Lake District Trip … 50 Years of UK Pride: Ted Brown, Peter Tatchell … and Royal Mail

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Lake District Trip

We met at Chorlton Street Bus Station and our coach took us to the Lake District in Cumbria. We had planned to visit Bowness, but the coach took us to Waterhead Pier, about a mile from the town of Ambleside on the other side of Lake Windermere, England’s largest natural lake.

The weather was a bit damp, but this didn’t spoil our visit. Some people sailed on the lake, while others explored Ambleside. The views of lakes, valleys and steep hills were fantastic.

More photos can be seen here.

50 Years of UK Pride: Ted Brown, Peter Tatchell … and Royal Mail

Class of 72 (from left): Tom Robinson, Stuart Feather, Mair Twissell, Roz Kaveney, Peter Tatchell, Andrew Lumsden, Ted Brown and Nettie Pollard. Photograph: Simon Webb / The Guardian

Ted Brown is a black LGBT rights pioneer who helped organise the UK’s first Gay Pride march in 1972, featuring a mass ‘kiss-in’ that, at the time, would have been considered gross indecency, which was against the law.

Ted Brown (left)

When Brown realised he was gay, homosexuality was illegal in Britain – the only person he came out to was his mother. She cried and told him he’d have to battle not just racism but homophobia too; both were rife in society at the time. At one point Brown felt so dismal about his future that he considered taking his own life. But inspired by the Stonewall Riots, he found hope in Britain’s Gay Liberation Front and became a key figure in fighting bigotry in the UK.

Fifty years on, says activist Ted Brown, people call it Britain’s first official Gay Pride, but there was nothing “official” about it. Pride 72 was not endorsed by the government, let alone the brands and corporations you might see at Pride today. It was not about rainbow flags or pop stars performing; it was fundamentally grassroots, and a challenge to society. Just five years after Britain’s partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, sex between men under the age of 21 was still banned, and displaying same-sex romantic affection in public was illegal. To take to the streets and show your face to the world was both radical and defiant.

Here are some extracts from his moving life story:

Growing up gay and black. Telling his mother that he was gay

“I started going to a school called Eltham Green Comprehensive, was quite happy there although, again I was experiencing a fair amount of racism, and there was homophobia amongst the kids. It was quite common for children to be abused as – boys mostly, to be abused as being sissies.

Anyway, around the age of eleven, around 1961, as I said, I was becoming aware of my attractions to one or two other boys in the school, and I mentioned this to my mother, and as most parents would do, and as is actually common, she felt that this was just a stage. It’s very common for kids to develop crushes on same sex people without there being any sexual overtones, erm, but I realised some time later, when I was about fifteen that these were not simply er … it wasn’t just simply a stage and that I was sexually attracted to these other boys, and I remember also that I told my mother at the time. I felt very lucky being able to tell my mum that I was – in my own words at the time – “I think I’m becoming homosexual” because I know that a lot of parents and a lot of other associates of the family would not be accepting – receptive, or understanding of their child telling them that they were homosexual in 1965. This was four years before the Stonewall riots in New York that started the modern lesbian and gay rights campaigning.”

First GLF meetings in London. Living in a GLF commune. Challenging sex roles

“Apparently Noel saw me at the meeting and says that he, found me very attractive at the time. I think I may have seen him, but I don’t remember him at that particular meeting and I, of course, didn’t know that we were going to be still together 44, 45 years later.

There were various meetings held at the Covent Garden, but for one reason or another, they were later moved to Notting Hill. Um … Powis Square in Notting Hill became the centre of several ongoing lesbian and gay meetings, and it was at those meetings that the Gay Liberation Front was formed, and this was a group of people who felt that lesbians and gay men should actively fight for our right both legally and socially. One of the slogans was that The Personal is Political, because many people who didn’t want to join argued that the law was one thing and um, that your personal life was something that you should keep away from everybody else. But we felt that your sexuality, your race, your age – all these things had implications both politically, socially and personally, and that we should um, look at them clearly and challenge the problems that arose from the discrimination and hostility that people often faced.

