An A-LGBTQ+ of Pride: Everything you should know and cherish about the celebrations

·7-min read
Couple kissing at London Pride (Getty Images)
Couple kissing at London Pride (Getty Images)


The annual London Pride celebrations debuted 50 years ago, meaning they share a birth year with Gwyneth Paltrow, The Rock and, perhaps more fittingly, Time magazine’s emblematic prom queen, the icon who ushered in the age of trans rights, Laverne Cox. The date of 1 July was settled on for the first London Pride to commemorate another anniversary, of the Stonewall Uprising, three years earlier in the sweltering Manhattan summer of 1969. That’s when Marsha P Johnson and her countercultural figureheads fought back from an NYPD raid on the storied Greenwich Village bar, publicly cementing our slapback to being treated as secondclass citizens. We owe all those historic heroes a raise of the glass this weekend.


It does exactly what it says on the tin, perfectly. Over the 50 years of its existence, the original flavour of Pride has come under some pressure. But it’s still alive and well if you have a peek beyond the clatter of Oxford Street to seek it out. Lady Phyll’s Black Pride has become a constitutional calendar mustsee for anyone still seeing to the idea of Pride as a civil rights moment. The event gives LGBTQ+ people of colour and their pals somewhere to belong. It is a warm, enveloping embrace. Launched as a counter to the quite literal whitewashing of the event, Black Pride is noticeably, gleefully free of corporate sponsorship (see below). At the last Black Pride pre-Covid, the decision to turn down a Home Office stall in reaction to the treatment of gay asylum seekers lent it real political clout. See also: Trans Pride. Both are still capable of bringing a tear to the eye of anyone interested in genuine community displays of power, togetherness, beauty and resistance.


Is Pride party or protest? It’s the question that’s dogged the event for more than two decades. During the Blair government’s impressive sweep up of legislative gay inequalities — from the reversing of the LGBTQ+ ban on adoption and serving in the military, through equalising the age of consent and the introduction of civil partnerships — there was a brief moment when it felt like LGBTQ+ rights were close to becoming settled. Civility looked like it had won. Yet still the need for an event of Pride’s magnitude persisted. When you live as a minority, being given the keys to the city and allowed to wonder what it might look like to be in the majority is a collective chance to touch utopia. Handing all that over to corporate giants attempting to keep up with 21st-century consumer values has always felt a bit icky. Counter-argument: if we live in a corporate world of extreme capitalism, shouldn’t LGBTQ+s be entitled to all that, too? Counter-counter argument: can true liberation ever be bought? The conundrum continues…


Sylvester’s ‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’. Carl Bean’s ‘I Was Born this Way’. Ultra Nate’s ‘Free’. C&C Music Factory’s ‘Pride (A Deeper Love)’. Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’. George Michael’s ‘Outside’. Lady Gaga’s ‘Born this Way’. There are some songs that feel tailor made for the experience of spotting a queen who exited week two of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK on the back of a garish float, gurning at 3pm, make-up miraculously still intact. They are guaranteed peak-too-early records, a mainstay of the giddiest end of 50 years’ worth of celebrations. They are instructions to dance, crafted with a bespoke touch exactly for us. They are Pride’s aural manifestation.


The look of Pride over its lifespan has changed wildly. There are distinct iterations of what could pass as Pride uniform, each with its own recognisable ephemera. The Seventies: everybody looks like the young Peter Tatchell or Joan Armatrading, with a fondness on the one hand for quilting and folk music, the other for leather and poppers. The Eighties: DIY, pin-badge-wearing, banner waving, Dr Martens stomping, Thatcher-hating skinheads in MA1 jackets, a bold communion of Greenham Common and Bronski Beat. The Nineties: everyone in vests on ecstasy and/ or combination therapies. The Noughties: Sex and the City fans easing their way into the march with a Pride brunch. The Tens to now? A sort of mass rainbow explosion as if art directed for children’s TV and a surfeit of wigs. Never let it be said we don’t move visually with the moment.


From grainy old vintage BBC bulletins delivered by taciturn, headmaster-ish newscasters to excitable teenagers doing gender insignia make-up tutorials on TikTok, nothing captures the transition of Pride like watching reels of it on film. Then there is Pride, the film itself, a Johnny-comelately cult classic reverberating with that teary moment at the start of the Aids pandemic when a bunch of activists potently assembled at Gay’s the Word bookshop to help out the miner’s strikers in a politically depleted Welsh village. Bill Nighy’s character buttering a barm cake while casually dropping in his sexuality to Imelda Staunton is never anything less than amazing.

Pride’s 10th anniversary year 1982 (Robert Workman Archive/bishopsgate institute)
Pride’s 10th anniversary year 1982 (Robert Workman Archive/bishopsgate institute)


These are the folk we owe all of London Pride to. They are the heroes, the changemakers, the trailblazers and the zeitgeist, at least 30 years ahead of it happening. Before there was Stonewall, Outrage! and Mermaids, there was the Gay Liberation Front, the anchor to which Pride is moored. Nothing evokes the GLF more than an impromptu breakout of the sterling redemption of a chorus of Tom Robinson’s ‘Glad to be Gay’, delivered at full pelt. Go delve into their archives with haste. Without the GLF, there is no eventising of Pride.


For one day a year, the usual gay greeting of ‘Hiya!’ (always with an accentuated exclamation mark for identification purposes, please) is replaced with the semi-ironic, half-eyebrow raised declaration of ‘Happy Pride!’ (ditto). It helps confirm Pride as the LGBTQ+ Christmas.


As the splinter factions of Black Pride, Trans Pride, Radical Pride and all the other numerous 2020s offshoots of the big Establishment, Government and Mayoral approved event only serve to highlight, making room for everybody in the Pride parade has been one of the biggest recent bugbears of the shift while folding of Pride into London’s chirpy daytime jamborees. The move to change the parade itself from being something you apply for to something you turn up to could change all that in a stroke, democratising who does and doesn’t get to march and all the factional bickering that encourages. Arguably the biggest change in queer UK over the past 50 years has been the extension of the acronym from Lesbian and Gay to LGBTQ+ and all its variants. Surely now is the time to start cheerleading for a Pride that reflects that change?


Pride is supposed to be about turning that frown upside down. The blaring music. The 24-hour stimulation, both visual and otherwise. The theatrical display of identity. The central prioritising of sexuality. The indelible gay propensity for any excuse to get absolutely off your knockers. There is a reason ‘Joy’ so often follows the more complicated thread of ‘Pride’


Two mums and/or two dads getting a chance to take their offspring into town and show their children how prevalent the rainbow family has become in modern London is just one of the perks of the day. But it’s the other kids showing out, that unstoppable new generation of early teens trucking along with all their nervous young energy, those post Clause 28 kids who get to find themselves at school and share their awakenings with their mates that really moisten even the oldest and most cynical of eyes. Post-Heartstopper, they are a dominant young force. Expect them to be absolutely everywhere this year.


As an LGBTQ+ person, this is the one London day reserved for us to shape, in our image. Do us proud, it’s in the title.

The Pride in London parade takes place on 2 July (