Hope and Pride

Hope and Pride: What is Pride and why do we need it?

To coincide with Newbury’s first Pride on 2 July 2022 and the 50th anniversary of the UK’s first recognised Pride, West Berkshire Museum partnered with members of the LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual and others) community to develop an exhibition on the history of Pride and why it is necessary.

Newbury Pride Committee and Mayor, 2022. Image courtesy of Kevin Sheldrake, kevinsheldrakephotography.com.

The marginalisation of LGBTQIA+ people

The UK has a complicated history with LGBTQIA+ identities and lifestyles. Greek philosophers wrote about homosexuality in Celtic culture and same sex relationships were documented in Roman Britain. However the spread of organised religion over the following 2,000 years influenced law and social order increasing marginalisation and the oppression of LGBTQIA+ people.

Communities and political organisations formed to resist injustices targeting people who identified as LGBTQIA+. In London in the 1700s, several Molly Houses were established. These were venues where gay men and transfeminine people met and openly courted each other. They dressed in clothes they felt comfortable wearing and even engaged in marriage ceremonies, as well as socialising and watching entertainment. These venues were often raided by police and patrons would be imprisoned or executed.

Police raids on venues were common throughout the 1800s and 1900s. The Vere Street Coterie (a group of men arrested at the Vere Street Molly House, London) in 1810 led to eight convictions and two death sentences. The Cleveland Street Scandal of 1889 caused panic when several members of the British aristocracy and royal family were linked to a gay brothel in London. Brownies, a gay sauna in Streatham, London, was raided by police investigating accusations of gross indecency and closed dramatically in 1988; the owner was imprisoned.

What came before Pride in the UK?

Homosexuality was partially decriminalised in England and Wales in 1967. Prior to this change in legislation, several groups existed that campaigned against the laws that criminalised LGBTQIA+ people. Among these were:

 

  • The Aëthnic Union, a revolutionary feminist group founded in 1911 whose members included the editors of the journal Urania, which compiled information on gender affirming surgeries and discussed different forms of non-binary and gender-queer identities

 

  • The Homosexual Law Reform Society, which was founded in 1958 to try to implement the recommendations on legalising homosexuality published in the Wolfenden Report the previous year

 

  • The Minorities Research Group, which was founded in 1963 to support and promote the interests of lesbians in the UK

 

  • The Beaumont Society, a support group for trans people founded in 1966

Some religious groups, such as the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), had also been campaigning for decriminalisation and equal marriage since the early 1960s.

In the early 1970s the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) led campaigns to highlight the inequality that still existed for LGBTQIA+ people following the partial legalisation of homosexuality in 1967. Many people believed that legalising same sex love between two men over the age of 21 in private should satisfy activists. However, the GLF was keen to highlight how this fell short of equal rights.

In August 1971, the GLF Under 21s group ran the ‘Age of Consent’ protest. This was to raise awareness of the difference in age of consent for homosexual (21) and heterosexual (16) couples. In September 1971 they organised ‘The Festival of Light’ action, where they disrupted a discriminatory religious event with loud and brash theatrical performances. This included drag, gay people kissing and pantomiming bishops.

UK Pride

The first recognised UK Pride march took place on 1st July 1972. 700-2,000 people participated in a march from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park in London. Organisers from the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) and the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) along with other protesters held signs and banners demanding human rights and chanted slogans like ‘innovate don’t assimilate’. There were many differences between the two groups’ approaches. CHE lobbied the Government for legal reform, whilst the GLF urged for more radical social change, campaigning for liberation rather than equality.

The 1980s and 1990s saw many more people ‘coming out’ as LGBTQIA+. Support groups formed and wanted a platform to demand social equality and inclusivity. The first UK Black gay and lesbian group was created in 1980 and the London Bisexual Group was established in 1981. In 1995 Mermaids, the first trans charity specifically for children, was founded by a group of parents. Representation within LGBTQIA+ communities (intersectionality) at Pride events has continued to grow.

Over the years, various organisations have run Pride events, which have had different names. From 1983 the London march was called ‘Lesbian and Gay Pride’. By the 1990s, Pride events became more like carnivals, with large park gatherings and fairs as well as marches, though several Pride events, like UK Black Pride and Peckham Pride, have made a concerted effort to keep the activist spirit of the original Prides central to their ethos. Pride has spread from London across the UK, with many cities and large towns now actively welcoming marches and demonstrations.

Why do we still need Pride?

Pride can be a powerful tool, providing an opportunity for isolated and vulnerable people to feel less alone. Pride is also a vessel for campaigning and protest against continuing injustices. In 2022 Newbury Pride and West Berkshire Museum encouraged local LGBTQIA+ people to participate in a survey about what it has been like to grow up, or live, in and around Newbury. A recurring theme in the survey responses was the lack of visibility for LGBTQIA+ events and the sense of isolation in being an LGBTQIA+ person in the local area.

