Written by Lynsey Oxton: 07 July 2019.
A slightly different theme to today’s blog. I may not have travelled far from home, but I did go somewhere over the rainbow – and had a great weekend at London Pride!
It’s fair to say that I’ve never seen London look so colourful (and wonderful) as it did this weekend! Love of every kind was most definitely in the air! If you were in city, without question, you would have felt the ‘London Pride Vibe’. When I arrived on Friday afternoon, celebrations were in full swing and there was no escaping it, Pride had landed! As we all know, London streets are usually paved with gold – but this weekend, they were paved with rainbows!
This year saw the UK’s biggest and brightest Pride extravaganza to date, with over 1.5 million people descending on the capital! And this year was an extra special one, marking 50 years since the Stonewall Riots in New York in 1969. The riots may have lasted just four nights, but they kick-started the 50 years of LGBTQ+ rights movement, victory and activism, forming ‘Pride’ as we know it today. Despite increasing awareness of LGBTQ+ communities and the education of society, homophobic and transphobic hate crimes are reportedly on the rise. Whether we reach this understanding because people now feel more able to report such crimes (and reporting crime is always encouraged) – or it really is on the increase – one thing is very clear – Pride is still as much a protest as it is a party.
For years now, there has been a lot of concern that Pride has become too commercialised, with lots of companies jumping on the ‘Pride Bandwagon’ and ‘rainbow washing’ (putting a rainbow on their brand without always giving something meaningful back). This has caused upset for many who feel that such capitalism will dilute the true cause and ultimately ruin activism. Others, however, think that it’s a great show of support and solidarity, both in encouraging visibility and raising money for LGBTQ+ causes in the process. Recently, Marks and Spencer have been selling an LGBT sandwich (their ‘twist’ on the original BLT). Despite them having already begun giving proceeds of the sales to the Albert Kennedy Trust, this controversial sandwich has really divided the crowd! Whatever your views on the ‘washing’ debate, there was absolutely no escaping the rainbows across London’s high streets this weekend! Not wishing to join either side of the debate, but I have to say, the Lettuce, Guacamole, Bacon, Tomato sandwich is seriously good!
My workplace is a proud member of the ‘Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme’ and prides itself on being a visible, inclusive employer with a diverse workforce. I was lucky to be invited to march in this year’s London Pride alongside my colleagues! I’ve never done it before, didn’t know what to expect – but jumped at the opportunity! It matters not if you identify as LGBTQ+ or you don’t, everyone is welcome and the end aim is to show that sexual orientation is nobody’s business but your own.
The weather was certainly on our side for the parade! What started off ultra sunny with bright blue skies, gave way to some welcomed cloud, resulting in perfect walking weather (no rain and not TOO hot). We began the march at Portland Place and turned down into Oxford Street to greet the cheers. We found ourselves walking behind the Met and City of London police, who were a big hit with the crowds (especially when they turned their police sirens on!). It was great to see how well-respected the police are in London.
The parade then moved along Regent Street. Again, the crowds were incredible – rows and rows deep and so many happy faces! What a feeling to be walking down the streets of London with millions of people (and fuzzy animals!) all cheering, dancing and generally enjoying themselves. What an atmosphere!
We then headed up to Piccadilly Circus, where the crowds continued to grow ever bigger, with many watching from their hotel rooms (best seats in the house) or climbing onto bus shelters to see the parade pass below (health and safety long out the window). As with any protest, there were some eye-catching signs!
The rainbow flags in front and behind continued to fly high as we reached the half way mark!
We continued on through Piccadilly onward to Trafalgar Square, followed by the London Fire Brigade who, like the Police, got huge cheers when they turned on the fire engine siren!
After an hour and a half walking (and lots of water consumed), we made our way through Pall Mall before finishing up in Whitehall.
I spotted some colourful characters along the way, including the Pride-renowned Queen Alexandra who has been attending London Pride for the last 25 years – a true veteran!
After we completed the parade, we made our way to Golden Square and Soho Square to take a look at some of the stalls (and re-fuel with some food!). I love a freebie (doesn’t everyone?) so it was good fun going round and collecting a few mementos of the day – including a rather fetching tattoo and a series of Budweiser LGBT+ plastic cups (pretty!). In amongst the stalls selling goods, were stalls set up to offer career advice and promote health and wellbeing support. There was also live music on the stages at each location, so definitely something for everyone! If you’re after something unique, check out Fascist Panties who had the best stall of all!
After a long day on our feet and crowd-overload, we decided to head back to the hotel and have a curry away from the hustle and bustle. I think that’s a sure sign of getting old (I usually suffer with FOMO, but not on this occasion)!
No, my ‘morning after the night before’ included a journey back to the train station, via the streets where all the fun had happened only hours before, at the multitude of after-parties that took place across the city. The discarded flyers sitting in puddles, feathery garlands propped up on lamp posts, the scatterings of coloured confetti on the pavement and the obligatory ‘cone theft’ victim were the last reminders of the party, the protest, the Pride.
Until next year….. 🌈
Are you planning a trip to London soon? Why not take a look at my top ten tips for things you won’t want to miss?
If you missed this year’s London Pride, why not attend one of the other events in the UK this year? There’s lots coming up this Summer including Newcastle on 20 July, Brighton on 03 August and Manchester on 24 August. You know you want to…..