It was the question on everyone’s lips following the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act of 2013. That’s it, they said, gay people have achieved equality. So why do they still need Pride?
The view that queer people achieved ‘equality’ when parliament passed the marriage bill is a common one, but could not really be further from the truth, even in the UK. It was a definite step forward, much like the Decriminalisation of Homosexuality (passed in the United Kingdom in 1967), but legislation is not acceptance, and equally, this brought to light other social issues still facing those who are not straight and cis.
There are other ways in which things have improved recently too – 2017 saw a massive rise in representation in the media, and campaigns such as Stonewall’s Come Out for LGBT – but at the same time, around the world LGBT rights are still in their infancy. Pride represents a way to show support for those who do not live in countries where they are able to participate in Pride celebrations, or even for those whose personal situations do not allow them to.
It is 2018, and yet in some areas, things are getting worse, not better, for queer people. The ‘concentration camps’ for gay men in Chechnya opened in February 2017, and are the latest in a series of Russian anti-gay movements. There are still 74 countries where being gay is illegal, and thirteen where it still carries the death penalty. In America, President Trump ‘supported’ LGBTQ+ people during his campaign, but in July 2017 announced he no longer wanted trans people to be allowed to serve in the military. Australia, a relatively liberal country, only had a referendum for gay marriage in 2017. Generally, there have been moves for ‘protecting religious freedom’, and backwards views on LGBTQ+ people – more reasons that Pride as a protest still needs to exist.
Harking back to the Stonewall riots of 1969 and Marsha P. Johnson, the modern parades are more parties than protests, but the original meaning of fighting for equality still stands. This commemoration of the past is so important, teaching both LGBT people and allies about a history that could quite easily be, and often is, forgotten. Parades often include memorials for the lives that have been lost along the way – whether during the AIDS crisis, in ‘gay-bashing’ incidents, hate crimes or concentration camps (both in World War 2, and horrifyingly in Chechnya in 2017). What has changed however, is that queer people are no longer just fighting for people to tolerate them, give them basic rights and allow them to be relatively open about their lives – though for some communities this is still a focus. Queer people now are also aiming for acceptance in the wider world – for seeing queer relationships to be a normal occurrence, same sex relationship education in schools, and other, non-legislation-based ideas.
One common misconception is that by standing out and celebrating diversity, people become less integrated, and the fight for acceptance is pushed back. Pride might seem to just make queer people stand out as different from straight cis people, but really it educates and celebrates both how different, and how similar, we all are. By breaking down barriers between different communities, links form, and people are not excluded – people are afraid of what they do not understand, and often will not make the leap to learn about other cultures, and celebrations like pride are a perfect opportunity to do this. The open celebration is important for everyone to see, and especially for people who have not seen people like them represented much before – those with the ‘smaller’ identities like aro ace (no sexual or romantic attraction) or genderfluid, or kids/adults just starting to figure themselves out.
Pride is both a celebration of how far we have come, and how far we have left to go, and both are so important to acknowledge. White gay cis men might be completely accepted in their home community and feel very little oppression, whereas non-binary people or transwomen of color are in much more danger. Pride parades give us an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of both.
Oppression isn’t over, and therefore Pride shouldn’t be either. If Pride was no longer needed, people would not be questioning why celebrating queer people is necessary, as being queer would not be anything more interesting than being left handed. When did a celebration of bravery, kindness, accepting yourself, and helping others, ever hurt anyone? Pride means hope, which is needed now more than ever.