At one stage erm, by which time I had actually met Noel and we were beginning to get known as a couple, erm, it was suggested that there should be some communes set up by GLF. Gay Liberation Front. So that we could actually live the principals of The Personal is Political. Three communes were set up. One in Brixton – remnants of that still exist in Mayall Road in South London, not far from where I’m actually living now. Another in Notting Hill, and another in Bounds Green in North London. Noel and I moved into the one in North London. I can’t give or remember exactly the exact address of the house, but there were fourteen of us there, and we had twelve mattresses in the living room, and we agreed that we would share our food, we would share house cleaning responsibilities, that we would be open to erm, the friends, relatives and guests of other people, that we would encourage both the women and the men – there were only two women out of the group, to dress as they wanted to. If er, somebody wanted … a man wanted to dress in camp outfits or transgender items that was fine. If the women wanted to wear men’s clothes, or women’s clothes or whatever, we wouldn’t challenge them in the way that people normally would be outside, erm, and we would try to disrupt the gender classifications that we were used to. At one of the meetings that had set up um, GLF erm, the communes, a lot of the women walked out, because the habits were so ingrained in us of sexual division that at those meetings, when there was a break, many of the men expected the women to go and make the tea! (Laughs) And after a while the women said “Can you not see that you’re still carrying on the, you know, the nuclear family male dominated structure and that one of the things that we have been challenging when we set up GLF was the fact that both women and men, gay … lesbians and gay men, had habitually imitated heterosexual sex roles?”

Peter Tatchell: What it was like to march at the first UK Pride

Looking back over the last 50 years, it is extraordinary how Pride has grown since that inaugural 1972 march (Jamie Gardiner)

“Way back in the early 1970s, I was a member of the newly-formed Gay Liberation Front (GLF). It was Britain’s first movement of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and the first to move beyond mere law reform, to take on the homophobia of the church, media, police and the medical and psychiatric professions.

To combat the invisibility and denigration of the queer community, we decided to organise a “Gay Pride” march, with the theme of being out and proud. This was a radical departure from the norm. In those days, nearly all LGBT+ people were closeted and many felt ashamed of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

I was one of about 30 GLF activists who organised that first UK Pride march, which took place in London on 1 July 1972. Only 700 people turned up. Many of my friends were too scared to march. They thought everyone would be arrested or bashed. That didn’t happen, but we were swamped by a heavy police presence.

Despite this intimidation, we were determined to have a fun time and make our point. The march was a carnival-style parade, which went from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park. There were lots of extravagant costumes and cheeky banners poking fun at homophobes like the morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse. I marched with my then partner, jazz guitarist Peter Smith, carrying a placard that simply read: “Gay is Good” – a revolutionary idea in that era, when most people thought gay was very bad.

We received mixed reactions from the public, some hostile and some supportive – and a lot of curiosity and bewilderment. Most had never knowingly seen a LGBT+ person, let alone hundreds of queers marching to demand human rights.

Unlike nowadays, Pride in 1972 had no commercialisation or corporate sponsorship – and no government funding or messages of support. Not a single politician joined us. The homophobic media refused to report Pride.

When the march arrived at Hyde Park, there was no festival or entertainment – just an impromptu DIY queer picnic, what we called a “Gay Day”. Everyone brought food, booze, dope and music. It was all shared around.

We played camped-up versions of party games like spin the bottle and drop the hanky. I won one of the games and my prize was a long, deep kiss with a gorgeous French gay activist who had come over from Paris to join us. But it was more than good fun. Because we were same-sex kissing in public, which was an arrestable offence in those days, it was also a gesture of defiance.

Looking back over the last 50 years, it is extraordinary how Pride has grown from one march with less than a thousand people to over 150 nationwide events with a combined attendance of a million.

