[This article was originally published in DIVA’s June 2017 issue. Read my latest column in DIVA, on sale now at divadigital.co.uk]
“Ceri, it’s Pride month, can’t you write about something happy for once?”. I know, I know, and I promise that not all of my columns are going to be so gloomy, but the discussion surrounding Pride and why we need it more than ever this year is an important one, so bear with me, and I’ll do my best not to be such a party-pooper next month.
I’ve recently been flaunting my obsession with dystopian novels all over Twitter, eager to pour praise on the classics and to receive new recommendations from anyone who’ll put up with me long enough to listen. War, death, oppression; you name it, I’ll read about it. Call me morbid if you must, but I’d rather be reading about fantasy despair than living through it – a luxury that, even today, not many LGBT+ people have.
Only a few weeks ago, the world looked on in horror as disturbing details of Chechnya’s ‘gay concentration camps’ emerged. It has been reported that hundreds of gay men from the Russian republic have been captured and brought to the prisons in the town of Argun, where they endure brutal and sustained torture at the hands of their captors.
In a chilling response to global criticism, a Chechen government spokesperson denied that there even were any gay people in the country, insisting that “you can’t detain and harass someone who doesn’t exist in the republic”.
And yes, whilst the campaign of hate in Chechnya may feel like a world away from the West and our arguably progressive society, we cannot sensibly ignore the fact that we are facing a tumultuous time for LGBT+ rights as well. Within the US White House sits an administration hostile to many of our hard-won victories. Last year, a guy went into the Pulse gay club in Orlando, Florida, and shot 49 people dead. Closer to home, it should not be forgotten that gay bars have also been targeted here in the UK in the past (just think of the nail bomb attack on the Admiral Duncan in Soho), and even recently a group of lesbians on a night out were brutally attacked by a gang of men in Portsmouth. Looking at the larger picture, UK and European austerity measures have hit services catering to the most vulnerable in society – an issue for our community because lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are at elevated risks of mental health issues, poverty, and abuse than much of the average population.
Yet despite all that, at this time of year the ‘do we really still need Pride’ crowd will begin to come out in force. So let’s take a moment to break it down and think about it, because homophobia and transphobia hasn’t evaporated into thin air. Many straight and cisgendered people may now be completely cool with gay and trans people, but not everyone’s got the memo – and some still would prefer to see us removed from the picture completely.
Yes, we still need Pride. It commemorates our history, from early European movements in the 1870s (when social reformers began to defend homosexuality and a secret British society called the “Order of Chaeronea“ sprung up, counting members such as Oscar Wilde in their midst), or a black trans woman named Marsha Johnson standing up by throwing a shot glass at police officers, and subsequently kicking off days of rioting as LGBT+ people rose up against the police system’s brutality and bigotry, right through to modern day history, such as winning the right to marry the people we love, and to adopt.
Yes, we still need Pride. Some LGBT+ people still suffer from isolation and alienation within their everyday communities, and so the role of Pride events in instilling a sense of belonging to a community is imperative. Marching side by side with LGBT+ friends and allies is a hugely liberating experience, and one not to be sniffed at.
Yes, we still need Pride. At its core, this annual celebration is a fiercely humanising event. In a world which too often positions straightness as ‘normal’ and shames those who do not conform, Pride allows those of us in the community to demand that we be treated with the same dignity and respect as everyone else, regardless of our sexual or gender identities. Pride is about Queer-people asserting their humanity in a society that so often treats them as less than human – and about us having a bloody marvellous time whilst doing it. See you there?