Taking joy in who we are

July 13, 2017

This year we celebrated in the UK the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality. I was so touched to see thousands of people, young and old, thronging the streets of central London recently for the annual Pride parade, said this year to be the largest. They came in groups of all sizes, chatting and laughing together and basking in the sunshine. For one day, the city was transformed and vibrated with love, acceptance and celebration.

Everywhere I looked there were men and women dressed as angels and devils, in tutus and Minion costumes, as Donald and Melania Trump. Drag queens dripping in glitter, with enormous fake lashes, pranced in high heels like show ponies in the sunshine. And, among the many colourful world flags fluttering on that day, the rainbow standard – international emblem of the LGBTQ community – stood out as a symbol of hope and acceptance.

The mood was infectious and funny, even romantic. A police officer on duty at the march was surprised with a marriage proposal from her civilian girlfriend. What a reminder of how far we have come!

This mood of tolerance is still relatively new. The first Pride march took place in New York on June 28, 1970, a year after a police raid on a gay bar sparked riots and a succession of protest marches. It is comforting to note that public reaction in 1970 was quietly supportive, with the New York Times reporting: “There was little open animosity, and some bystanders applauded when a tall, pretty girl carrying a sign ‘I am a Lesbian’ walked by.”

Nearly 50 years later, it’s interesting to consider why the word “pride” is so powerful in the gay community. Pride, after all, is one of the seven deadly sins. Yet one feels that, for the LGBTQ community, taking “pride” in one’s sexuality is a response to the guilt they were made to feel for generations. It is a verbal display of inner strength, not a manifestation of grandeur.

To quote a great writer, Jane Austen: “Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity, to what we would have others think of us.”

Austen would have recognised the pride expressed by the crowds of revellers on the London march. She might even have been amused by the drag queens sauntering down Piccadilly in their fabulous outfits. One could say they looked vain; indeed, some may be vain. But their looks and frivolity are not the point.

We admire them for their non-negotiable and defiant pride: their pride in a right to live and love freely as any other member of the human race. No wonder the annual march is so uplifting for all of us, whoever we love.

Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation