30 June 2022
It is the 50th anniversary of Pride this year. A huge landmark and symbolic of some seismic change in Britain over that time. Pride started when I was tiny, so as a gay woman it’s also the timeline of my life.
In the year that I was born England and Wales decriminalised sex in private between consenting same-sex adults over 21. Ten years later Scotland and Northern Ireland followed. Equality of age of consent didn’t come around until 2001.
Nor was every development progressive. In 1988 Margaret Thatcher’s government introduced Clause 28, making it illegal for local authorities to ‘promote’ homosexuality or ‘pretend family relationships’. This meant in practice that information or materials about sources of support were banned in schools and colleges.
This legislation was in place all the time when I was growing up and the environment it created was deeply homophobic. I remember feeling that people saw being gay as a horrible thing, that your family and friends might disown you if they knew you were gay, that you should never let people know this secret. And it was hard to accept an identity that people so many people seemed to hate. Yet I think of myself as someone who came through all that reasonably well! And taking that road has led to so many riches.
But very many people had far worse experiences – and that takes a toll on mental health. It’s no coincidence that substance misuse rates, self-harm and suicide are all significantly higher for the LGBTQ+ community. I’ve written before about my time working for an LGBTQ youth group in the ’90s. I hope that work – confidential and careful as it had to be – prevented some young people from feeling wholly on their own in that environment.
Changing social attitudes
So, a lot had already shifted in social attitudes for us to get to a point in 2004 where Civil Partnership became possible and where, for the first time, trans people were able to get new birth certificates (but only ‘male’ or ‘female’ ones). Some of that change impetus came from alternative cultures, from the arts, from advocacy, but the legislation itself was also hugely important. It led the way. It was a bit out in front of opinion and it moved attitudes on. It sent a very strong cultural, political signal that being gay was…OK.
Where we are now feels volatile. I am a football fan. And I am so excited that the women’s Euros are taking place here over the summer. As a little girl interested in football no-one wanted to let me play. It is a different world now – I volunteer for a local girls football group with hundreds on the books.
Change is painfully slow sometimes – in the men’s game there are only two out professional footballers. But the women’s game is a true source of inspiration. The game is getting so much more coverage and offering new images of what it means to be a woman, and new role models for girls. It is fantastic that some of those players are highly visible, highly talented gay women. My younger self would be amazed that Sam Kerr, the fantastic Australia striker, is out there posting selfies with her girlfriend. And they are using their voices positively. The difference that will make for young women growing up gay is incalculable.
So much to achieve
But there are so many things still to achieve, here and around the world. And I am cynical about the true value of some of our new ‘friends’.
The governing bodies are shameful – it’s pathetic to promote teams wearing rainbow laces but hold the World Cup in countries where homosexuality is illegal. My niece is a professional footballer – but we decided not to take our daughter to watch her play for England in a country that has declared ‘LGBT free’ zones.
And, instead of setting the pace of change, our own government flip-flops around. In my opinion, our national political leadership is keen to be seen as an ‘ally’ when it looks like it’s popular but prepared to ditch that stance whenever it suits them. This government has presided over a horrible saga of promising to ban conversion therapy, then retreating from that, then changing their stance again but excluding trans people from the ban. It has been an ugly, self-serving story.
Which I think can tell us a lot about true allyship. Allyship means consistency even when it doesn’t suit you, allyship means shouldering some of the risk that others bear, allyship is a deep commitment to make and, at times, a journey that can be painful.
This Pride, after 50 years, I feel that more ground has been gained than lost. But it feels like a fragile balance that could easily tip away from love, compassion, and humanity. So I want to thank every single person who has got us this far – queer and ally. And I hope for strength for us all, so that the next 50 years ends in a still better place.
– Rosemary Watt-Wyness, CEO