• Al Jennings

Opinion - Stronger Together: Pride in 2020

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; Define yourself”

Harvey Fierstein

I had something else in mind to post today, however, it completely slipped mind that today was the start of Pride Month 2020, so I wanted to write a little something to reflect that, especially in a time where things are difficult for everybody, regardless how they identify, whether it be gay, straight, bi, trans, cis, asexual or even as an aubergine

It’s true to say that Pride is a time for celebration of how far we have come as a movement. However, it’s also important to remember that the origins of the Pride event came out of the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City - a pivotal moment in modern LGTBQ social movements.

The first Pride Marches were seen just a year after the Stonewall Riots, where the NYPD raided a well-known gay bar in Greenwich Village, with events taking place in June 1970 in Chicago and Los Angeles. The riots saw the creation of the Gay Liberation movement, which in turn began to show the mistreatment of other marginalised members of the communities such as the Trans movement.

For the first time in 60 years, there will be no Pride Parades or Festivals taking place in the UK due to the coronavirus pandemic and the strict social distancing measures that we all currently have to live by. That is going to affect millions of people around the world that rely on our community to accept them with open arms, and to embrace them for who they are. For the time being we will have to be smart and savvy as to how we approach Pride Month and make it as inclusive for everyone. But one thing we must not stop doing is continue our fight towards equality and continue to educate those that stand in our way.

Every year, new members of the community are welcomed into the fold, as part of the education needed to better know the history of our community and the people who helped to shape it. It’s also important to understand the social and constitutional discriminations we have faced in the past, and many of those that we have yet to overcome.

Here in the U.K we have had our own fights to fight over the last 60 years. Most of will remember Section 28. Section 28 was a government policy of prohibiting the promoting or publishing material that promotes homosexuality. This was issued a local council level who had direct responsibility for schools and social care.

Prime Minister at the time Margaret Thatcher said at the time; “Children who need to be taught to respect moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay. All of these children are being cheated of a sound start in life”. If that is not homophobia and bigotry, I don’t know what is.

The law had an extreme effect on the younger generation growing up at school and played a huge part in them discovering their Queer identities. Kids were, and still are, be bullied for being gay at school and teachers could not intervene or protect them – some young enough not to fully understand what being gay was and many unable to relate it. I was born in 1992, when Section 28 was still present and I was heavily bullied as a kid – teachers couldn’t really stop that from happening – this was during infant and junior school – at least by the time I had made it to secondary, there was a little bit more of a support system in place for teachers to be able to deal with it and to even combat it.

Section 28 also put young queer kids at risk for not having a sex education that was relevant to them. They didn’t have any understanding or advice as to what a healthy relationship was the for them. Some developed worrying behaviour that could put them in danger, such as excessive alcohol and substance abuse as well as sex with much older men, which come sometimes result in a sexually transmitted disease or a positive HIV test result. Teachers now have a duty of care over young people to educate them, and some people still feel a bit angry to this day that they weren’t supported and let down during a crucial and pivotal part in their development.

I guess, I kind of fall into this remit. I was never taught about same-sex relationships in school. It was brushed under the carpet. We were never exposed to that as kids so – we really didn’t understand what these relationships looked like. Our only real understanding of it was from the limited access to television at the time – even then it was limited. We were reduced to watching programmes like Queer as Folk, which were truly ground-breaking at the time to show such explicit material, under the cover of darkness with the volumes on the lowest possible settings on the TV sets. Representation has improved over recent years, with more and more openly gay people visible on television, and more openly gay character in the mainstream media, paving the way for education for younger generations. It’s put pressures on TV Shows and Soap Operas to show them in a positive and healthy way, to help fight the comeback following section 28.

It also effected young people’s mental health. It led to many people developing insecurities about they looked, how they behaved, and how they carried themselves. It’s easy to see how people could become paranoid about how people were being perceived. It caused many young people to feel that being gay was wrong and to be ashamed of it. Over recent years we have seen a number of protests from people regarding the teaching of LGBT relationships in schools – this ranging from Schools normalising it or actively promoting it, thus strengthening our fight for solidarity and equality – which can be helped if nurtured and understood from a young age.

The first attempted legislation to repeal section 28 was introduced by the Labour Government in 2000, however it was defeated by the House of Lords. At the time, the Shadow Education Secretary and future Prime Minister, Theresa May called the defeat “a victory for common sense”. A second attempt at the repeal was successful in 2003. The act has been in place for nearly twenty years, but the damage had been done – and people are still living with the consequences of it. The governing Conservative party hasn’t got the best track record when it comes to LGBT rights. It has failed to bring an end to gay conversion therapy and Boris Johnson has made disparaging comments about the LGBT society labelling us “tank-topped bumboys” amongst other derogatory statements.

