By Gary, Sales and Distribution Lead at GSK
PRIDE to me is a time filled with mixed emotions and conflicting thoughts. As a lifelong activist, some of the corporate investment in Pride could be better used in supporting LGBT+ charities to my mind. On the other hand, it shows how far we as a community have come when we can see household names sponsoring floats bedecked with rainbows. I love the joy and cheering from the crowds lining the route but I am also filled with sadness at the absence of so many no longer with us.
Gary, Pride 2018
My first ever Pride event in London was the march of 1988. Police estimates at the time put the marchers at around 40,000 people and we were marching (as ever) to protest discrimination targeting our community. I remember that Section 28 was just coming into force and a huge swathe of us were protesting this abysmal piece of homophobic legislation. This was also the first (but not the last) time I was arrested in support of Gay Rights, which cost me my job with a former employer. Not so much the fact I got arrested, but the fact that I was a gay man! How far we have come, thank goodness. That first Pride was, as so many early marches were, marred by far-right thugs protesting and throwing things at us that I won’t describe here in case you’re eating whilst reading this.
I particularly enjoyed the festivals at the end of the marches in those days. I went every year from 1988 onwards until 2014 when they stopped the festival. In those days, the festivals were in parks – Kennington Park, Clapham Common, Brockwell Park, Finsbury Park and Hyde Park. I used to really enjoy the various stands, speakers and music acts we had as well as the DJs and mobile bars of course! I think this is an element sadly missing today. The corporate spend has meant that the activist side of Pride has been diluted and I think that is a great shame.
In the 1990s PRIDE took on a more sombre side with the surge in deaths from HIV related illness and, as a member of ACTUP, I remember marching to campaign for government intervention and more help and research into the virus as more and more of my friends disappeared far too early from my life. I think this is why gay men of my generation find it very hard to make friends in our community; we lost so many friends in that terrible time that we struggle to get close to people. Today, my joy and pride at working for a science company at the forefront of HIV research knows no bounds.
In recent years, I have joined my employer at the Pride in London march. It’s always swelteringly hot and it’s always an emotional roller-coaster. A fierce sense of pride in what we have achieved, balanced by the awareness of the distance we still have to travel. A sense of joy and elation with the cheering crowds, tinged with a deep sadness for those of my friends who would have loved to be there. And, of course, the dichotomy of the proud employee and the angry activist.
So, how will I celebrate Pride this year? This incredibly difficult and troubling year? Well, that’s difficult. I will be raising the Pride Flag at my place of work (where we have been working throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic to ensure the supply of medicines to our patients). I will be chatting with friends and colleagues to promote Pride Month. I will be reaching out to those in need of a virtual hug and letting them know that we haven’t forgotten them. Though we are physically separated, we are spiritually as one. As for the day itself, I’ll put on some face paint, open some bubbly and boogie my butt off with some rainbow flags. After all, we’re supposed to have fun as well you know! Happy Pride everyone.
This is a personal article and is not published on behalf of GSK