‘I felt for the first time that I was not alone’: How Pride changed lives | Pride
Ohen Richard French-Lowe first went to Pride in London in 1989, he was too scared to join the march. As a civil servant and serving Territorial Army soldier, he hid his sexuality because both organizations viewed homosexuals as a security risk.
But joining the party in Kennington Park, south London, after the march proved to be a transformative experience for French-Lowe, one of around 30 LGBTQ+ people and allies to respond to a call from the Guardian about their memories. UK Pride events, 50 years later from the country’s first march.
“I will always remember the feeling of safety I felt walking out of the tube into a crowd of thousands,” said French-Lowe, 55, training manager for HS2 from Birmingham. “I felt for the first time that I was not alone, that I was not deviant and that I should be proud of who I am. I remember seeing the leather men and the drag queens, which was all new to me. It introduced me to LGBTQ history.
In 1990 he joined the Pride March in central London, which he found stimulating. “I remember there was a guy in drag, dressed as Margaret Thatcher, standing by the gates of Downing Street being turned away by the police,” said French-Lowe, who dressed in drag for the recent marches in Birmingham. “There was a lot of humor as well as politics.”
French-Lowe’s experiences are typical of many LGBTQ+ people who attended Pride parades when homosexuality was still a criminal offence, according to Stef Dickers, the Bishopsgate Institute’s head of special collections and archives, who collects stories and memorabilia, including leaflets, banners and T-shirts, of events since the first British march in 1972.
“Going to the marches was a political decision, but it was also the joy of being surrounded for the first time by other homosexuals,” Dickers said. “If you look at the people who were there in 1972, they were smiling and dancing in the street.”
The programs donated to the People’s Pride Archive, the first of their kind in the UK, show how early events were far less corporate than modern parades, which featured floats from banks and arms manufacturers, with bands local gay and lesbian community organizing picnics, discos and talks around London.
Jon Pyper, 60, a Goole landlord, sent the Guardian photos of his first Pride march in London in 1982, when he was on the organizing committee of the Gay Youth Movement. Dressed in a yellow jumpsuit, his hair dyed red, he stands in front of a banner painted like bricks, representing the Stonewall riots in New York in 1969.
“It was the one time of the year when it seemed like everyone you knew on the scene in London and across the country all came together,” Pyper said.
The event was also memorable for other reasons. “Halfway through the walk, there was a huge thunderstorm,” he recalls. “My red hair dye wasn’t permanent so it bled into my jumpsuit top. I dyed it pink and wore it again the following year.
For gay people of color, the early marches offered refuge from racism, not just in mainstream society, but within the LGBTQ+ community. Karun Thakar, 62, from London, recalled feeling accepted as a gay South Asian by Gay Liberation Front activists, but also being the target of racial abuse.
“You were made to feel unwelcome in gay places,” said Thakar, the author of books on African and Asian textiles and clothing, recalling his first London Pride march in 1982. different atmosphere during the marches. You felt liberated that people were not supporting you just because you have the same sexuality. They saw you as an Asian or a black person and accepted you.
Dickers said most donations to the People’s Pride Archive so far have come from white gay men, and he encouraged other groups to share their experiences of black and trans Pride events.
Nu McAdam, 29, from Brighton, a trans, non-binary, bisexual and disabled illustrator, told The Guardian how liberating it was to take part in their first Pride Parade in 2006 as a wheelchair user. “I had this big banner that said ‘accept people with disabilities at Pride,’ which my caregiver held up to me,” McAdam recalled. “And I had a little sign on my cheek that said ‘bi’ on it with a big heart next to it.”
McAdam is now co-organizer of Brighton Trans Pride, which they say reflects the more radical roots of the early Pride Marches. “A lot of people who come to Trans Pride aren’t just white, gay men. They are trans women, trans men, non-binary, people of all colors. Trans Pride are the champions of what Pride should be.