Emily Thornberry

Emily Thornberry: I Hope LGBTQ+ Communities In Repressive Countries See Our Pride Parade

today1 July 2022

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I remember one of the first times I joined a march in the streets of London, I was almost too scared to walk.

In the early 1980s, marching with the Bangladeshi community in East London meant willingly exposing ourselves to racist violence, which was usually the reason we were marching in the first place.

There was a spirit of bravery and defiance in walking through those streets, but also a physical logic to our manner of protest.

A tightly-packed group with the bravest souls and biggest bodies at the front and sides gave us safety in numbers and a bit of protection if we came under attack, whether from the National Front or quite frankly from the Met Police.

“I hear the complaints about corporate brands literally joining the parade, and I know many people feel the same about politicians climbing on board.”

It’s very easy to forget, but the early Pride Marches in London, taking place in that same era, had a similar spirit and logic about them.

So-called ‘homosexual acts in private’ may have been partially decriminalised in 1967, but the punishments for anything outside that narrow definition were increased at the same time, and enforced even more aggressively by the police and courts.

When I first started to support Pride in 1980s London, it was out of solidarity with my brother and friends, but also the men I was by then defending in court, already under threat from HIV and gay-bashing, and still having to face charges of ‘gross indecency’ just for trying to enjoy a sex life.

It was a period of deep hostility from the state, the justice system and large parts of society, and for all those who stood up and marched in the face of that hostility – and the threat of violence that came with it – it took not just pride but real courage.

That’s why, when Pride Weekend in London rolls round bigger and better each year, with ever more floats, more dancers and more gin, my first thought is always: ‘How far we’ve come’.

Gin aside, I love the mix of pumping music and cheering crowds: an exultant soundtrack to the passing kaleidoscope of colours, glitter, costumes, and banners.

I hear the complaints about corporate brands literally joining the parade, and I know many people feel the same about politicians climbing on board.

But I remember the years when practically the only solidarity the Pride marchers got was from other victimised groups and embattled communities, and I cannot help but take pleasure in the difference between then and now.

Emily Thornberry, Sadiq Khan and Dawn Butler at Pride London.
Emily Thornberry, Sadiq Khan and Dawn Butler at Pride London.

Tristan Fewings via Getty Images

And let’s remember there will be other Pride events taking place around the world this month which resemble much more those original brave, defiant marches in London five decades ago.

In countries where LGBT+ relationships are still banned, and LGBT+ people face state-directed persecution and violence, it takes immense courage for people to assemble in the streets or parks under rainbow flags and celebrate their sexuality in public.

But nothing begets courage so much as hope.

And when the LGBT+ communities in those repressive countries see the images of our parade in London this weekend, I hope they will look forward with confidence to the day when they too can celebrate Pride without fear of violence and recrimination, but filled only with the spirit of togetherness, liberation and joy.

We will all get there in the end. And how far we will have come.

Emily Thornberry is the Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury and the shadow attorney general.

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