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The History of Pride Month | From 1969 to Today
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The History of Pride Month | From 1969 to Today

As June rolls around, here at AARVEN we are getting ready for one of our favourite events of the year - Pride! Pride in our hometown of sunny Margate is always particularly special for us. We think it is really important to celebrate and support our local LGBTQ+ communities and organisations. Pride, also known as ‘Gay Pride’ or ‘LGBTQ+ Pride’ has existed in it’s modern form since 1970, when a parade commemorating a year since the infamous Stonewall Riots took place in the USA, and later the first official UK Pride rally was held in London on 1 July 1972. 


Something you may not know is the reason why we celebrate Pride throughout the month of June. Well, the reason is the aforementioned Stonewall riots. The Stonewall Riots, also known as the Stonewall Uprising, began in the early hours of 28 June 1969 when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a club popular with LGBTQ+ patrons, in New York City. The raid sparked a riot among customers of the bar as well as neighbourhood residents as police roughly removed employees and patrons from the bar, leading to six days of protests and clashes with law enforcement. The Stonewall Riots is a pivotal moment in history that served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement in the USA and around the world. LGBTQ+ people have been at the heart of so many important historical movements and often go overlooked throughout history due to stigma and prejudice. 


An organisation called 'Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations (ERCHO)' had been picketing for LGBTQ+ rights for 4 years before the Stonewall riots. The activists picketed outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia on Independence Day every year between 1965 and 1969 to remind people of the civil rights still denied to LGBTQ+ people. Following the events of the Stonewall riots, the following resolution was adopted at the 1969 ERCHO meeting: "We propose that a demonstration be held annually on the last Saturday in June in New York City to commemorate the 1969 spontaneous demonstrations on Christopher Street and this demonstration be called Christopher Street Liberation Day." On 28 June 1970 the first Pride marches were held in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, attended by thousands of people.


Branches of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) were formed, inspired by the events of Stonewall, across the US and internationally. Two British activists, Aubrey Walter and Bob Mellor, travelled to the US and attended the Black Panthers’ Revolutionary People’s Convention, which brought together people from the movements for women’s rights and LGBTQ+ rights for the first time. Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P Newton said, “We must gain security in ourselves and therefore have respect and feelings for all oppressed people. When we have revolutionary conferences, rallies, and demonstrations, there should be full participation of the gay liberation movement and the women’s liberation movement”. Aubrey Walter and Bob Mellor returned home to found the London branch of the GLF at the London School of Economics.


In the UK, homosexuality had been partially decriminalised by the Sexual Offences Act 1967 a few years earlier. This meant that it was no longer illegal for two men over 21 to have sex in private in England and Wales. However, thousands of men were convicted in the following years for various charges including indecency, soliciting or importuning offences which were used to criminalise interactions that would not have been illegal for a man and woman. A relationship between two men in the military could also end in a custodial sentence. The discrimination did not stop just because the laws had changed, and for many, the changes were nowhere near enough. 


The first meeting of the London Gay Liberation Front took place in October 1970. On 27 November 1970 in Highbury Fields, the group held their first demonstration. This was help on the spot where liberal activist Louis Eakes had previously been arrested by police. Louis Eakes was arrested for ‘importuning’, a phrase used to mean seeking a sexual partner in public. This was used against members of the LGBTQ+ community in some cases to criminalise behaviour that the police interpreted as flirtatious, for example smiling or winking. This demonstration involved about 150 people turning up with balloons, streamers, flares and fireworks, protesting about the treatment of gay people in Britain. In August 1971, the event that is sometimes referred to as the ‘Pride before Pride’ took place. During this demonstration, the GLF youth group protested in Trafalgar Square about the age of consent for gay men being 21, when the age for heterosexual people was just 16.


