Freedom To…

This year’s theme for Pride is ‘Freedom To…’ a concept that was initially suggested by QX Editor Cliff Joannou over a chilled glass of Chardonnay in Soho with Michael Salter, Chair of Pride in London. The idea was simple: Pride has a different meaning for every person that attends it. For one person, it’s a day to party, to drink and not go home for 48 hours. For the next person, it’s a battle for marriage or legal equality. For the person next to them, it’s a struggle for sexual freedom. And for many millions of others – often not even in the UK, but thousands of miles away around the world – it’s a daily battle to survive in a homophobic, overtly hateful, religious and/or prejudiced society.

The concept of #FreedomTo is simple: that whatever Pride means to you, whatever your concept of gay scene or community is, Pride is a day that allows you to shout, sing, dance or deliver that message as you see fit.

With that in mind, Cliff Joannou asked some of the more outspoken people from the UK’s gay community to tell us what Pride means to them… 

 PETER TATCHELL: Human Rights Campaigner, The Peter Tatchell Foundation


The LGBT community is now respectable, and in some ways the worse for it. In the last decade, we’ve made fantastic, positive gains but we’ve also witnessed a retreat from radical idealism to cautious conformism.

As homophobic laws have been repealed, apathy and complacency have replaced activism and campaigning. Too many LGBT people are smug and self-satisfied.

At the beginning of the modern LGBT freedom movement in the early 1970s, we had a beautiful dream of a new sexual democracy but it is fading fast. In the last 40 years, there has been a massive retreat from the ideals and vision of the early LGBT liberation pioneers. Most LGBT people no longer question the values, laws and institutions of mainstream society. They are content to settle for equal rights within the status quo – despite its many flaws and failings.

It was not always like this. The first Gay Pride marchers saw the family as “a patriarchal prison that enslaves women, gays and children”. Four decades later, the focus on safe, cuddly issues like civil partnerships indicates how LGBT people are increasingly reluctant to rock the boat and are more than happy to embrace traditional heterosexual aspirations.

In the early 1970s we had a beautiful dream of a new sexual democracy but it is fading fast.”

This political retreat signifies a huge loss of confidence and optimism. It also signals that even the LGBT movement has finally succumbed to the mainstream politics of conformism, respectability and moderation.

Gay conservatives and centre-lefts now dominate much of the LGBT movement. Few of them were involved in the early gay liberation struggle. They stayed in the closet or were born in a later era. But all of them benefited from the gains won by the radical pioneers.

Only when it was safe to be out did these arriviste activists jump on the bandwagon and hijack the LGBT movement for their own middle-of-the-road agenda. The radical generation are now frequently dismissed as extremists and marginalised.

The first UK Gay Pride march in 1972 was organised by volunteer, grassroots activists. Today, more and more gay organisations are run by paid career campaigners. These sharp-suited middle class professionals have infused the LGBT movement with their own cautious, respectable values. Craving acceptance and advancement, they rarely campaign on contentious issues, such as the hysteria over consensual sex between under-age partners, the censorship of sexual imagery and the criminalisation of sex workers and sadomasochistic relationships. It would be bad PR and might diminish their chances of OBEs and peerages.

The unwritten social contract at the heart of the recent campaigns for LGBT law reform is that gay people should behave respectably. No more cruising, orgies or bondage. In return, the ‘good gays’ will be rewarded with equal treatment. The ‘bad gays’, who fail to conform to conventional morality will, of course, remain sexual outlaws. Is that what we want? A prescriptive moralism that penalises non-conformists within our own community?

RUTH HUNT: Acting CEO of Stonewall

With major advancements in legal recognition for LGBT people over the past few years, why do we need Pride?

We may have secured legal equality here in Britain, but for many people real equality is still some way off. We know that homophobic bullying is still rampant in our schools and too many lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people face a daily nightmare of hate crime and abuse. We’ve also seen horrendously regressive steps taken right around the world to deny LGBT people their fundamental human rights. For all these reasons and more, it’s important we march and assert our right to be ourselves.

What does Stonewall have to be proud about in 2014 in regards to the LGBT community?

We’re proud that we’re a part of such a vibrant, diverse and passionate community. Pride events really show that LGBT people retain the ambition to make the world a better place, not just in Britain but right around the globe.

Where are we as a community failing each other?

