Celebration and Unity at London Pride

London Pride was held on 1st July to conclude Pride month, uniting the LGBTQ+ community in one of the UK’s biggest parades. While I was cynical towards corporate floats and shallow political point-scoring, its real meaning is found in the diversity of peoples marching together under banners of togetherness.

Messages of proud self-expression, trans-inclusivity, and international solidarity dominated Pride in London 2023. With over 30,000 people marching in the parade alone, attendance was guaranteed to be impressive. More than one million people are estimated to have attended, and as someone who took the tube that day I don’t doubt it!

Headlines from the day focused on the disruption by Just Stop Oil, with seven protestors being arrested for trying to halt the parade. They called on Pride to stop accepting sponsorship money from “high-polluting industries”. Pride in London’s Will De’Athe-Morris said the disruptors were “letting down those people who use this space once a year to come together to celebrate and protest”.

However, Just Stop Oil put forward that the targeted “partnerships embarrass the LGBTQ+ community at a time when much of the cultural world is rejecting ties to these toxic industries”. Among the parade’s opposition to injustice, environmental protest should be more at home in a movement for a better future.

In any case, the protest did not dampen the day’s sense of celebration. Ukrainian LGBTQ+ activists and their allies were prominent in the start of the parade, followed by the renowned queer rights charity Stonewall. Banners of “ban conversion therapy” and “IVF for all” call out key policy issues for LGBTQ+ people in the UK, with key backer and former Great British Bake Off host Sandi Toksvig marching in solidarity.

Netflix show Heartstopper had an impressive float celebrating the show’s young queer representation and upcoming second season. The cast also reportedly flipped off religious protestors, who I had seen holding banners saying that “the wicked shall be turned into hell and all nations that forget God”. While it’s sad to still see this hate, their small number and even smaller impact was an impressive win for those marching.

Groups representing various career paths also made an impact, from the NHS to the Civil Service, firefighters to lawyers. Celebrating variety within the LGBTQ+ community and encouraging inclusivity in every workplace sent an important message. Unions such as the University and College Union took part as well, particularly significant for the students and staff impacted by its work.

Corporate participation was an aspect that seemed particularly superficial, with any and all brands taking part to get their name out in the parade. On some level it’s a positive for staff and customers of these companies to see its stance of solidarity, and the Tesco float did bring a very vibrant celebration!

Political parties also threw their hat in the ring, with their LGBT campaigns marching and handing out stickers to attendees. From Labour’s “Never Kissed a Tory” shirts to the Liberal Democrats’ liberty bird stickers, competition seemed to overtake celebration without real change. This explains why Bristol Pride recently barred political parties “until more is done to stand up for [the] entire community”.

Current and prevalent issues for the LGBTQ+ community were nonetheless prominent elsewhere, such as the Peter Tatchell Foundation standing in solidarity with Ugandan LGBTQ+ people. The country’s new laws mean queer people could face life in prison, criticised heavily by human rights organisations. The group shared a petition for a travel ban to discourage the new legislation, promoting real policy moves for progress.

This group represents the real joy of these parades: marching for those that can’t. Whether it’s those in legal fear in the 64 countries that criminalise homosexuality, or those whose personal situation shames or endangers them, Pride serves to uplift the community as a whole. London Pride’s 2023 slogan of “#NeverMarchAlone” highlighted this importance of standing together.

The UK has much further to go on LGBTQ+ rights, with prominent issues such as trans rights, HIV healthcare, and gay rights in the Church. A day spent listening to Padam Padam by Kylie Minogue might not be the end all be all to this, but unity like that at the parade is what will best support the drive for progress. The size and joy of London Pride sends a message of hope for this change.

Image Credits: Daisy Outram