Pride has changed the world for LGBT+ people. Long may it continue.
by Peter Tatchell
London’s celebration of LGBT+ Pride this Saturday is one of the 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 worldwide movement of all time — and the most successful. It exists in over 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 decriminalization of homosexuality in more than 120 countries, with 24 now legalizing 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. Nine out of 10 countries have become increasingly accepting of LGBT+s in the last two decades.
Severe persecution continues in many parts of the world. Nevertheless, it is still an extraordinary accomplishment that more than 2,000 years of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic abuse has been significantly rolled back in many countries in less than half a century. All this progress is the result of daring, innovative, and unrelenting campaigning — against all the odds — by national and international LGBT+ movements.
More evidence of success is the fact that our rainbow flag is now the 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. It is cherished by LGBT+ people — and straight allies — in every nation — unlike national flags. It is the symbol of our common LGBT+ humanity.
Pride is the celebration that unites hundreds of millions of diverse LGBT+ people all across the planet. I have witnessed, in my lifetime, the explosion 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. Together with other members of the Gay Liberation Front, I helped pioneer London’s first ever Pride parade in 1972.
To give it broad appeal, we deliberately pitched it as a carnival parade with an LGBT+ liberation theme. Even so, it was tiny. Most LGBT+s were in the closet and had internalized homophobia. Only 700 people showed up. Concurring, there were similar groundbreaking Pride events in major U.S. cities, but also with relatively small numbers.
Since then, there has been an exponential growth of Pride celebrations all across the planet. Madrid, Sao Paulo, Toronto, Paris, New York and Berlin have each mobilized between one and two 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, the festivities number only hundreds of people and suffer severe state repression, as happened in Uganda last year, where 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, more 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 broad 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.
This Saturday, I’ll enjoy the Pride celebration and party mood. But I’ll also be there with a serious message: to highlight and stand in solidarity with persecuted Russian and Chechen LGBT+s. It’s going to be politics with joy. That is Pride. and may it long remain.