Pride in London: What is the history of the annual parade?

Sabrina Barr
·6-min read
A parade participant at Pride in London 2019: Getty Images
A parade participant at Pride in London 2019: Getty Images

Over the past several months, countless events around the world have had to be cancelled or postponed as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Pride Month, which takes place in June, should have seen Pride parades held across the globe, with millions of people waving rainbow flags in celebration of the LGBT+ community.

Pride in London, one of the longest-running Pride events in the country, was due to take place on Saturday 27 June. However, in May, its organisers announced that it was to be postponed till 2021.

Explaining the decision, Pride in London co-chairs Alison Camps and Michael Salter-Church stated: “As always, we must prioritise the health and wellbeing of our communities, volunteers and contributors.”

They added the reminder that “Pride is a protest”, outlining that they will be “continuing to lobby government decision-makers to address the discrimination faced by marginalised LGBT+ groups, starting by actively reforming the Gender Recognition Act”.

While Pride in London, in addition to other Pride events, are widely seen as celebratory events – which they are – they also commemorate protests that took place more than half a century ago in opposition to discrimination faced by the LGBT+ community, an issue that remains prevalent today.

So when did the first Pride in London parade take place and how has the event evolved throughout the years?

How did Pride in London begin?

The first official Gay Pride Rally in London was held in 1972.

The event was launched in response to the Stonewall riots, which began in the early hours of 28 June 1969 when a police raid took place at Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York.

Following the police raid, for three nights members of the LGBT+ community fought back against police brutality, in a series of riots that played a key role within the wider gay liberation movement.

Three years after the Stonewall uprising, London Pride was born, taking place on Saturday 1 July 1972.

Approximately 2,000 people took part, a fraction of the estimated 1.5 million who attended last year’s event.

However, while the first official Pride rally was held in 1972, the first Pride marches actually took place two years prior in November 1970, when around 150 men marched through Highbury Fields in North London.

How has it progressed over the years?

While the Stonewall riots that inspired Pride in London took place in New York, members of the LGBT+ community in London also faced discriminatory behaviour and violence.

During Gay Pride Week in 1978, a leaflet was distributed that referenced “increasing attacks on gay people over the past year”, the Museum of London states.

In the ninth year of London’s Pride march, the rally was relocated to Huddersfield in West Yorkshire in support of the gay community in the area, who claimed that they were being harassed by West Yorkshire Police.

A higher number of people took part in the rally in 1988 in response to Section 28, a governmental act established in England, Scotland and Wales that stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

The act was repealed in Scotland in 2000 and in the remainder of the UK in 2003.

More than a decade after the Gay Pride Rally first took place, in 1983 it was renamed Lesbian and Gay Pride, before being renamed again in 1996 to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride.

From 2004 up until 2012, the charity Pride London organised all the annual Pride celebrations in the English capital.

Pride in London has since been run by London LGBT+ Community Pride, a community interest company.

Last year, as part of the four-week Pride in London Festival, more than 120 events took place across London in celebration of the event.

With hundreds of thousands of people attending the parade every year, Pride in London is the only annual event for which London’s Oxford Street is closed.

How did last year’s Pride in London celebrations unfold?

2019 was a particularly significant year for Pride Month, marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

Pride in London featured 30,000 marchers from the LGBT+ community, including 600 groups in the parade, a marked increase from the year before when 500 groups participated in the spectacle.

Performers who made appearance on Pride in London’s many stages included Broadway legend Billy Porter and RuPaul’s Drag Race stars Willam, Scarlet Envy and Soju, while the event was made increasingly accessible with the inclusion of viewing platforms, vantage points for people with limited mobility, British Sign Language interpreters and captioning.

Alison Camps, co-chair of Pride in London, stressed the significance of Pride, stating: “It’s vital that we remember that Pride is not just one day a year – we must fight for the rights of all members of our community all year round”.

“In this momentous anniversary year, we must all take stock of how far we’ve come – and of the contributions and sacrifices made by trans women of colour to get us to where we are today,” Camps said.

On the day of Pride in London 2019, temperatures rose to 23C as more than a million people took to the streets of the capital to celebrate the joyous occasion.

The crowds were awash with rainbow-patterned outfits, banners and flags, in a spectacle that will hopefully be resumed in all its extravagance in 2021.

How can you celebrate Pride in London this year?

Despite the postponement of the Pride in London parade, there are plenty of alternative events that you can take part in to commemorate the day.

Pride in London is holding its very first virtual club night on the evening of Friday 26 June, featuring special guest host and Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK finalist Divina De Campo.

Morning Gloryville is hosting an online rave from the morning of Saturday 27 June until early afternoon, promising “five hours of fun for the whole family”, with tickets costing £10.92 each.

Several organisations, including Amnesty International, UK Black Pride, Gendered Intelligence, Stonewall and ParaPride, have come together to create a series of events from Sunday 28 June to Sunday 5 July in celebration of Pride, dubbed “Pride Inside”.

The event will feature gigs, comedy shows and panel discussions with a line-up boasting talented LGBT+ comedians, artists, musicians and activists.

In lieu of the Pride in London parade, the event’s organisers are calling on those who would have attended the rally “to make an act of allyship for an LGBT+ community other than their own”.

Taking inspiration from this year’s Pride in London theme You! Me! Us! We!, they are aiming to reach a target of 30,000 acts of allyship, to represent the 30,000 individuals who would have marched in the parade. To find out more, click here.

Read more

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