Since 1972, Pride’s joyful form of protest has become a liberating force.
London’s celebration of LGBT+ Pride in June is one of thousands of Pride celebrations taking place over the summer months in nearly every country on Earth.
In less than five decades, what began in a handful of western cities has become an unprecedented global phenomenon. Today, the LGBT+ movement is the most unifying, ubiquitous and universal movement there has ever been – and the most successful. It exists in more than 160 countries, sometimes covertly, with a common agenda of LGBT+ liberation that transcends all borders, classes, ideologies, cultures and ethnicities.
It has notched up some impressive achievements. The decriminalisation of homosexuality in more than 120 countries, with 26 now legalising same-sex marriage and more than 60 protecting LGBT+ people against discrimination. Some 86 states have national human rights institutions that defend sexual and gender minorities.
It is an extraordinary accomplishment that more than 2,000 years of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic persecution have been significantly rolled back in most countries in less than half a century. All this progress is the result of daring, inventive and unrelenting campaigning – against all odds – by national and international LGBT+ movements.
More evidence of success is the fact that our rainbow flag is now the most universal flag in the world. Flown in every country, often briefly or secretly in repressive states, no other flag has such international reach and appeal. Unlike national flags, it is cherished by LGBT+ people – and straight allies – in every nation. It is the symbol of our common LGBT+ humanity.
Pride is the celebration that unites hundreds of millions of diverse LGBT+ people across the planet. I have witnessed, in my lifetime, the expansion of Pride events to the farthest corners of the world. The annual celebrations are the visible manifestation of our queer culture and communities, and our collective international demand for respect, dignity and equal human rights.
The idea of Pride was conceived in the early 1970s as a riposte to the then dominant view – even among many LGBT+ people – that we should be ashamed of our sexual orientation and gender identity. Aged 20, together with other members of the Gay Liberation Front, I helped pioneer the UK’s first ever Pride parade, in London in July 1972.
To give it broad appeal, we deliberately pitched it as a carnival parade with a LGBT+ liberation theme. Even so, it was tiny. Most LGBT+ people were in the closet and had internalised homophobia. Only 700 people showed up. There were similar ground-breaking Pride events in major US cities at around the same time; but also with relatively small numbers. Since then, there has been an exponential growth of Pride celebrations all across the planet. Madrid, São Paulo, Toronto, Paris, New York and Berlin have each mobilised between 1 and 2 million people. No other political or social movement can match this scale, year on year.
At the other end of the Pride spectrum, in some countries those attending the festivities number only in the hundreds and suffer severe state repression, as happened in Uganda last year, when government threats of violent attack forced Pride’s cancellation. The previous year, 2016, Pride Uganda was marred by police arrests and brutality, without legal authority and with impunity.
But in many countries Pride has had unparalleled success because it is a just cause, with an ethical purpose, a global resonance and, very importantly, a happy, inclusive vibe. It speaks to LGBT+ people the world over. The unique blend of carnival-like celebration and political demands projects a serious message in a fun way that is attractive to a wide audience, with a far broader appeal than traditional forms of protest.
This joyful, exuberant atmosphere is infectious. Everyone likes a party and everyone wants to join in. The uplifting nature of Pride, with its flamboyance and theatricality, comes out of gay culture. But for some of us, it is also a cunning ruse to disarm and subvert homophobia, in ways that po-faced, angry demonstrations can never hope to achieve.
In London, I’ll enjoy the Pride celebration and party mood. But I was also there with a serious message: to highlight and stand in solidarity with persecuted Russian and Chechen LGBT+ people. It was politics with joy. That’s what Pride has always been and may it long remain.
- • Peter Tatchell is a human rights campaigner
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