Since 1972, the centre of London has shut itself to traffic in the middle of summer to open itself up to LGBT+ celebration as the annual Pride parade marches from Portland Place down to Whitehall. A feast of colour, sounds and incredible costumes troop through the streets, cheered on by thousands waving rainbow flags; quite different from the Stonewall Riots that started the Pride movement 49 years ago in New York. Much has changed and been achieved since 1969, but we still have a way to go to achieve equality.
I had such a good time joining in the Pride party as a spectator last year. The atmosphere was one of love, acceptance, community and unbridled joy. My favourite float of the parade was the Pride Punx – which consisted of an open container attached to a van, holding a punk band giving it hell followed closely by a mosh pit. Amazing. Little did I know that a couple of my friends were actually in that entourage. This year, one of these friends has gone travelling, but the other is still in town and included me in the conversation the Punx were having about decorating the float. Such an exciting prospect to actually get involved – I had to jump at the chance.
This whole experience has been such incredible fun. Simply entering a group chat with strangers I was welcomed, felt valued and we all fully engaged in work shopping ideas to make the Punx float the best one yet. The team certainly excelled themselves. Snaggletooth, a papier-mâché beast inspired by the Motorhead logo was attached to the front of the van (complete with a sparkly rainbow decorated skull I wanted to name Roger)
My friend and I arrived at the meeting point on the morning of the big day along with our hand cut skull bunting shapes, ready to thread onto washing line and attach to the container once the crew had finished setting up all their kit. What we thought would be a relatively quick job turned into a group effort; threading paper skulls onto an untangled 15 metre length of washing line required a team of people simply to push the decorations all the way down from one end to the other. Onlookers seemed to enjoy our make shift assembly line (literally) on the pavement and a few even stopped to take photos.
As we finished attaching various bits and pieces to the container, we just had enough time for a quick lunch and comfort break. Other groups with the same assembly point were collecting near us waiting and ready for the parade. We seemed to be in a religion dominated section of the parade with Christian, Pagan, Muslim and Jewish group signs surrounding us. Across the road were quite a few corporate floats which drew boos from the growing punk entourage.
The Punx placed much emphasis on the fact that Stonewall was a riot, a catalyst for change and not a chance for corporations to take advantage of a marketable demographic and advertise. This sense of corporate hijack has meant some people won’t participate in Pride assuming it is one big advertising gimmick. The Punx were sure to remind people that this was a protest, not a commercial.
The crowd was growing a bit impatient as the sun rose higher in the sky. The shade the float was providing was dissolving and the Punx started testing out their (epic) sound system with tracks and a little messing about on live instruments. Officials repeatedly told them off though, the system was so good it was drowning out any announcements and probably other floats too. We had to wait until we were on the road.
Finally setting off, our start was a little stuttery, but the mood was jubilant. The ‘walkers’ behind the float were restless and itching to get going. The urge to get the party started was tangible, and moving off was like releasing the bulls of Pamplona, except without the cruelty. Human battering rams raced at each other with excitement and wide smiles, and the pit grew to the sounds of Gay Panic Defence. The songs were quite short, and I struggled to maintain a skank momentum with the stopping and starting of the tunes, but my goodness, what a gloriously powerful noise they made.
The crowd’s faces were quite fun to observe as we made our way through town. Some blank, clearly a bit confused by the seemingly aggressive but really good natured dancing; punk obviously not their lifestyle choice. Others were rocking out with us, cheering and head banging with fists in the air. Second on the bill were Poisonous Cxnt who told the corporations taking over Pride in no uncertain terms exactly where they could go.
The aggression in the music however, did not detract from the inclusive message being delivered by the whole group. I was now dancing alongside the team who made me so welcome just through messages, and now in person the warmth was real and amazing. It felt really good to be putting more of this positivity out into the world instead of the fear and hate that seems to be growing exponentially right now.
Reaching the finishing line after a couple of hours of dancing and beginning to dismantle the decorations felt a little deflating. After the team’s dedication and massive efforts it seemed too soon for the festivities to be over. Snaggletooth has now been safely stashed (hopefully to be resurrected next year) although our bunting won’t survive to see 2019. It went to a loving home though, another walker declared he wanted more skulls in his life so we draped him in the washing line, not before I grabbed a few as mementos.
Finding out we’d won the quarter finals in the football as well bolstered the mood even further and my friend and I headed into Camden to meet up with others who had been watching the game. The football was great news, but honestly paled in comparison to the rest of the day.
It felt so important, and a privilege, to be able to participate in an event like Pride. I want to live in a world where people can be themselves, whoever they are, without fear of judgement, persecution, violence and even death. I know as a white, cis-gender and heterosexual woman I am not top of the heap, but there is privilege attached to many of these qualities I need to acknowledge, and know my struggles are far less than others. I don’t need to explain myself or qualify my choices, and why should anyone else simply because they are gay, trans or any sort of “other”. It was a joy to celebrate diversity on such a grand scale, knowing that we are all human, and love is love.