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Gay Times August 12 - Issue 409

Pride at 40

Big things often have small beginnings, and so it was with the UK’s first Gay Pride 40 years ago this month. Then – on Saturday, 1 July 1972 – around a thousand people marched from the Capital’s Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park. Today, there are dozens of Pride events around the country with a combined attendance of more than 250,000 participants

That small beginning in London owed a lot to big events at New York City’s Stonewall Inn on 28 June 1969. When lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people rioted following a police raid on the now iconic gay bar, Brenda Howard, known as the ‘Mother of Pride’, decided to organise a week of events around a ‘Pride Day’.
The first Pride march was held in New York on 28 June 1970 – the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots – beginning with an assembly on Christopher Street and then covering 51 blocks en route to the city’s Central Park. The event captured the imagination of LGBT communities around the world, and similar marches followed in other US cities, as well as Paris, West Berlin and Stockholm.
In 1972 Pride grew bigger still, with another half dozen American cities taking part and, of course, the first London march. By this point the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was nearly two years old, having first met in the basement of the London School of Economics in October 1970. Again, the inspiration had come from across the pond, Bob Mellors and Aubrey Walter consciously echoing the US movement’s revolutionary politics.
“We do not intend to ask for anything,” declared the GLF manifesto. “We intend to stand firm and assert our basic rights. If this involves violence, it will not be we who initiate this, but those who attempt to stand in our way to freedom.” Although there had been a GLF-initiated march in 1971, it was the following year which is now recognised as having been the first ‘official’ Pride march in the UK.
“The idea of a march was really exciting, being so open and out on the streets of London,” recalls Geoff Hardy, who was in the city that year. “Confronting people with our defiance and pride in ourselves. I had no idea of how many would attend. The night before the march, I appropriated a bed sheet from my halls of residence and, together with my then boyfriend (Jamie), painted on the slogan ‘Homosexuals are nature’s children’.”
The march was promoted strongly as a ‘carnival parade’ rather than a demonstration. On the surface it was harmonious, around a thousand (accounts of precisely how many people there were vary, Peter Tatchell remembers it as 700) people marching to Hyde Park where they held an impromptu ‘Gay Day’ (“a sort of DIY queer picnic”, says Tatchell). Gay News, the forerunner of GT, had just been launched, although perhaps the best (and most honest) account was that in the Gay International News:
“Gay Pride Week brought about an uneasy alliance between factions which have been in open conflict recently. The ‘radical feminists’ in glittering gender-fuck drag glared defiance at the ‘straight’ gays as they marched through London…or danced beside them at the ball the night before at Fulham Town Hall. At Hyde Park…they separated into groups to engage the straight tourists and sight-seers in their own forms of confrontation and dialogue. The lesbians too, for the first time since their break with the main organisation, were marching with the GLF in splendid face paint.”
Indeed, the 1972 Gay Pride march in London coincided with a split in the British gay activist movement as a result of differences in political ideology. As the writer Jeffrey Weeks later recalled, it was the climax of real tension between the “radical fairies and the others who regarded themselves as revolutionaries”. “There were lots of rows preceding it [the march] and there were lots of arguments on the march itself between those who were in radical drag and those who weren’t.”

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Words: David Torrance

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