There’s still much more to do to support LGBT people who are black or minority ethnic. Too many people fear homophobia and biphobia at home but also face racism when they venture out onto the gay scene. And whilst we’ve seen fantastic progress in the fight for equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people, our trans brothers and sisters are still taunted and attacked because they dare to affirm their true identity. Every one of us has a responsibility to take a stand and challenge this abuse.

There’s still much more to do to support LGBT people who are black or minority ethnic. Too many people fear homophobia and biphobia at home but also face racism when they venture out onto the gay scene.”

What are the greatest challenges facing the LGBT community?

While we may have transformed the landscape for LGBT people here in Britain, these changes often don’t reach every corner and community of our country. For those living outside of our major cities or those struggling to reconcile their faith and their sexuality the freedom that many of us enjoy and will celebrate at London Pride seems like a distant dream. Our work needs to go further and deeper here at home and we need to listen and work with our LGBT friends from around the world to help them fight for their own rights. It will require new forms of campaigning. It doesn’t lend itself to catchy slogans and won’t produce quick wins. But as a community we have a responsibility to keep fighting.

This year’s Pride theme is ‘Freedom To…’ Do you think that the LGBT community has sacrificed a sense of individuality with a need to conform to mainstream society’s ‘safer’ vision of an ideal ‘gay’ citizen?

I think if anyone looks at the hugely vibrant and diverse participants in Pride celebrations from up and down the country they’d see the individuality that flourishes in our community. One of the things that makes me so proud to work at Stonewall is the enormous diversity of our supporters and stakeholders. It’s these individuals that make the LGBT community such a powerful force for change.

DAVID HOYLE: Cabaret Terrorist and Avant Guardian

With major advancements in legal recognition for LGBT people over the past few years, do we actually need Pride? 

YES! Pride is still required, as long as so-called “hetero/normal” adults are still encouraging LGBT children to hate themselves. YES! As long as poisonous religious indoctrination is still encouraging violence and death on LGBT adults and children. YES! As long as LGBT people are made mentally ill, suicidal and vulnerable to self-harm and addictions! If Pride can put one person that is traumatised and riddled with self-loathing on the road to healthy self-acceptance, then it’s worth it!

This year’s Pride theme is ‘Freedom To…’ Do you think that the LGBT community has sacrificed a sense of personal freedom to be what they want to be with a need to conform to mainstream society’s ‘safer’ vision of an ideal ‘gay’ citizen? 

Assimilation has definitely diluted our unique outsiders’ perspective as we get seduced by capitalism and consumerism. They want our cash and they’ll toss us a few “freedoms” to get it! I think we’re entering a period of neo-orthodoxy! Thankfully, there is resistance to blanket blandness. We see this in clubs, which encourage people to liberate themselves from the straight-jacket of so-called gender! Such as Cha-Cha Boudoir in Manchester. I suppose mainstream society’s ideal of an LGBT person would be someone who questions nothing, doesn’t wanna change anything, is wholly self-serving and is happy to stand at the side of the road, waving a plastic Union Jack, whilst a trillionnaire un-elected “Head of State” goes by in a glittery golden carriage. As society currently stands, the more stupidly sociopathic and selfish a person is, the better!

What are the challenges facing the LGBT community?

I’m very interested in what my friend, the poet Gerry Potter, says about the current cancerous phenomena of the bourgeois zeitgeist in our community: there’s NO need to give a shit about anything – like social housing, the on-going impoverishment of millions of fellow citizens, the insanely selfish bankers and the self-interest of authority figures; NO, just ape middle-class “values”, and just KNOW about drizzles of olive oil & balsamic vinegar on rocket leaves!

What do we as gay people have to be ashamed of?

If we should be ashamed of anything, then it’s our silence and lack of solidarity with other human rights struggles. The bourgeoisie will mutter that “there’ll always be prejudice”, and therefore there is no point protesting! So we may as well be a self-serving ****, let alone develop solidarity with the oppressed around the world. If that can be described as a ‘political stance’, then it’s the ‘politics of defeat’! I believe that UNITY = STRENGTH!

Assimilation has diluted our unique outsiders perspective as we get seduced by capitalism and consumerism.”

Where is the LGBT community failing its own people?

