What comes to mind when you think of Pride?
A colourful parade, filled with diamante leather and cheering attendees? Endless amounts of rainbow glitter and pure, unadulterated joy? For fifty-one years now, London has been home to the largest Pride parade in the United Kingdom. With 1.5 million attendees in 2022, the parade, run by Pride in London, is a celebration of unity, diversity, and queer joy. However, this has not always been the case.
The origin of Pride events in London can be found across the pond in the United States. Specifically, the Stonewall Riots.
Occurring on the 28th of June, 1969, the well-known Stonewall Riots set off a chain reaction across the world. Stonewall Inn was one of the many Mafia owned gay clubs in New York during the 1960’s. At a time where the simple gathering of LGBT+ people was deemed as “disorderly,” clubs such as Stonewall used bottle service - an attempt to bypass liquor laws - and tight lips to stay afloat. For months before Stonewall was raided in 1969, the New York Police Department (NYPD) had been arresting patrons of gay clubs under the pretence of liquor raids. In fact, Stonewall itself had been raided just two nights before the 28th.
Just after midnight on June 28th, police officers stormed the Stonewall Inn and began arresting club goers. The officers “roughed up patrons” and arrested thirteen people. A large number of those arrested were people who violated “the state’s gender-appropriate clothing statute,” which female officers would confirm by taking the accused into bathrooms and forcing them to derobe.
Those who they allowed to escape began to form a crowd outside the inn. There has been decades long debate over who ‘threw the first brick’ at Stonewall. It is widely believed that the crowd sprung into action after Drag King and lesbian Stormé DeLarverie was bludgeoned across the head by an officer and called out to the crowd to do something.
The crowd began to throw coins and other objects at the police in order to stop them from their violent arrests. Many of the arrested escaped from police vans. As the anger of the crowd escalated, several officers barricaded themselves and a group of patrons inside the inn. The crowd began to use a parking metre as a battering ram to rescue the civilians. The riot continued into the early hours of the morning until the fire department and a Riot Squad forced the crowd to disperse.
The morning after the events of Stonewall, the LGBT+ community of New York rose up. They began to march the streets of the city, demanding a stop to the bigotry and violence against them at the hands of not only the NYPD, but general New York society. These protests, attended by thousands of people, continued steadily for five days.
Anger within the community rose yet again in response to articles written by the Village Voice on the riot. The articles, written by Howard Smith and Lucian Truscott IV, continuously used slurs to describe the rioters, demeaned drag queens and transgender patrons in particular, and expressed surprise that this crowd of “limp wrists” could be capable of defending themselves.
Marches and protests were held for several months after the events of Stonewall occurred. Pro-LGBT+ organisations sprung up everywhere, and existing ones began to gain traction. Prominent civil rights groups, such as the Black Panthers, invited LGBT+ activists to speak at meetings for the first time.
British activists Aubrey Walter and Bob Meller attended one such meeting, the Black Panthers’ Revolutionary People’s convention. They returned back to the United Kingdom to found the London branch of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) at the London School of Economics. They held their first meeting in October of 1970.
On the 27th of November the same year, the GLF held its first demonstration at the site of the Louis Eakes arrest. Eakes was arrested unjustly for importuning; a law that allowed police officers to arrest gay men who they deemed to be acting flirtatiously.
In August of 1971, the GLF held what has come to be known as the Pride before Pride. They protested in Trafalgar Square against the age of consent for homosexual men being 21. On the first of July, a date chosen due to its closeness to the anniversary of Stonewall, the first UK Pride March was held in London.
One of the organisers, Peter Tachtell, claimed that “Our aim was to show that we were proud, not ashamed. Determined to come out of the shadows and stand up for our rights, we wanted to make ourselves visible and demand LGBT liberation.”
Since its inception, London Pride has steadily grown into the huge celebration it is today. However, this has not been without its controversies.
In 1988 the government passed an act that stated “A local authority shall not […] intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality.” This caused many local councils to withdraw their support of the parade, and the law was not repealed until 2003.
Distaste for the event has even come from within the LGBT+ community. In 2018, the UK branch of the Stonewall Charity withdrew its support for Pride in London. They claimed that the organisation showcased a severe lack of diversity, and instead partnered with Black Pride.
On top of this, some members who organised the very first Pride have become vocal about the amount of corporate support the event now has. In particular, the fact that the event receives support from BAE Systems, which is an arms manufacturer who supplies goods to Saudi Arabia, a country with countless homophobic laws.
Ultimately, despite its valid critiques, the parade organised by Pride in London is a wonderful testament to how far the LGBT+ community has come. Pride events across London show a community who are no longer ashamed of their identities, but joyful in their queerness. Yet, those partying their way into July must not forget the beginnings of their Pride, and the many lives who fell and continue to fall for the cause.
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