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New Military Coins from The Royal Mint
ENGRAVED IN HISTORY
New Military Coins from The Royal Mint
ENGRAVED IN HISTORY

50 Years of Pride UK

50 Years of Pride UK

With a history that spans 50 years, Pride UK has forged a colourful legacy unlike any other event in the United Kingdom. From a revolutionary political movement to the vibrant celebratory festival we know today, Pride events in the UK have played a hugely significant role in promoting LGBTQ+ rights and the embracement of LGBTQ+ culture over the course of half a century.

As the original location of the first Pride UK event, London is commonly viewed as the epicentre of the Pride UK festivities and, with one of the most diverse and well-attended Pride events in the United Kingdom, it’s easy to see why. Today, Pride in London is the only annual event that causes London’s Oxford Street to close and, behind the London marathon, it is the second largest event in the capital.

Whilst we may be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Pride UK this year, its origins go back beyond that and its story began on the other side of the Atlantic. At the time, homophobia was commonplace and a widely accepted part of society in many parts of the world, including in the United States and the UK. Conversely, homosexuality was commonly frowned upon by the masses and was even a criminal offence backed by law in many countries. Same-sex sexual activity was illegal in all 50 US states until Illinois broke the cycle in 1962 by decriminalising homosexuality. It would be another nine years before any other state would follow suit and with the LGBTQ+ community’s considerable lack of civil rights in the 1960s, it seemed a matter of time until the issue reached boiling point. On 28 June 1969, a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village resulted in a subsequent week-long uprising from the gay community in the area in protest of their mistreatment. Commemorations took place for this landmark moment in LGBTQ+ history exactly a year later in New York, with an event titled Christopher Street Liberation Day. Similar events also took place in Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, sparking the start of the event known across the world today as Pride.

Inspired by the events in the US, the UK’s first major gay rights protest took place in 1970, some two years before the first official Pride UK event. Orchestrated by the UK Gay Liberation Front (GLF), the event saw protesters march across Highbury Fields in north London. Nine months later in August 1971, another high-profile rally took place, where the UK GLF Youth Group marched through central London to Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. With momentum on their side, the UK GLF upped the ante even further the following year with the first official Pride event in the UK. Held in London on 1 July 1972 (the nearest Saturday to the anniversary of the Stonewall riots), the number of attendees had grown from the 150 that took part in the Highbury Fields demonstration to 2,500 – a number that would only increase as support for the community grew bigger with each passing year.

In 1976, during Gay Pride Week, participants took the protest to the next level when they held a picnic in Victoria Gardens by the Houses of Parliament. Highlighting the growing visibility of this once shunned corner of society, the choice of venue brought notable publicity to the event and the community. The event continued to be a mainstay of the London events calendar until 1981. In an act of solidarity with Yorkshire’s gay community, the Pride march moved to Huddersfield for one year only, in defiance of the West Yorkshire Police. The police had been frequently raiding the Gemini Club – a popular gay bar in Yorkshire dubbed by locals as the ‘Studio 54 of the North’, which police had once branded ‘a cesspit of filth’. The following year, the event returned to London but it would be the last Gay Pride of its kind.

In 1983, Gay Pride became Lesbian and Gay Pride to better suit its growing number of participants. The newly christened event continued to grow throughout the 1980s and the 1985 event attracted an estimated 10,000 participants, with the London LGBTQ+ newspaper Capital Gay branding it ‘the biggest gathering of homosexuals Britain has ever seen’. The march notably included many attendees from the UK’s various mining communities, who reportedly repaid the solidarity and support they had received from the gay community during the miners’ strike of 1984–85.

The 1988 event saw a surge in participation due to the government’s invocation of Section 28 – a new government act that stated that a local authority in England, Wales and Scotland should ‘not intentionally promote homosexuality’. The act also prohibited ‘the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. The reviled act quickly drew widespread criticism from the gay community and many outside of it, including high-profile opposition from notable LGBTQ+ personalities such as Sir Ian McKellen, who had marched in protest himself. As a result, attendee figures shot up to approximately 40,000 for the 1988 London march in protest of the ruling. The act was eventually repealed but it would be a long time coming; it was not overturned in Scotland until 2000 and in the rest of the UK until 2003.

