I love pride. I love the massive, established festivals which attract big names and crowds; but equally I love the smaller pride events, where Vengaboy tribute bands perform in a field and the parade is just 12 people with rainbows painted on their faces.
There is something about the glorious, garishness of it all, which after many years of trying to resist has warmed my stony heart and taken a special place within it. Because, I am sad to say, I haven’t always felt this way. In fact, there was a time not so long ago when I walked in a parade hand-in-hand with my girlfriend, unable to stand the gaze of passersby; finding myself wishing desperately I was stood with them on the other side, looking in.
Every year Gay pride in the UK faces criticism. There’s the well-worn suggestion that there should be a “Straight pride” if we wanted true equality. “No”, we retort wearily, “you see, straight people get to be proud everyday whereas yesterday someone specifically stopped their car to shout ‘fucking lesbian’ at me for daring to walk by their car being a lesbian.” And “Straight pride” is not just an invention made up by Twitter’s professional bigot brigade; it’s a suggestion I’ve heard in work, at university, from people who are generally well meaning but simply do not understand its significance.
Other pride critiques include it being inappropriate for children; that there’s no need for people (they say people, but they mean gay men) to walk around with hardly any clothes on, and that wearing a feather boa and dancing to Lady Gaga isn’t necessary to be proud of being gay. How many times can one person explain that this is not a pre-requisite of celebrating pride, but instead an example of how LGBT parties are just really fun?
However ludicrous it may sound, I thought I understood these criticisms because they come not only from the straight community, but from within the gay community too. I felt embarrassed of pride – now something which I feel deeply ashamed about – because lovingly joking about pride is not the same as questioning its validity and necessity. The more I have learned about pride around the world, in places where it is life threatening to come out and live openly as a LGBT person, the more apparent it is that the physical manifestations of pride are expressive of a much more important meaning. Out and proud isn’t enough as a slogan, it also needs to be an action – and pride demonstrates this year after year, all over the world.
There is so much more to pride than dancing on floats and wearing glitter, although this will probably account for a large proportion of my day. It’s also about walking down the street holding your partner’s hand without the fear that someone will shout something obscene at you, or worse. It’s about being with people who have shared common experiences, who have come out at work, come out at school and are on the other side.
LGBT rights still have a long way to go in this country. Big battles may have been won in parliament, but little battles are being fought every single day. This is what pride is about: the glitter and the music and the crazy, non-existent outfits; being brash, in your face, the loudest possible version of us we can possibly be just for one day – until we can be ourselves every day, like everybody else.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2014