The first UK Pride march was held the same year that the Transvestite Transsexual Drag Queen group was formed. Their 1972 founding manifesto highlighted many issues, including limited access to hormones, abusive conversion practices and binary gender roles that some of its authors, like Roz Kaveney, are still fighting to this day. Although legislation has offered some concessions, many of the goals of those early campaigners have still not been met. These goals include the right to legal self-identification of gender and the right to exist legally outside of male/female boxes.

Many other issues still exist for LGBTQIA+ people, including restrictions on donating blood, invasive and dehumanising interviews for asylum seekers, and the continued practice of harmful and unnecessary surgery on intersex infants. Even in cases where there are laws to protect LGBTQIA+ people from discrimination in housing or the workplace, and from street harassment and hate crimes, these are rarely prosecuted.

 

Charities, like Galop, have observed that the rate of anti-LGBTQIA+ hate crime is continuing to rise in the UK. Several studies have shown that LGBTQIA+ people are likely to face far higher rates of homelessness and mental health issues than the general population. One of the most successful remedies to improve lives for LGBTQIA+ people is to have opportunities to engage with each other through the wider community.

Newbury Pride march, 2022, led by the group Proud to be Trans in West Berkshire. Image courtesy of Kevin Sheldrake, www.kevinsheldrakephotography.com.

Why might people object to a Pride event?

Pride is a protest. Many people feel like Pride events are no longer needed and some feel like they have never been necessary. Several respondents to our survey expressed these concerns. Those respondents who expressed negative comments in the survey thought that Pride events are a waste of money, and some even wished ill on those promoting the survey and supporting LGBTQIA+ projects.

Anti-Pride rhetoric and opposition to LGBTQIA+ rights is declining, but remains problematic. Some groups are still against equal rights legislation. Others use the existence of new laws designed to protect LGBTQIA+ people to argue that equality has already been achieved and activism in this area is no longer needed. Examples of these laws are:

 

  • The amendment in 2000 to the Sexual Offences Act, equalising the age of consent for heterosexual and homosexual couples

 

  • The end of Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act in Scotland in 2000 and the rest of the UK in 2003. This previously banned schools, libraries and other council organisations from teaching about LGBTQIA+ lifestyles

 

  • The Gender Recognition Act (2004), Allowing some transgender people to undergo a lengthy and complicated procedure to correct the sex marked on their birth certificate

 

  • The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, allowing some gay couples to legally marry

 

  • The Equality Act 2010, which protects LGBT people from discrimination though protected characteristics.

These Acts of Parliament made progress for some, but many other LGBTQIA+ people were left out. There are still lots of ways for life to improve for the LGBTQIA+ community in the UK.

Market Square, Newbury Pride, 2022. Image courtesy of Kevin Sheldrake, www.kevinsheldrakephotography.com.

Capturing LGBTQIA+ histories in the West Berkshire Museum Collection

West Berkshire Museum is keen to collect objects that highlight LGBTQIA+ histories from people who live, or have lived in West Berkshire. During the 1980s and 1990s many people who identified as LGBTQIA+ moved away from small towns and villages to cities such as London and Bristol, where there were more diverse communities and opportunities for social acceptance and inclusion. This means there are fewer stories to tell and relevant objects in the Museum collection. However, if we can collect contemporary objects, this ensures LGBTQIA+ people are reflected in West Berkshire Museum’s collection in the future. If you have an object that you would like to see on display, or in the museum collection, please contact museum@westberks.gov.uk.

 

Here are some objects that have been collected by the Museum that mark Newbury’s first Pride event.

‘Proud To Be Trans in West Berkshire’ banner. Used by the group of the same name to lead the first Newbury Pride march on 2nd July 2022 and also the second Newbury Pride on 24th June 2023. The march started in Victoria Park before making its way through Parkway Shopping Centre then up Northbrook Street finishing in the market square. Image courtesy of West Berkshire Museum.

A Newbury Pride 2022 t-shirt worn by organisers at the event on 2nd July 2022. Image courtesy of West Berkshire Museum.

Newbury Pride poster created for the event held on 2nd July 2022. These were created and distributed by the Newbury Pride Committee to be displayed on poster boards in shops and offices across Newbury, Thatcham and Hungerford and digital versions where shared online and in their newsletter. Image courtesy of West Berkshire Museum.

A Newbury Pride 2022 banner created for the event held on 2nd July 2022. This was a spare duplicate of the banners created by the Newbury Pride Committee and hung at Newbury Fire Station and on the roundabout outside Tesco at Pinchington Lane. Image courtesy of West Berkshire Museum.

‘Hope and Pride’ Special Exhibition 2022-2023

Special Exhibition ‘Hope and Pride’ was curated in partnership with, and with thanks to, the LGBTQIA+ community and Newbury Pride.

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