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I've marched at every single London Pride since 1972 – these are my memories

As someone who helped organise the UK’s first Pride in 1972 and who has marched at every Pride since, I have some lots of memories to share.

Pride is nowadays showered with support from the government, Mayor of London, pop stars, advertisers and corporate sponsors. There is massive media coverage. 30,000 people join the parade and 200,000 spectate on the pavements and join the post-march rally in Trafalgar Square and the open-air street parties in Soho.

Back in 1972, what we then called ‘Gay Pride’ was organised by the Gay Liberation Front. It was very different from today’s event: only 700 people marched, no politicians or entertainers turned up to show their support and the media ignored us.

One of my standout memories from 1972 was on Oxford Street. As the march passed by, an elderly woman, who looked about 90, stopped to look at my placard which read: ‘Gay is good.’ She asked: ‘What is gay?’ The word was not in common usage in those days. ‘Homosexual,’ I replied. ‘Oh,’ she sighed. ‘Live and let live. Good luck!’

Similar positive responses were a counterweight to the more numerous public hostility and gawping. We felt a tremendous sense of personal liberation that we had banished the internalised homophobia that had kept many of us in the closet for years. It was a feeling of freedom and healing to be out as LGBTQ+ people in public. We saw our march as giving hope and confidence to the many queers who were too guilty and fearful to join us. We showed them that it was okay to be LGBTQ+.

Despite its small size, that first Pride was a success. It emboldened us to restage Pride the following year and the years after that. However, for most of the 1970s, Pride struggled to get 2,000 to 5,000 people. The numbers began to swell in response to Mary Whitehouse’s successful prosecution of Gay News in 1977 on a charge of blasphemy and her 1982 bid to prosecute the play Romans In Britain over a homosexual rape scene.



There were also a series of high-profile sackings of gay employees: lesbian care worker Susan Shell in 1981 and lesbian youth worker Judith Williams the following year. Then we had the 1984 raid by HM Customs on Gays The Word bookshop for importing novels and non-fiction with same-sex themes and images. The LGBTQ+ community felt under attack and this, together with the demonisation of LGBTQ+ people during the AIDS pandemic, boosted Pride turnouts to 15,000 by the mid-1980s.

In 1988, the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher legislated Britain’s first new anti-queer law for a century, Section 28. It prohibited the so-called ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by local authorities. That year, the Pride march doubled to 30,000 and there was a semi-riot as LGBTQ+ people attempted to storm Downing Street. Even people who did not approve of militant direct action felt a sense of satisfaction that we had fought back; showing that LGBTQ+ people were not going to meekly accept being stomped on by a bigoted government that regarded us as an ‘enemy within.’


From then onwards, Pride numbers increased exponentially year on year, culminating in 1997 with 100,000 on the march, which took over five hours to pass a single point. The post-march free festival on Clapham Common was attended by 300,000 people and featured headline performers like Erasure and Pet Shop Boys. It was a glorious queerfest of music and love.

The vast numbers, many more than the Pride organisers anticipated, left them with a huge deficit of £160,000. This led to a takeover of Pride by a group of gay business people who rebranded it ‘Mardi Gras’ and started charging admission to the festival after the march. There was widespread community disapproval and disillusionment at the way the event was ‘hijacked, depoliticised and commercialised’. Pride numbers began to fall.

A more community-based consortium took over organising Pride in 2004, but ran into trouble in 2012. That year London hosted World Pride. But after the sudden loss of major sponsorship, the event was scaled down, with no motorised floats and the cancellation of entertainment stages and Soho street parties. This fiasco led to the organisation collapsing.


Soon afterwards, the event was subject to tendering for funding by the Mayor of London. For the last 10 years, Pride has been run by a Community Interest Company, Pride in London (PiL). It, too, has faced widespread criticism for not being accountable, allowing corporate floats to dominate the parade, limiting the numbers to a mere 30,000 marchers and not doing enough to promote LGBTQ+ human rights.

In response to the latter criticism, PiL is this year calling on the UK government to, among other things, ban conversion therapy for all LGBTQ+ people, improve trans rights by reforming the Gender Recognition Act, end its hostile environment toward minority migrants and refugees, and take a leading role in tackling violence and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people around the world.

But the cap on numbers is still a sore point. It means that thousands of people who want to march are turned away. This makes Pride in London one of the smallest Prides of any west European capital city.

That’s why veterans from the first Pride 50 years ago are inviting people to join them on 1 July at 1pm at St Martin’s church in Trafalgar Square. They will be celebrating the exact 50th anniversary of the 1972 march and retracing the route of that original march to Hyde Park.

This alternative Pride is by, for and with grassroots LGBTQ+ organisations – without corporate sponsorship and with no police, arms manufacturers, Home Office or fossil fuel companies participating. It’s billed as back to the radical roots of Pride and has the backing of Stonewall, UK Black Pride and the Peter Tatchell Foundation. I’ll be there. Will you?

Metro.co.uk celebrates 50 years of Pride

This year marks 50 years of Pride, so it seems only fitting that Metro.co.uk goes above and beyond in our ongoing LGBTQ+ support, through a wealth of content that not only celebrates all things Pride, but also share stories, take time to reflect and raises awareness for the community this Pride Month.

MORE: Find all of Metro.co.uk’s Pride coverage right here

And we’ve got some great names on board to help us, too. From a list of famous guest editors taking over the site for a week that includes Rob Rinder, Nicola Adams, Peter Tatchell, Kimberly Hart-Simpson, John Whaite, Anna Richardson and Dr Ranj, we’ll also have the likes Sir Ian McKellen and Drag Race stars The Vivienne, Lawrence Chaney and Tia Kofi offering their insights. 

During Pride Month, which runs from 1 – 30 June, Metro.co.uk will also be supporting Kyiv Pride, a Ukrainian charity forced to work harder than ever to protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community during times of conflict. To find out more about their work, and what you can do to support them, click here.

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Metro.co.uk celebrates 50 years of Pride

This year marks 50 years of Pride, so it seems only fitting that Metro.co.uk goes above and beyond in our ongoing LGBTQ+ support, through a wealth of content that not only celebrates all things Pride, but also share stories, take time to reflect and raises awareness for the community this Pride Month.

MORE: Find all of Metro.co.uk’s Pride coverage right here

And we’ve got some great names on board to help us, too. From a list of famous guest editors taking over the site for a week that includes Rob Rinder, Nicola Adams, Peter Tatchell, Kimberly Hart-Simpson, John Whaite, Anna Richardson and Dr Ranj, we’ll also have the likes Sir Ian McKellen and Drag Race stars The Vivienne, Lawrence Chaney and Tia Kofi offering their insights. 

During Pride Month, which runs from 1 – 30 June, Metro.co.uk will also be supporting Kyiv Pride, a Ukrainian charity forced to work harder than ever to protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community during times of conflict. To find out more about their work, and what you can do to support them, click here.

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