London holds first UK 'Protest Pride' as marchers demand return to Pride's radical roots
By Hugo Greenhalgh
LONDON, July 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Holding banners and shouting slogans of defiance, thousands of LGBT+ people took to the streets of London on Saturday to protest against the perceived commercialisation of Britain's official annual Pride march.
As the first ever Reclaim Pride march curled past Britain's iconic Palace of Westminster, marchers said they had come to protest about the state of LGBT+ rights in the country, particularly for those within the transgender community.
"We are seeing ... increased amounts of transphobic articles (in the media)," said Natalie June-Whitaker, a 22-year-old degree apprentice in IT consulting, as people milled in central London's Parliament Square before the march began.
"(They are) attacking innocent trans people and increasing anti-trans rhetoric, which affects real people's everyday lives," June-Whitaker said.
Last year, the British government scrapped a proposed reform that would have let trans people legally change gender without a medical diagnosis.
Marchers also called for more diversity and efforts to tackle racism both within and outside the LGBT+ community.
"We're here to say that Pride is about inclusion," said Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, executive director of UK Black Pride, Europe's largest LGBT+ celebration for people of colour, which attracted about 15,000 people in 2019.
"It's about diversity, about speaking truth to power on a number of different issues for our trans non-binary siblings (and) for Black Lives Matter," Opoku-Gyimah told the Thomson Reuters Foundation amid the sound of whistles and cheering.
London's official Pride march is slated to be held in September this year, after coronavirus restrictions forced the parade off the streets in 2020.
The Reclaim Pride march joins similar movements around the world expressing frustration that annual celebrations of LGBT+ rights have become over-commercialised parties rather than a chance to protest against inequality.
"We are not a trend for Pride month, we deserve visibility all year," read one banner in London.
New York hosted its first Queer Liberation March in 2019, which organisers said was "a people's political march", held without corporate sponsorship and police barricades.
"We want to say that our human rights should be central," said veteran human rights activist Peter Tatchell, one of the organisers of Saturday's march. "As well as a celebration, Pride has to be a protest."
The first ever Pride march was held in the wake of the 1969 Stonewall riots in the United States, when the LGBT+ community fought back against a police raid of the Stonewall Inn in New York, sparking the birth of the modern-day rights movement.
Last year saw a slew of LGBT+ events around the world cancelled in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, from a gay Pride march in Romania to a Thai dance party.
Concerns remain about a third wave of infections, but this year many countries around the world have planned in-person events.
WorldPride, one of the world's biggest parades, which drew an estimated 5 million people marching in New York in 2019, will hold a scaled-down event in Copenhagen in August.
Londoners said they were glad to be back on the streets, both celebrating and protesting.
"It's good to be back again and good to be (back) with pride too," said 86-year-old Maureen Marshall, who has been attending Pride for nearly three decades.
(Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Zoe Tabary. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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