I think for those of us who are still somehow surviving the trauma of the physical, emotional and psychological homophobic abuse of our childhoods, and then find ourselves on the gay scene with its own heartless demands, i.e. have the “right” body, wear the right rags and then negate one’s self by impersonating homophobic bullies and becoming “straight”-acting, feel let down by aspects of our community. How many photographs of apolitical bourgeois white “men” and “boys”, with symmetrical bodies do we have to be exposed to? YAWN!

What would David Hoyle’s ideal Pride Day entail? 

My ideal Pride event would be a friendly mix of revolution and revelry. On the morning of the event all Pride participants would be allocated a portfolio of equal shares in the banks and multi-national corporations = compensation for years of pure shite! There’d be plenty of champagne and other essentials for all! A ‘kangaroo court’ would be set up in Trafalgar Square (now renamed Pussy Riot Place) and any adult that’s ever made a child feel self-conscious about their Queerness, would be summarily executed! Entertainment would be in the form of impromptu bands, using musical instruments liberated from army barracks. Peter Tatchell would address us all and inspire us to create a fairer, more loving society. As the night descended, the darkness would contrast vividly with the flames, emanating from The Palace of Westminster, and various other palaces and similar cosy-clubs of the self-serving anti-social “elite”. And as a burning Big Ben tumbled into The Thames, we would all join-hands and sing a medley of inspirational songs, such as ‘United We Stand’ and ‘We Shall Overcome’ and for some added light relief, Black Laces’ ‘We’re Havin’ A GangBang’! We can but dream! But dreams do come true… Don’t they?

MICHAEL SALTER: Chair, Pride in London

With major advancements in legal recognition for LGBT people over the past few years, why do we need Pride? 

We wouldn’t have had those advancements if events like Pride didn’t exist, if people didn’t take to the streets in large numbers to show their support and challenge; people like Peter Tatchell and our great Patron Ian McKellen, joined by hundreds of groups from across the community – charities, employers, sports groups and many straight allies. I know not everyone gets to attend a Pride event, that there are people who would feel very uncomfortable being seen on the streets for cultural or family reasons, but Pride should be able to support the groups that in turn provide assistance to others unable to Parade, both in this country and abroad.

What does Pride mean today compared to what it meant when it started in 1972?

We did some research amongst those who attended Pride in London 2013 and it was clear that most people now attend in order to celebrate rather than campaign, so it’s important that we allow both to happen. I’ve described our job as ‘creating a stage’ upon which different groups can do what they want: a charity bringing together staff and volunteers for a fun day out with a team breakfast before the Parade; employers showing their LGBT+ staff how valued they are; a sports team highlighting they exist; a Union or group campaigning for change. Pride should always be about both celebrating and campaigning, one doesn’t preclude the other, it should be about raising the profile of groups and causes, it should highlight London and the UK as a great place to visit and it should be a lot of fun. That’s enough isn’t it?

This year’s Pride theme is ‘Freedom To…’ Do you think that the LGBT community has sacrificed a sense of individuality with a need to conform to mainstream society’s ‘safer’ vision of an ideal ‘gay’ citizen? 

In short ‘no’, but there’s not a simple answer. I’ve participated in several campaigns to change the law in the UK, including working to introduce Same-Sex Marriage, does that mean I’m guilty of making us a more homogenous society? I think it’s important that we are given the same basic rights, but then we all get to choose. I was worried that the sense of ‘community’ might be diluted now we’ve achieved what many thought was the Holy Grail for equality, but I don’t think that will be the case.  I just look at the record number of groups in this year’s LGBT+ Pride in London Parade, there’s such an eclectic set that it doesn’t look like we’re adopting a ‘conformist’ identity. There’s a chance that we’re looking at this the wrong way, that it feels like we’re becoming a ‘safer gay citizen’ because society is now more accepting of the breadth of our community. I will always stand up for those who are and want to be different, as long as they are not harming others. The theme #FreedomTo was chosen as it enables everyone to highlight what’s important to them, it could be the #FreedomTo marry or be a parent, to live without fear or to play the sport you want. For the first time Pride has an advertising campaign across London Buses and Underground, supported by Exterion, and this campaign features members of the community. I think those hundreds of images are the best answer to this question, there are a myriad of different #FreedomTo statements.

“Its opened my eyes to how difficult it can still be for young people who know they are ‘different’.”

What are the great challenges facing the LGBT community?

