Arts & Culture

A History of Pride: From New York to Victoria Park

Written by Laura May Bailey

Monday 1st February marked the start of LGBT+ History Month in the UK. This year in addition to the theme of ‘Body, Mind, Spirit,’ another five ‘Faces for the Year’ have been chosen. Intended to give LGBT+ students relatable role models, the key individuals this year are Lily Parr, Mark Ashton, Maya Angelou, Michael Dillon and Mark Weston.

The LGBT+ History Month website has a wealth of information about these LGBT+ heroes as well as links to educational resources and a fantastic series of online talks called OUTing the Past.

In honour of this month, let’s look back at the history of Pride, from it’s origins in New York to what it means to Leicester today.

New York

The first lesbian and gay pride march occurred in June 1970 in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots a year earlier. These riots between police and LGBT+ protestors happened over six days in retaliation to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn. With homosexuality illegal in the US at the time, gay bars, such as Stonewall, were frequent targets of police harassment.

However, in the political climate of the 1960s, with the Civil Rights and Feminist Movements in full swing, LGBT+ people were inspired and united in spontaneous protest against a long history of oppression.

In the following years, these first LGBT+ protests became a symbol for protestors internationally. June 1970 saw over 2000 people gather in New York in commemoration, with other gatherings in Los Angeles and London.

London

A torch lit protest was organised by the Gay Liberation Front in London 1970. Around eighty members gathered to commemorate the Stonewall Riots as well as draw attention to LGBT+ discrimination in the UK.

While the 1967 Sexual Offences Act had technically legalised homosexuality for men over the age of 21, it came ten years after a government report calling for the decriminalisation of homosexual acts. Frustratingly, the following year prosecutions for homosexual behaviour increased with remaining homophobic laws being policed with extra diligence.

The first Pride March in the UK happened two years later in 1972. It saw around 2000 people march from Oxford Street to Hyde Park in London. These numbers remained consistent throughout the 1970s and early 1980s.

After many lesbians and gays spoke out in support of miners during the Miners’ Strikes of 1984-5, the 1985 London Pride drew a crowd of 15,000. Many of these were from northern mining communities.

In 1988 the Conservative government passed Section 28 which prevented councils and schools from promoting or actively accepting homosexuality. This law meant teachers were often reluctant to intervene in instances of homophobic bullying, and a generation of children grew up legally allowed to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, but strongly socially oppressed for their identity. The introduction of Section 28 affected London Pride too, with a record 40,000 attending.

Leicester

The first Leicester Pride was in 2001 and is now an annual event each summer. The main Pride Carnival parades from the city centre to Victoria Park near the university.

Although there was no pride for three years between 2006 and 2008, September 2009 saw the return of Leicester Pride with a full parade throughout the city, street festival of food and even live music and dance. Each year over 10,000 people attend various events throughout the city, with over 2000 marching on the Pride parade itself.

Unfortunately (though unsurprisingly), pride events across the country were cancelled in 2020. However, put Saturday 4 September in your calendar, as there remains hope that Leicester Pride will be back this year, even better than ever!


Image from unsplash.com

Laura May Bailey is a master’s student of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester. As well as having a passion for museums, she is also interested in traveling, history, and literature. You can find her on Instagram here: @laura_may_bee