Long Reads

Stella Duffy: Pride shouldn't forget those who risked their lives to make it happen

Stylist.co.uk is celebrating Pride 2018 with a series of open letters and essays from influential LGBT+ people. Here, writer and theatremaker Stella Duffy OBE urges us all to remember what Pride is really all about.

“I wish you a happy Pride. I really do. But personally, I’m very ambivalent about it. I value the concept of being out and out there. I value the feeling of community, the shout that says ‘we’re here, we’re queer’, the pride that demands ‘look at me, I defy your fear’. I get that. I’m just not entirely sure any more that Pride - as it currently stands and has been for a while - is the way to do it. Pride has morphed from a largely political event to a major celebration. I’m all for celebrations, but not without acknowledging how very far we still have to go. And not just as our wider society - how far we have to go as the queer community.

We are nowhere near as diverse, as inclusive as we ought to be - many of us have been saying this for years, noting the lack of people of colour at queer events, the small numbers of disabled people, the lack of genuine inclusion in the LGBT+ acronym for trans and bi people. Lesbians have been pointing out for decades that LGBT+ does not equal gay men. And yet. There are still so very few out women politicians, out women business leaders, out women of colour in the public eye. Part of the problem is that we leapt to post-feminism before we had achieved the goals of feminism, but women are still perceived to be a minority in the LGBT+ community. Given we’re 51% of the population, that’s just weird.

Yes, things appear to be better for queer people than when I was a child. Certainly we have more out people, of every kind, in the public eye. That’s great. But the vast majority of the out people in public life are still white gay men. I love that they’re out, I’m grateful to them, we need everyone to be out - that’s how we make change. But change is too slow and the current political climate risks us sliding back, not leaping forward. Back was not a great place.

Far too many people seem to think a queer person in the Big Brother house or taking part in X Factor is plenty. It’s not. Not when the work of Diversity Role Models is still so desperately needed to work against LGBT+ bullying in schools. Not when the Albert Kennedy Trust is needed to support young LGBT+ homeless, the majority of them made homeless by reactions to their sexuality. Not when Stonewall is still having to push so hard against homo/bi/transphobia in sport - and everything else. We’re not there yet in our wider society, and our queer community is not there yet either. We are not inclusive yet either.  

From my work with Fun Palaces I know we can do this - in just five years we have managed to create a movement of locally-led community engagement across the UK that is both inclusive and grassroots-led. Last year there were 362 Fun Palaces led by 13,750 local people with 126,000 participants. Of those participants 30% were minority ethnic. Imagine a Pride that was almost a third minority ethnic. 21% of Maker teams (those leading local Fun Palaces) included both people under 18 and people over 65. Imagine a Pride where older people felt as included and welcome as younger people. 

Crowds on the street at London Pride 2017

It’s not impossible, but it does need us to be honest about ourselves. To celebrate, yes, but to also look at what else we need to do, how much harder we need to work to be genuinely for all queer people. The queer kid of colour who doesn’t see themselves reflected in the mainstream narrative about gay lives, the older lesbian woman in a care home who is scared to come out to her carers - the countless, numberless people who walked before us, literally risked their lives before us, so that we can take to the streets now. The countless, numberless people for whom it is still not safe to be out, who risk violence and death in being out. That’s the guts of Pride. That’s the point.

And to the many straight people coming to Pride, have a great day! I look forward to you working with us for equality and freedom for the next 364 days too.”

Stella Duffy’s latest novels are The Hidden Room (Virago) and Money in the Morgue (HarperCollins), she is the co-director of the Fun Palaces campaign for cultural democracy.

Images: Jason Alden/REX/Shutterstock/Unsplash