Personally, not on behalf of the Pride in London team, I think there are three challenges to address, which I’ll refer to as the ongoing, the new and the pressing. The ongoing work is tackling homophobic bullying, particularly in schools. I work with Diversity Role Models and its opened my eyes to how difficult it can still be for young people who know they are ‘different’, so the work groups like DRM and Stonewall do in this area is vital. The new work is how as a society we care for elderly members of the LGBT+ community, we all know that many elderly people can suffer terrible loneliness, but if someone also feels the need to go back into the closet due to the attitudes of their careers it can quickly become an old-age of misery. Finally, the pressing – or should that be the ‘depressing’ – we must do more to challenge homophobia in other countries, in particular the Commonwealth, and that’s something we can all do.

Where is the LGBT community failing its own people?

Sometimes, we don’t work constructively enough together. It’s great that we’ve made such progress as a community but we still need to participate. I’m clearly biased, I think Pride matters as a way of raising issues and celebrating – its a great way of providing a focus – but there are a number of people who find it very easy to criticise, which disappoints me as we’re all volunteers doing our best and if people think they can do better they should get involved; not just with Pride but with other charities and causes. I also think the LGBT+ community should consider carefully where it spends money on the scene, a number of LGBT+ venues show consistent support for charities and organisations like Pride in London, but not all of them. So, when you’re handing over your hard earned cash for a drink or dinner just think ‘is this venue supporting my community or just serving to it?’

PHILL OPOKU-GYIMAH: Director and Co-Founder of UK Black Pride

This year’s Pride theme is ‘Freedom To…’ Do you think the black and ethnic minority communities feel the same sense of ‘Freedom To’ be themselves as other LGBT people?

What is clear to UK Black Pride – which supports African, Asian, Caribbean and Arab heritage (Black) people, who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT), and come from all corners of Europe and beyond – is that when LGBT people become more visible it can lead to an increase in homo-, bi-, and transphobia being expressed in the public sphere.

It is important to distinguish some of the causes of homophobic bigotry. Some of it is certainly based on a lack of knowledge and ignorance; some of it is based on fear, however irrational; but other currents of homophobia are squarely rooted in hatred of LGBT people and our right to be who we were born to be.

What is unfortunate about what we have seen in Britain, which recently debated marriage equality, is that very often some political leaders and opinion formers, make use of the public debate about marriage equality and other types of laws to fuel homophobia for social and political gains. That is what has happened in Britain and other European countries, as well as in places like Colombia, Ghana, India, Jamaica, Nigeria, and Uganda. It is fair to say that homo-, bi- and transphobia are truly global phenomena.

Of course, the path to legal equality has always involved overcoming resistance from vested interests, privileged constructs and social conventions that have been built up over decades and centuries. Winning human rights is rarely a smooth process.

How can we address the religious and racial oppression that LGBT people feel, especially in the black community?

While lawmakers have almost certainly based their moves on a principle of non-discrimination, they have often faced strong resistance, from organised groups of homophobes whether they are the BNP, UKIP or some sections of faith communities. Confronting far right organisations like Britain First, the BNP and UKIP requires courage from mainstream political parties. As for faith groups, the fact is that despite the powerful influence of religious institutions in largely Catholic countries like Spain, more than 25,000 gay marriages have been celebrated there since 2005. This is testimony to the fact that faith need not be a barrier to equality. Indeed, religious Catholics in Canada, Italy, Spain and Britain recently marked 17th May, International Day Against Homophobia, by connecting churches in a prayer vigil. For the first time, Catholic churches hosted events with LGBT Christians and supporters lighting candles and joining in prayer to remember LGBT people who have died or live in fear because of their sexuality. The organisers of these progressive activities used a Biblical verse: ‘There is no fear in love’ (I John 4:18) to justify the activity as ‘a meeting place for new paths’ to express ‘voices of so many religious people who oppose the use of religion to justify hate, refusal and even violence or crimes against homosexual and trans people’.

“The path to legal equality has always involved overcoming resistance from vested interests, privileged constructs and social conventions that have been built up over decades and centuries.”

What are the biggest challenges facing the black and ethnic LGBT community?

UK Black Pride encourages a better understanding of the nature and scale of challenges faced by Britain’s African, Asian, Caribbean and Arab (Black) LGBT communities to address these groups’ needs and aspirations. The challenges are just as likely to surface from within the communities to which Black LGBT people belong as they are from outside.