The increasing acceptance of LGBTs is another big change. In 1972, homosexuality was still viewed as an illness, lesbian mothers had their kids taken off them by the courts, you could be sacked from your job for being LGBT+ and the police were at war with our community. Despite the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, many aspects of gay male life remained illegal. Thousands of gay and bisexual men were still being arrested for consenting, victimless behaviour – often as a result of police entrapment operations using officers acting as agents provocateurs.

Although there remain many injustices to overcome, our community has made huge strides towards freedom over the last five decades. None of these gains has been given to us on a plate. Every advance has been the hard-won result of determined campaigning. It took us 34 years to win an equal age of consent and 43 years to win marriage equality!

There is no room for complacency. Although all the major anti-LGBT+ laws have now been repealed, trans people are still battling to reform the Gender Recognition Act so they can self-define and legally change their gender without having to get medical approval. We continue to wait for a ban on conversion therapy that was promised four years ago and the latest government proposal will only prohibit conversion practices targeted at young LGBs. It will not protect trans people at all.

Even today, two thirds of queer people have experienced anti-LGBT violence or abuse, and nearly half of LGBT+ kids in schools have suffered bullying. There remain some LGBTs, mostly from religious communities, who feel ashamed, depressed and sometimes suicidal about their orientation or identity.

Globally, we have a long way to go, with 70 nations criminalising same-sex relations. Penalties range from a few years in jail to life imprisonment. Twelve Muslim-majority nations have the death penalty. Thirty-five of the 69 criminalising countries are Commonwealth member states, acting in defiance of the human rights provisions of the Commonwealth Charter – with no rebuke from the Commonwealth Secretariat. For all these reasons, Pride is still important and needs to remain both a celebration and a protest.

See you on 1 July at 1.00pm at St Martin’s church in Trafalgar Square. We will be celebrating the exact 50th anniversary of the first Pride in the UK, with a march that retraces the route of the 1972 march to Hyde Park.”

Royal Mail marks 50 years of UK Pride with colourful set of stamps

The stamps were illustrated by the award-winning artist Sofie Birkin. Photograph: Royal Mail / PA

On 1 July 1972 a crowd of people gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square and marched to Hyde Park chanting “Gay is fun! Gay is proud! Gay is beautiful!”

It was not the first march for LGBT+ rights in the UK, as similar protests had taken place in Highbury Fields, Islington, in 1970 and Trafalgar Square in 1971. But it was the first rally in the UK with the name “Gay Pride”, inspired by Pride events in the US.

Fifty years on, Royal Mail is commemorating the landmark event with a set of eight illustrated stamps, art-directed by NB Studio and illustrated by the award-winning artist Sofie Birkin, whose work has featured in campaigns for brands such as Nike and Apple.

The stamps carry vibrantly coloured illustrations of typical scenes at Pride events, which are now an annual fixture at cities across the world. One stamp depicts a banner reading “love always wins”.

The ‘love always wins’ stamp. Photograph: Royal Mail / PA

One of the demands of the first Pride rally in the UK was greater legal equality for gay people. Homosexuality was partially decriminalised in England and Wales in 1967 yet police arrests of gay and bisexual men remained common in the years following.

However, a climate of homophobia only increased in the 1980s as the Aids epidemic led to a rise in attacks on LGBT+ people. The health crisis sparked new Pride events such as Manchester Pride, which began as an Aids fundraiser.

Throughout the 1990s, Pride spread across the UK. Pride Scotia launched in Scotland, with annual marches alternating between Edinburgh and Glasgow, and the first Cardiff Pride followed in 1999.

In the 2000s, attendance at Pride in London grew alongside increasing support for LGBT+ rights, and more events were launched under the Pride banner. By 2015 Pride in London was attracting one million people, and it continued to grow until the Covid pandemic forced cancellations in 2020 and 2021.

David Gold, the director of external affairs and policy at Royal Mail, said: “The vibrant, colourful Pride events that take place in towns and cities across the UK today trace their origins to a small number of people who marched through central London half a century ago to raise awareness of discrimination and inequality.” The stamps are available to pre-order from 23 June and go on general sale on 1 July.

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