Usually when the London Gay Pride parade and festival takes place, around the first weekend in July, I’m at the Wildest Cats In Town rock’n’roll weekender near Lowestoft. This year I didn’t go to the weekender, but neither did I feel inclined to join in any of the Pride celebrations. Neither did most of my gay/bi friends and acquaintances.
In the early days, Pride-type marches organized by the Gay Liberation Front were protest demonstrations demanding basic gay rights. At that time, despite the passing of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act supposingly legalizing homosexuality, most things gays todayÂ take for granted were still illegal. In fact almost every way of meeting or flirting with another gay man was illegal, and you also had to make sure you were bothÂ over 21, not in the armed forces, and if you planned to be intimate, that no other person was present on the premises. This even applied if you were lucky enough to live in a palace or a 30 room mansion. If your poor old granny was fast asleep in her bedroom in the West Wing and you took your gay lover to bed in a room in the East Wing, you were commiting a crime. Indeed my mother committed a crime by allowing my life-partner to move into her council flat and share a bedroom with me – we could have all ended up in court.
Nowadays we have won more LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) rights than could ever have been imagined all those years ago. Gays can now get married (civil partnerships), divorced, even join the armed forces if they so wish. There are gay clubs where all sorts of activities take place on the premises. At one fetish club, when someone tried to take the club to court, it was the protestor who was fined and ordered to pay the court costs because the club was licensed for such way-out activities. Even Britain’s pornography laws have been liberalized, and now almost anything goes, whether gay or straight. There are, in fact, very few rights for gays to win in Britain.
OK, so we’ve got our gay rights, so we should go on the annual Pride parades to celebrate our lifestyle, so the argument goes. That’s fine, if you want to do this, and many do, so go ahead. But please behave yourselves and act in a responsible manner. My life-partner and I stopped going on these sort of parades nearly 20 years ago (he’s been dead for nearly 16 years) because of the few exhibitionists who insisted on shouting out obscenities in order to shock members of the public watching, which included little children. Others dressed or acted in an obscene fashion, for instance by wearing trousers which exposed the backside. Even going to and from Pride celebrations, some of these exhibitionists act in a disgusting manner on the public transport system, evidently because they feel strength in numbers and know there is little chance of them being arrested.
It is true Pride is the one day we feel this strength in numbers, and that might well give us the courage to walk with our partner hand-in-hand or give them a little kiss, activities which heterosexual couples take for granted. But in Pride-type events around the world, some gay exhibitionists go much further than this, committing obscene acts in full view of the public. Many of us don’t want to be associated with this kind of exhibitionism. It does us no favors, and can only turn members of the general public against us.
HeterosexualsÂ don’t go on public demonstrations shouting out to all and sundry what they get up to in bed, or demonstrating it on the streets. We have won our gay rights, now let’s shut up about them and get on with enjoying them behind the closed doors of our homes, clubs, pubs, saunas or wherever. If we want to demonstrate for LGBT rights, we should be directing our protest at those countries and societies which have yet to embrace suchÂ notions. In some countries you can still be executed just for practising your gay sexuality.
Another reason I am reluctant to go on Pride marches: It is fine if you are with your life-partner, or even a short-term partner. Or with a group of gay friends. If, however, you are widowed or single, Pride marches can be a very lonely place to be. Nobody will talk to you or befriend you, and you’ll be surrounded by gay and lesbian couples holding hands and kissing, which will make you feel excluded and maybe lonely and depressed, even if you didn’t feel such emotions before you went on the Parade. The LGBT community is not renowned for reaching out to lonely people among their number, especially if they are older and perhaps widowed. Pride weekend, for such people, can be a very lonely place to be.
OK, I’ve been on lots of marches and demonstrations for all sorts of causes, and you tend to be alone on all of them. Nobody befriends single protestors on anti-war demonstrations for instance, so unless you’re lucky enough to meet up with some friends, that too can be a lonely experience. But at Pride we are supposed to be celebrating a gay community, and as described above, seeing happy LGBT couples holding hands, etc. can make single or widowed gays feel excluded, lonely and unhappy.
Then there are the festivals and special events put on thruout Pride weekends. Unless you fall into the LGBT mainstream who worships Kylie Monogue and other gay icons, loves boy bands and house/disco music, then these events hold little for you. In the early Pride celebrations there seemed to be more variety, my partner and I used to enjoy the wit of old-time cabaret artists like Lily Savage or Dockyard Doris. Now many of these have died or, as in the case of Lily/Paul O’Grady, moved on to TV. There are younger acts taking their place, but the emphasis at Pride festivals is on the kind of pop music which some of us have little interest in.
So how did I spend Pride weekend? Saturday I cooked a meal for me andÂ my mother, who’s 92, and spent some time with her. Then I went to a reunion of ex-staff members in a pub near where I used to work. From there I went to Virginia Creepers, a rockabilly evening where, incidentally, I met up with two other gay rockabillies who also don’t appreciate the kind of entertainment laid on by the Pride organizers. I finally ended up in a gay club that night where the music was atrocious, but I didn’t go there to listen to the house music! Sunday I spent quietly at home watching TV, including bits of the Diana concert from Wembley.
So no Pride activities for me or most of my gay/bi friends. Those of you who just live for Pride, go ahead and enjoy yourselves, but please remember we are out to win over the general public, not to shock and alienate them. There were terrorist bombs in London and Glasgow over the weekend, which fortunately did not go off. The last thing we want is for gay clubs to be targeted again by extremists because of the obscene behavior on Pride marches by a few stupid exhibitionists.
On the contrary, the reaction we want to provoke is respect. I well remember walking with my partner, George, down Fifth Avenue in New York City on a Gay Pride paradeÂ where an old lady stood on the sidewalkÂ waving a placard reading ‘Grandma for Gays’, with people cheering and clapping us from windows and balconies,Â and with a full-scale ticker-tape New York welcome raining down from the skyscrapers as we marched along. This is the kind of support we need to encourage from the general public in London, not disgust or violence because of the activities of a minority of exhibitionists.