My first Pride
Charissa King overcame her reservations to attend a Pride parade for the first time. This is what she learned
This summer, I decided to watch, cheer and high five a parade of people from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) community. I am, among many other things, a straight, Christian black woman, so by going to London’s Pride parade, I thought I’d be spectating on a community I am not part of. I was wrong.
On 28 June 1969, a diverse group of activists fought back against police harassment and brutality at New York’s Stonewall Inn gay bar. This sparked a series of protests that became known as the Stonewall riots, which laid the groundwork for today’s mainstream gay rights movement. At Pride parades and events all over the world, people from the LGBTQI community have honoured the campaigning spirit of those Stonewall Inn activists.
This summer marked 50 years since those protests, and the UK celebrated an additional anniversary: the 30th birthday of Stonewall UK, the largest campaigning organisation for LGBT rights in the UK. All this history made London’s Pride parade even more significant this time around, attracting 1.5 million people as a result. I wanted to join in celebrating how far society has come in the struggle for acceptance and rights. But what right do I – a straight woman – have, to stand alongside LGBTQI people?
I have long wrestled with the idea of attending Pride. The event wasn’t created for me. It was born out of a struggle for justice, equality and acceptance that I fiercely empathise with, but though I love Queer Eye and have watched a few films about gay icons, relationships and rights, is it a form of cultural appropriation to attend such an event, waving a flag as though I’m ‘one of them’? Would they want me there anyway? I caught my thoughts seeming to repeat the same ‘us and them’ rhetoric I so despise – rhetoric that has oppressed and continues to oppress people like me.
When a colleague from the LGBTQI community suggested that I stand alongside her at Pride this year, I felt honoured and slightly anxious. Would I become an interloper? My colleague told me of the tradition where ‘straight allies’ attend Pride and other LGBTQI protests and events, as supporters. Lisa-Jayne Lewis, a bisexual friend, then reminded me: ‘Pride is more than a celebration, it is a fight and a struggle. We have it easier here in the UK compared to many others, so it’s really important that those of us with the freedom take to the streets, not only for ourselves, but also for them.’ These conversations helped me put aside my hesitations about going to my first Pride parade. At least two people wanted me there. It was a historic occasion. And besides, how bad could it be? …
Charissa King is Production and Marketing Officer for Reform
This is an extract from a longer article that was published in the September 2019 edition of Reform