It’s Pride Month and we’re celebrating some of the Black activists who paved the way for London Pride as we know it.
In order to understand how and why London Pride began, we’re taking a look at the moment that sparked the gay liberation movement altogether.
The Stonewall riots in 1969 helped ignite the movement for gay equality. Marsha P. Johnson was one of the, until recently, unsung heroes of the gay liberation movement – her work as a Black transgender activist was a key part of the fight for social and economic justice. Johnson resisted arrest during the Stonewall riots and lead multiple demonstrations following the police raid in late June, 1969. She was also the co-founder of the activist organisation STAR.
London’s first ever Pride march took place on July first, 1972. That date was specifically chosen to commemorate the anniversary of the Stonewall riots three years earlier. The march was organised by the London Gay Liberation Front (GLF) and their American allies. Ted Brown, a GLF veteran and trade unionist as well as the organising figure behind Black Lesbians and Gays Against Media Homophobia, recalls the year he discovered and joined the GLF in an interview with Speak Out London:
“In 1969 I was a 19-year-old gay Black man, living with my foster parents. My mother had been active in Black civil rights – so at least I knew there were other Black people out there fighting that form of injustice. But as far as my gay identity went, there was nothing – total silence. You cannot imagine that isolation.”
Brown highlights the intersection of the gay rights and civil rights movements, explaining that, “racism and homophobia rely upon spreading vicious lies about, seriously denigrating and removing the rights of their victims. Certainly, at least in America, the Black rights movement has been instrumental in helping change people’s attitudes.”
And so was it instrumental in the fight for gay equality in the UK. Two of the founding members of the London GLF, Aubrey Walter and Bob Mellor, had flown to Washington DC to attend the Black Panther’s Revolutionary Peoples’ Convention in 1970 – the first year that members of the gay rights movement were invited to participate. Two months after the convention, the London GLF was formed.
Andrew Lumsden, another founding member of the GLF, says that London’s “Gay Liberation starts in the Black Panther movement.” Lumsden makes it clear that the revolutionary work of the GLF during the seventies paved the way for the modern-day London Pride, but the original movement was far from a celebration.
51 years after the Stonewall riots, 2020 London Pride is being described as cancelled or postponed but, while the annual gatherings and large-scale celebrations may not be possible during the coronavirus pandemic, the founding mentality of Pride is stronger than ever. This year, as we educate ourselves, Lumsden’s words remain relevant.