Whilst the Pride events of the 1970s and 1980s had been politically charged demonstrations, with protest and justice at their core, the London Pride events of the 1990s became more of a carnival affair with a festival-like atmosphere. Whilst the same values remain, Pride UK became more of a celebration of the LGBTQ+ communities. In addition to being the 20th anniversary of the first Pride UK event, the 1992 incarnation of Pride in London underwent a European makeover, as London became the first city to host EuroPride – a special Pride festival held in a different European city each year. The inaugural edition of the event proved to be a resounding success, attracting an estimated 100,000 attendees.

Following the success of EuroPride, Pride in London subsequently underwent a series of changes through the 1990s and at one time, it was considered the largest free music festival in Europe. In 1996, Pride was renamed Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride, continuing its fluid evolution to ensure the event’s label remained as inclusive as possible. That same year, a group of marchers memorably took to the streets dressed as the Pope accompanied by members of the ‘mafia’ in a political statement about religious attitudes towards homosexuality. Although the presentation of the event may have altered, the message of protest remained strong, which was confirmed the following year when attendance soared to 300,000 people.

Pride in London saw out the millennium with another name change, this time to London Mardi Gras in an apparent attempt to rival similarly branded festivals internationally. Following the cancellation of the 1998 event due to funding, the rebrand was a brave yet necessary move. This latest evolution saw backlash from many LGBTQ+ activists, who labelled the modernised event as ‘depoliticised and commercialised’, which was fuelled even further by the introduction of admission fees for the evening festival. Despite the polarising change in direction, the London Mardi Gras proved a success and the name remained until 2003, when the title Pride returned.

In 2006, London hosted another EuroPride with similar if not more success than the first. The event comprised a mammoth two-week celebration culminating in a huge variety show organised by Sir Ian McKellen at the Royal Albert Hall, headlined by LGBTQ+ icon Sir Elton John and featuring acts ranging from Alan Carr to Boy George. In the years that followed, Pride in London went from strength to strength and although there were a few speed bumps along the way, the last decade has seen events dominated by positivity and success.

50 Years of Pride UK

Historic sign in the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, New York

 

The 2019 event was a particularly significant occasion for Pride UK, as it marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Celebrated in fitting fashion, Pride in London attracted a colossal 1.5 million attendees – an all-time record-attendance for Pride events held in the UK. The parade itself featured 30,000 marchers from the LGBTQ+ community, including 600 groups, whilst the festival itself featured more than 120 events, making it the biggest Pride UK event of all-time. In 2021, this momentum paused with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. The introduction of lockdowns and social-distancing measures forced the cancellation of the events planned for 2020 and 2021. Thankfully, however, 2022 sees Pride in London back with a vengeance just in time for the event’s historic 50th anniversary.

When peering into the rear-view mirror of Pride UK’s journey, it is clear that it has not been a smooth road. Whilst homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales on 21 July 1967 with the introduction of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, it wasn’t legalised in Scotland until 1980, whilst Northern Ireland moved to decriminalise it in 1982. Meanwhile, it would take a further 11 years for the Republic of Ireland to follow suit in 1993. Without the widespread support of Pride UK and the visibility events like Pride in London have given to the LGBTQ+ community, these milestone steps towards equality may have never come to fruition.

In 2013, gay marriage became legal in England and Wales, followed by Scotland and Ireland in the respective two years that followed, and in Northern Ireland in 2020. Over the last few decades, Pride UK events have expanded far beyond the UK’s capital and now take place all over the UK, including most major cities. With more than 150 events nationwide, Pride UK continues to lead the way in the fight for LGBTQ+ visibility, unity and equality, and whilst there is undoubtedly still work left to do, the future of Pride UK certainly looks brighter than ever.

Celebrating 50 Years of Pride UK

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