Whilst the overall message of pride and the gay rights movement is that of inclusion, love and support – it is important to remember that we still have to have to hold those in power to account.

We absolutely should call out hatred and bigotry when we see it.

We should also call out hypocrisy when we see it. It’s hypocritical to see MP’s who openly voted against us having equal marriage rights announcing the launch of Pride Month on social media and then to for their party to blast those calling it by saying that somebody’s “hate has no place in Pride”. Hypocrisy at its finest.

To me, it’s laughable that a government tries so hard to be an ally after creating Section 28 and failing to ban conversion therapy two years after pledging to do so. The conservative government failed to respond quick enough to the AIDS crisis in the 1980’s as a result, countless people lost their lives. Instead of educating, the community was demonised by the government. Yet when people critise and hold to account; we are reprimanded and told to “Be Kind”.

Even today, there is debate about the rainbow flag which is commonly used to represent Pride. The flag has undergone several revisions since it was first debuted in 1978. The traditional flag encompasses six striped colours, and flown horizontally, with the red at the top like a natural rainbow. It’s been suggested that the flag may have been inspired by Judy Garland singing “Over the Rainbow” and the Stonewall Riots which happened just days after Garlands death. It was well known that Garland was an ally of the community and was considered to be one of the first gay icons. Over recent months, colours have been adopted in the United Kingdom as part of a campaign to show solidarity towards the NHS throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. A few small-minded people in the United Kingdom seem to now think that they LGBTQ+ community are now stealing their flag. We may never stamp out homophobia – but we can educate – and we must. For the sake of those that have gone before us, and for those that are still to come.

I think it’s wrong to say that we have won our fight for equality and freedom in 2020. We have got such a long way to go, and although steps have been made in the right direction. Same-sex marriage was legalised in in 2013 and allowed from 2014. Same-sex adoption is now legalised. However, the Trans movement still, arguably has a long way to go. The government has looked to make changes to the Gender equalities act, which could lead us back into a Section 28 situation all over again, this time aimed at the Trans movement, which is still fighting for its own identity within the community. Promises that were made are yet to be fulfilled – and likely to be broken, thus causing further division and aggravation.

But it’s not just within our own local communities – we have to be louder at an international scale. Poland are now introducing LGBT-free spaces. In seventy-three countries across the world it is still considered illegal to have a private, same-sex consensual relationship, six of these being members of the Commonwealth. Twelve of these are punishable by death. Hell, it is only been 19 years since it was de-criminalised in the UK. We are starting to see local flare ups of anti-gay propaganda in places like Chechnya and Serbia. Russia are even in the midst of their own Section 28 ordeal, which has incited homophobic violence, documented by the Channel 4 documentary Hunted, which followed anti-gay groups as they lured young gay men into traps where they were humiliated and tortured with the footage later being posted online.

The British based charity, Stonewall, posted some statistics online in early 2020 stating which I found to be staggering and pretty upsetting. Stonewall posted statistics stating that; 26% of lesbian, gay or bi-sexual people alter their behaviour to hide their sexual orientation in order to avoid becoming the victim of a hate crime. 48% of trans people under the age of 26 said that they had attempted suicide, and 30% of those had done so. A staggering 59% said that they had considered doing so, and finally – a quarter of the world’s population believes that being LGBT should be a crime – and although we’ve come a long way in sixty years – shows that there is a long way still to go in our fight.

I asked a couple of friends what Pride meant to them, and overwhelmingly it was the sense of community and unity that it gives us. It’s a celebration of people as a unit, regardless of potential projected characteristics. It’s about being comfortable in our own bodies and knowing how we contribute to society and how we value our worth.

Pride is more than just a day of celebration. It’s more than just a month of remembrance for those who have so bravely fought for our rights. Even today, on the launch of Pride Month 2020, I have seen numerous comment and statements from people on social media as to why we don’t have a Straight Pride. To me it’s a ludicrous argument. When have white hetro-sexual people ever been discriminated against? When was it illegal to kiss their partner in public? When were they forced from their homes into refugee camps for being straight? Well, we all know how that turned out when they tried that in America. They don’t have Straight Pride – but they do have International Clown Week – maybe they can attend that?

The Gay Rights Movement is just that – it’s a movement and we will continue to move until we reach that glass ceiling where we receive true equality for everybody, and that’s why it is so important for us to stand up and stand together as a community. Whether we are gay, straight, bisexual, BAME, trans, cis, gender-fluid – we stand together, shoulder to shoulder, united as a collective. We still have a long way to go, and who knows whether we will see true equality in our lifetime – but the future generations will certainly reap the benefits. Each and every member of the LGBTQ+ community has their to play our part in shaping the future, not just for us, but for everybody that has fallen along the way. Every person that has died from an AIDS related illness. Everybody that has felt persecution for living their lives the way that they want to.

We must not give up the fight.

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