Paul Kemp, the organiser of Pride asked me to speak at the Pride Breakfast on Saturday 6th August.
This was what I said
“It’s almost 50 years since gay relationships in England and Wales emerged from the national shame of criminal sanction. And it took another 15 years until Scotland and Northern Ireland experienced the same legal liberalization.
The law changed in 1967 but the stigma remained. And the stigma is what damages you if you’re gay. It’s not being gay that causes the damage, as those who fan the prejudice would have you believe. No there’s nothing about being gay in itself that harms or distorts or wounds a person. It’s not a psychological disturbance, it’s not an illness it’s not a character flaw.
No the irony of it, is that those who think that, and say it still too loud and too often, are the very people who prolong the stigma and it’s the stigma that causes the harm. It’s not being gay …it’s growing up gay in an emotionally hostile world, in our current world, as gay ….that damages us.
Because when you grow up gay, from the very start of your life the core of your emotional being remains unrecognized, unreinforced and unconfirmed. And that causes devastating injury to our emotional lives and the challenge of Pride is repairing that.
And that says two contradictory things about being gay and about Pride.
The first is incredibly positive. It is so wonderful to cast off the demon of stigma – to know that just for a day the space is ours, that we have the upper hand, that anyone who tries to put us down and denigrate our lives will be marginalized, and be asked (we hope politely) to shut up.
Pride is a celebration …..
But for me, not of being gay. But rather it’s a celebration of being a citizen. It’s a celebration not just of us, but more importantly of our contribution to a society in which everybody can live. You see, I think, that would be celebrating Pride in our own terms.
Because our difficulty is that growing up gay as we have – stigmatized – we have been defined by a world that still only partially accepts us. So it is easy to remain defined in those terms. And to that world being gay just means who you sleep with. Not your emotion, not your sexuality…. but just your sexual orientation.
But being out and gay publicly in the world is to recognize that our freedom lies in defining ourselves, and feeling that we are, citizens – marrying, bearing arms to defend our country, fostering and adopting children, leading and changing organisations. Yet too often we accept their definition of us and behave as if liberation just means sex.
So when Paul Kemp and I were talking once a few years ago, we discussed what was the right slogan for Pride. Because we realized that they were almost always just focused on sex or love. (Which are marvelous, marvelllous things by the way) But what I suggested was that we should have one that was just about life. Being free to be gay is not just about sex or love, just as being heterosexual isn’t, it’s about the “freedom to live”. It’s about, at the top end, the freedom to contribute as a free citizen – not excluded from health or education or work or politics – and at its most basic it’s about being able to go to the shop for a bag of sugar without being noticed, judged or, worst of all, hit or assaulted.
In a nutshell, for me Pride is about citizenship – and so a thong and a nipple clamp is just not enough!!
And what is also so important about that slogan – the freedom to live – is that it embraces those fellow LGBT people in countries where it is still illegal.
There are still 77 countries in the world where LGBT people live under the threat of the law and in 7 of those under the threat of death. And only on July 18th, less than three weeks ago after an indecently short and secretive trial, a teenager called Hassan Afshar was hanged in Arak’s Prison in Markazi Province in Iran for having sex with another young man.
In 50 years in this country we have come a long way. Other countries have not.
Yet we too still live parallel lives in which 42% of young LGBT people have sought medical help for anxiety or depression, 44% of them have considered suicide, 15% of gay people have experienced homophobic hate crime and 20% of us have had verbal bullying at work from other staff or customers.
And in the States where gay marriage was legalized in all 50 states, we then see the horro of the massacre in Orland. Itself not just violence against those 49 people and their families and community, but as we discover more, violence against the perpetrator’s own self-hatred and a terrible reminder of the violence and havoc that hostility to being gay can cause.
It reminds us too that tolerance does not inspire tolerance in the intolerant. It makes them more intolerant as they take refuge in feeling marginalized.
But at the same time as homophobia is still ever present, we have much to celebrate. Here in the UK: a lesbian in the Cabinet, gay men and women in business and miners, cleaners, administrators, judges, teachers …. the list goes on and on… who are out and gay and happy at work.
And in this city we have an out gay MP. Peter Kyle in Hove. And a superb MP at that. And can I say I, and I am sure you, are absolutely determined that he will continue to serve as out MP to 2020 and beyond.
Since 1967 campaigners have created remarkable change. And when we look abroad to those countries we’d do well to remember that we were tat that stage once and in fact, in the case of the Commonwealth, we left them our laws that criminalized gay people and on which those with hate have added more violence and more hostility.
But as far as we have come, we don’t do Pride justice if we think the point of it today is just to dress up, flap our wrists and mince down the road – as much fun as that is!
The point of Pride is to celebrate and recognize the journey each one of us is on to undo the damage the world has caused, and causes us, and to support those who still live with unbearable stigma and hostility, whether here or abroad.
Today we parade with Pride when we march for that most basic of freedoms. The Freedom .. just to live”