symbol, one invoking Pride. Baker’s original rainbow consisted of 8 different colours and each colour was given a specific meaning to hold. Hot pink represented sex, red was for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic and art, indigo for serenity and violet for spirit. By 1979, this was downsized to just 6 colours, losing pink and indigo, and changing turquoise to royal blue. This is the most popular version of the flag and is the one that is still used today.
The rainbow flag was designed to represent all those that fall into the LGBTQ+ community, the whole visible spectrum displayed to represent the spectrum of all LGBTQ+ people. Over the years, however, certain members of this community have begun to feel somewhat sidelined and both Pride and the rainbow flag has felt dominated by gay, white, cis-gender men. This with in mind, several branches of the community, including, but not limited to: bisexuals, trans people, asexuals, pansexuals, intersex and non-binary individuals, have created their own flags and symbols, seeking the representation that they feel they currently lack under the rainbow flag’s umbrella. The rainbow flag has itself had a bit of a facelift as of last year, now including a triangle section adding white, pink and pale blue stripes to represent the trans community and black and brown stripes to represent the often marginalised queer people of colour. This new flag, designed by Daniel Quasar, has been somewhat controversial within the LGBTQ+ community so far, and has not gained widespread popularity as of yet. The new flag’s detractors claim that at best the additions to the rainbow flag are redundant and at worst are divisive. Others, in support of the new flag, claim that the additions are necessary to reflect the changing needs and needed visibility for individual groups within the community that fear erasure within the wider LGBTQ+ narrative.
Some claim that Pride is no longer needed. This however, could not be further from the truth. While it is true that equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community have come along leaps and bounds in a relatively short amount of time, there is still work to do. As of writing, same-sex marriage remains illegal in Northern Ireland, despite being legal in all other areas of the UK and the Republic of Ireland as well. Moreover, men who have sex with men are not permitted to donate blood without first undertaking 3 months of celibacy (sexual inactivity), even if the sex is protected with a condom, despite no such rule applying to heterosexual men, or women. Disturbingly, despite being widely discredited as being ineffectual and oftentimes severely detrimental to mental health, gay conversion therapy remains legal within the UK as well. Recently, we have also seen protests against LGBTQ+ inclusive education in British schools. Some claim that it is inappropriate to teach LGBTQ+ content in schools, their focus erroneously looking only at sexual relations, rather than general relationships and alternative family structures, which is the actual intention of these teachings. Others mistakenly believe that teaching children about the existence of homosexual relationships will encourage otherwise heterosexual children to later become gay themselves. The attack of two lesbian women on public transport in London just last week by a group of young teenagers shows just how important proper inclusive and empathetic education in schools for LGBTQ+ relationships truly is. These are issues that LGBTQ+ people face in the UK alone; global acceptance problems in regards to LGBTQ+ people extends even further so the importance of Pride is still as paramount as it ever was.
Whatever you do to support Pride Month this year, have fun, live free and spread love.