London Pride
Over 50’s

The Stonewall uprising. The mighty act of rebellion. A night which would change the future forever: 50 years later, Pride '19, shows what the power of community can do.

Since the first demonstrations, the movement has grown from a few; to a few million. Filling the streets of London, this year, it felt as if everyone was out to celebrate. And with a reported 1.6 million people dancing down Regent Street and beyond; a sense of hope flickered throughout the air. Yes we live in scary times. Things are by no means perfect. But this parade was a reminder of how far we’ve come. And also how far we have to go for not only the LGBTQ+ people around us, but those worldwide. People are the force, and together, we can change the future.

This Pride London, we headed down to talk to the first generation who made all of this happen. The over 50’s – the ones who have witnessed the power of Pride first hand. We spoke about how far the communities have come. And grabbed some words of wisdom for the change-makers of the next generation….

What’s the best thing about Pride?

I am an 88-year-old gay man and an original member of the campaign for homosexual equality. So I have been through it all. In the early days, it was horrible.
We were spat on during parades, hounded by police and basically everything we did was seen to be illegal. But I am standing here today surrounded by thousands of people celebrating Pride openly on the streets of London. Wow. That fills me with an incredible sense of achievement. The human spirit is a powerful thing!

What was life like before Pride?

It was like living in a secret society. We did have fun. But it was illegal to be yourself.

We’d have to work hard to find quiet places to meet up, mainly in pubs. But sometimes I would meet up with my gay friends in the toilets. Which is crazy, but we weren’t allowed to be anywhere else.

What needs to change in society for the LGBTQ+ community?

I think we need to be aware of the encroachment from the far right. Which is alarmingly a global issue now. In our time there were criticism of Tony Blair and the invasion of Iran. But Tony Blair did make a big difference for us. It was him and his government who pushed for the passing of 10 measures in parliament – improving the lives for the gay community. It is not often known or spoken about. We need to have one or two political champions like him, otherwise, I can see our community not get the representation we deserve.

What’s the best thing about Pride?

In my day it was all underground. I envy the openness of the youth today. They get to throw a party and celebrate who they are. It’s truly incredible, and I am so glad that I am filled with envy – long may it continue to keep pushing forward.

What was life like before Pride?

To me, it’s being able to be proud of who you are, and what you are. To celebrate your sexuality in the most honest form you can.

What needs to change in society for the LGBTQ+ community?

It’s got better. But there is still homophobia and hate crime around. Work needs to be done and people need to be educated. I still hear things like; it’s an illness, it’s not right. But those people are so wrong. Being gay is in my genes. I am who I am. And I know that for sure now. I have been married. I do have children. But during that time I always knew that it didn’t feel right for me to be a straight man. I succumb to the pressure to have kids, have a family. Society needs to stop applying the pressure. That’s the change I want to continue to see.

How old were you when you came out?

Actually, I am not out to my family. I think my daughter is gay-friendly, but my son is quite homophobic towards men. I have a close relationship with him, and I would love to tell him. But I don’t want to ruin what we have. So I’m still suppressing sexuality, even now.

What’s the best thing about Pride?

That we can celebrate freedom in the UK. We can do what we want to do. And yet it still brings to the front that other countries need a lot of help. Just because we can celebrate Pride here in England, does not mean the fight is over. We still need to look out for our brothers and sisters around the world.

What was life like before Pride?

Difficult. You couldn’t be out and proud. We all had to hide away, keeping it behind the doors of sneaky bars. I couldn’t even come out at work because of the stigma. But how things have changed, because now when I apply for jobs, it goes straight on my application forms. I am gay. And wherever I work I take the role of an LGBT friend with the up-most honour.

What needs to change in society for the LGBTQ+ community?

People’s perception of HIV – that still is very skewed from the actual reality of the disease. I also think we need to see more academic professionals come out, such as, doctors and teachers. They can encourage and help the younger generation. Because yes, the upcoming generation might have it easier, but suicide rates in teenage gay men are still very high. That proves that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.

What’s the best thing about Pride?

Seeing the wild diversity of the different communities that mix under these random flags. Plus I get to run down the street in my favourite skirt and nobody bats an eyelid -that makes a change.

What was life like before Pride?

I have been going to Pride for 35 years. So it’s completely different from the early days. It came from a political place- but it’s not Pride itself that has changed things. It’s the people. The ones who came out on mass. To their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, work colleagues. As a result, people could no longer say, “I don’t know anyone who is gay”. Once someone starts to have someone in their intimate life who is gay and therefore affected by discriminating laws or homophobic violence. It becomes real. It becomes something they need to care about.

What needs to change in society for the Queer community?

Society needs to honour its commitment. It needs to stand up for trans women, trans children and generally LGBT children in school. People want to push the clock back, and society needs to stand with the communities it claims to support.

What is one of the biggest issues you see within the community today?

The attitude towards trans women – they are one of the most marginalised groups and are even being attacked by people within this very community – that’s so wrong. Also, there is normally a fetish scene here, but this year they were told they were not allowed to march as pride is a “family-friendly event”. That’s not on. If we are going to have Pride, it needs to be the entire community – not a sanitised spectacle which looks good in the pages on the Guardian.

What’s the best thing about Pride?

[Sarah] The feeling of togetherness and community.

[Mel] I agree. It’s about being open. The great feeling of being yourself. There is no judgement here.

What does coming to Pride mean to you?

[Sarah] I saw someone with a T-shirt saying “proud dad”. It made me quite emotional because that is what this movement can do. Not only can it change lives, but it can also create new ones. Before this it was stale, no life grew.

[Mel] I have only been in a same-sex relationship for two years. Before I came to Pride, my preconception was that only gay people celebrated it. What I love is that everyone from all over come to enjoy it. It showcases the diversity of humanity. It’s beautiful.

Words by Liberty Rose Papworth / Photography by Pip Jay King / Produced by by Phlegm Collective

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