On 1 July 1972, the UK’s very first Pride march was held in London. The date was chosen as it was the closest Saturday to the anniversary of the Stonewall riots of 28 June 1969. The British Library credits the GLF and Campaign for Homosexual Equality as key organisers of the event. It is estimated that around 2,000 people attended. One of the organisers, Peter Tatchell, said; " Our aim was to show that we were proud, not ashamed. Determined to come out of the shadows and stand up for our rights, we wanted to make ourselves visible and demand LGBT liberation." In the following years, Pride marches were held across the UK. Pride was not owned or trademarked by any one organisation, as it grew from an ethos of collective action. This meant there were some years without Pride celebrations, and it widely varied how Pride was celebrated in different areas of the country. For many years, London was the UK’s main Pride event, with people travelling from around the UK to attend. There were also ‘lesbian strength’ events held during the early 1980s the week before Pride, which were women-only marches.


In 1988, a law was passed to try and prevent the 'promotion' of homosexuality. In fact, section 28 of the Local Government Act of that year stated that “A local authority shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”. This had a huge effect on Pride celebrations all around the UK, with some local councils withdrawing support for Pride all together. Other councils challenged the law by openly pledging funds and support for LGBTQ+ events. Section 28 was not repealed until 2003


Whilst London was the first UK city to hold a Pride event, this timeline shows a selection of milestone pride events in the UK:

  • 1973: The Sussex Gay Liberation Front marched through Brighton, followed by a “Gay Dance” at the Royal Albion Hotel.
  • 1979: Liverpool held its first Gay Pride Week.
  • 1983: Birmingham hosted ‘five days of fun’ at various venues with ‘It’s a Knockout’-style competitions.
  • 1985: Manchester Pride began as the Gay Pub and Club Olympics with boat races down the river and drag queens judging egg and spoon races.
  • 1991: In Belfast about 100 people with helium balloons attended a Pride parade, having to keep their route a secret to avoid protestors.
  • 1992: London hosted ‘Europride’, attended by 100,000 people and described by the local news as ‘the lesbian and gay event of the decade’.
  • 1995: Following a number of smaller events in the 1980s, including ‘Lark in the Park’ to protest section 28 laws, Scotland’s first large-scale Pride event was held. The march through Edinburgh ended with a festival in the Meadows.
  • 1997: Birmingham Pride was officially launched.
  • 1999: Cardiff Mardi Gras—now known as Pride Cymru’s Big Weekend—was held on 4 September in conjunction with a national police conference. The police aimed to work with the community following a rise in hate crimes against LGBT+ people in south Wales.
  • 2010: Liverpool was the largest UK city to not have an ‘official’ annual Pride until its council-affiliated Pride march was established in 2010, held on the closest weekend to the anniversary of the murder of 18-year-old gay man Michael Causer in 2008.
  • 2016: Our beloved Margate held its first Pride parade. Set up by  Margate Pride CIC, a non-profit organisation funded entirely by our community’s contributions and grants.

(Credit: Lords Library)


Since 2010, large cities across the UK have regularly held Pride events, which have become an established part of the calendar. Additionally, more regional events have been founded including our local Margate Pride. Many Pride events were cancelled in recent years due to Covid-19, but 2022 marked the 50th anniversary of Pride and this event went ahead in London, alongside events across the UK. In 2022, London's Pride march was attended by an estimated 1.5 million people, making it the largest event of it's kind in the UK. However, Pride in London, the community interest company which manages the event, has faced mounting criticism. Stonewall, the UK LGBTQ+ charity withdrew their support for Pride in London in 2018, due to the lack of diversity shown. Some people who helped to organise the first Pride objected to Pride in London and many regional Prides celebrations corporate sponsors. For example, some opposed allowing arms manufacturer BAE Systems to sponsor several regional Prides in 2019 as they sell to regimes with anti-LGBTQ+ laws such as Saudi Arabia. Many feel that Pride’s commercial status is suggestive of its change from a protest to just a parade. Due to this, a lot of people prefer to support local, grassroots Pride celebrations and parades, rather than the huge commercial events in big cities. 


However you choose to celebrate, we wish you a safe, happy and empowering Pride month.


Header image by William Fonteneau on Unsplash 

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