Internal pressures include chronic under-representation and under-engagement of Black LGBT people in ‘mainstream’ Black or LGBT community activities. This owes as much to an involuntary and historic exclusion – both conscious and unconscious – as well as the lack of effective voice to orientate ‘mainstream’ Black or LGBT activities to accurately reflect Black LGBT peoples’ non-binary reality of race, religion, gender and sexuality. The consequence of this lived experience has been that Black LGBT people, who are touched by both racism and homophobia among other prejudices, are not entirely or effectively reflected in either Black or LGBT mainstream activities on our own terms or in a manner in which we are comfortable. This experience often leads to Black LGBT people being presented with an impossible choice of embracing one aspect of our identity over another at different intervals and in parallel realities.

UK Black Pride tries to bridge this divide by providing a non-judgemental opportunity for Black LGBT people, friends and supporters, to come together to celebrate multiple identities and experiences with pride and without expectation to own, reject or justify anything to anyone. It permits taking pride in being who we are as determined by ourselves – devoid of the social or cultural stereotypes that are often projected upon groups.

External pressures include the continuing marginalisation of many Black and LGBT communities; the dismantling of public and private services for Black and LGBT people including access to vital health care and welfare support; the erosion of social and democratic institutions including access to community led and community based groups; and the growing tide of intolerance towards Black and LGBT people in a context of severe economic inequality and financial instability – which disproportionately impacts on Black and LGBT people. These have all contributed to an environmental degradation, which has prompted a spike in racist and homophobic hate crime. Alarmingly, this reality has led to Black LGBT people being exposed to greater risk of hate crime from different quarters.

UK Black Pride’s work to support Black LGBT people shows that when statutory and community based support networks are not in place to help deal with this reality, many Black LGBT people are left isolated and facing the impossible choice to embrace one aspect of their identity over another or being forced into a soul-destroying closet.

AMY LAME: Duckie co-founder and hostess

What is Pride to you? 

To me, Pride is political, and yes, we still need it. And it doesn’t mean we can’t do politics as well as sequins and feather boas – they are not mutually exclusive. We are incredibly fortunate here in the UK with LGBT equality. It’s important to remember every bit of equality legislation we have in this country is thanks to Labour. They are the only party to enshrine LGBT equality in their manifesto (in 1997) and subsequently brought in laws to equalize the age of consent, abolish Section 28, allow lesbians and gays to serve openly in the military, enable equal access to goods and services, civil partnerships, and so much more. Equal marriage would not have happened without Labour crossbench votes, support and lobbying in the Commons and Lords. So yes, I’m banging the drum for Labour… What else is new?

This year’s Pride theme is ‘Freedom To…’ Do you think that the LGBT community has sacrificed a sense of individuality with a need to conform to mainstream society’s ‘safer’ vision of an ideal ‘gay’ citizen? 

I think it’s important as gay people that we have as many lifestyle options open to us as possible – that’s a new concept, and should be embraced. I just hope homo doesn’t become the new hetero, if you know what I mean. We should resist the pressure to conform just to appear “safe” to the straight world.

“We should resist the pressure to conform just to appear ‘safe’ to the straight world.”

What is the concept of Gay Shame and Lesbian Weakness that Duckie are addressing in their Pride night event? What do gay people have to be ashamed about and what is lesbian weakness

Back in the 1990s, one year Pride was called ‘Gay Pride and Lesbian Strength’. We turned it into Gay Shame and Lesbian Weakness. In the past decade we dropped the ‘Lesbian Weakness’, but are bringing it back this year. We started Gay Shame over 15 years ago; Duckie have always had an alternative take on what Pride means. This year it’s all about enforced fun. We hold a mirror up to Pride, flip it around, and deal with the shadow side of homosexual life. I think owning up to our shame is a really rare, brave thing to do. That only happens with reflection and honesty. Dancing your arse off to Donna Summer helps, too.

What are the great challenges facing the LGBT community?

We need to deal with homophobia in sport, the eternal issue of bullying in schools, dedicate ourselves to helping our LGBT brothers and sisters internationally, gain a deeper understanding of trans* issues, and plan for our big gay retirement – we’re the first generation to be truly liberated, and what’s going to happen when we all get old?

Where is the LGBT community failing its own people?

I think we need more honesty and openness about mental health issues in our community. Organisations like PACE do a brilliant job. But we need to take away the stigma and help ourselves and each other to be healthy not just in body but in mind, too.


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