Speakers Collective member Keith Winestein shares a personal reflection.
June marks Pride month around the world, where people celebrate diversity and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community. Pride month is an opportunity to talk and showcase acceptance, openness, and love. It is a celebration; it is equally a protest.
It’s an important time for highlighting how far we’ve come in the fight for equality and acceptance but pointing out that we’ve still got a lot to fight for.
We can celebrate the fantastic progress we have made establishing legal equality in our country thanks to the work of the last Labour Government and the wider Labour movement.
In 2022 we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Pride March in the United Kingdom when a few hundred people arrived in London on 1 July 1972, to protest because of the danger LGBT+ people faced because they were not safe to be who they were.
The brave protesters marched to Trafalgar Square, despite fearing for their own safety. But they knew it was important that their voices were heard – and their actions that day paved the way for half a century of progressive societal change for LGBT+ people.
It is worth pausing to remember the veterans of the who were braver than me to step onto the streets of London and spoke out to challenge the injustices which led to the advancement of the Pride movement today alongside the many organisations and individuals who joined the struggle for equality.
In 1972, the year of this first Pride, I was 10 years of age. As a child, I had no comprehension of Pride or homosexuality, but even at that young age, I had already encountered prejudice, name-calling, physical violence at school and in the inner-city neighbourhood where I was brought up. Thank goodness for loving parents and a big sister who did their best to protect me.
As a student I was still discovering who I was, I missed out on the gay scene whilst studying in London. It was the early 1980’s so probably not a bad thing considering what was on the horizon.
The film ‘Pride’ shows how the group ‘Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’ built solidarity between the striking miners and the LGBT community during a time when both groups were being oppressed under Thatcher’s government.
In 1984 I was working my first season as an actor in rep (with coal mining heritage) at Leeds Playhouse and the mostly gay cast rattled buckets and collected money from our audiences as they left the theatre. It was at this time that I came out to my parents as I had fallen in love with a student working in the bar. Little did I know the negative consequences of my desire to live an honest and authentic life.
Back in London for work in 1985, my first potential Pride experience came a year later in 1986. Even then fear prevented me, and I did not attend. Scared off by the real danger of being ‘gay bashed’ or even arrested by the police, though my new handsome boyfriend at the time was dancing on a float in the small parade. The following year, now in a relationship with this man (who became my long-term companion for 23 years) I attended my first Pride. And I loved it.
Over the years the impact of Pride has evolved. In the late 1980’s and through the 1990s for me it was about politically demonstrating that I exist, that my life had meaning, purpose and is valuable. I attended to demonstrate against Clause 28; to support of people with HIV and AIDS; and for an equal age of consent.
I have marched to remember those lost to AIDS and more recently for the 1 in 3 of us with mental health problems because of prejudice, stigma, and discrimination experienced due to other people’s attitudes and behaviour. Pride is even more important as biphobia and transphobia threaten the lives of people in our community. Together, only together can we defeat homo-hatred.
Over the past fifty years, there have been many struggles for the LGBTQ+ communities; however, we have shared some great victories which we can triumphantly celebrate during Pride month and every day. These include the repeal of section 28; civil partnership, marriage equality, lifting the ban of LGBTQ+ people serving in the armed forces, the right to adopt to name but a few.
It was a Labour government that ended the ban on LGBT people serving in the military, equalised the age of consent, equalised adoption rights, included homophobia in the definition of hate crimes, introduced civil partnerships and abolished the heated and discriminatory Section 28 at the third attempt after the House of Lords had blocked it time and again. Both David Cameron and Theresa May voted to keep it. Equal marriage would not have become law without Labour MP’s votes as half of the Conservative MPs voted against it.
For me, the biggest achievement is how we came together as a community to face the challenge of AIDS which ravaged our relationships.
Despite the challenge it deepened a commitment to stand together, face loss, grieve and love together. I believe that those young gay men and lesbians who demanded action through Act Up, Outrage, and in discussions with health care providers established patient power to demand better access to medication and care. These advances have benefitted wider society more than we will ever know or be acknowledged for.
Because of all of those who have gone before, today I can live my authentic life, out proud and loud today.
Pride is a great opportunity for me to reflect on my life, celebrate, appreciate, and show gratitude to those that have gone before me, paving the way for a more equitable future – and to continue to fly the progress rainbow flag for those that still face prejudice, inequality, and oppression here in the UK, the regression in Hungary, Poland, Russia and in many countries across the world including in the Commonwealth where my life could be in peril.
Despite the advances in the UK we must not be complacent and be constantly vigilant to ensure the rights so dearly fought for are maintained and improved for future generations. Homosexuality is still illegal in more than 70 countries and is punishable by death in ten. We cannot rest until we have helped to eliminate discrimination worldwide.
While we are now equal in law, we must ensure that we make that equality a reality for every single LGBT person. This is now especially true for trans people who are currently suffering prejudice, ridicule and sometimes even violence on a huge scale.
I’ll be using my participation in Pride in London to reinforce my commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion at work, in my community, and wherever I can, celebrating acceptance and allyship, and championing authenticity and belonging. On 2nd July I will take to the streets and march through London with fellows from Speakers Collective which has a shared commitment to challenge stigma, facilitate important conversations and promote learning on a variety of social issues.
At this pivotal moment in LGBT+ history, my work is not yet finished. I will continue to speak out and encourage people to join me in campaigning for inclusion, equality and justice encouraging a sense of belonging for all LGBTQ+ communities.
The Speakers Collective is a Social Enterprise. We work together with a shared commitment to challenge stigma, facilitate important conversations and promote learning on a variety of social issues.