By Becca Bashford
This month at Books That Matter, we created a box which sought to encapsulate the beauty, the talent, and the importance of amplifying LGBT+ voices.
It’s June, which means Pride season is upon us. Pride is about bringing the experiences of the LGBT+ community to the forefront of our minds and hearts; it’s a time to celebrate the achievements of the community and a time to stand together in the ongoing fight for real, unqualified equality.
The very first pride took place on June 28, 1970. It was the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots, where Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera – trans women of colour – sparked the riot that is largely considered to be the tipping point of LGBTQ+ visibility and activism. ‘Christopher Street Liberation Day’ was the first time that the community came together in open defiance against rampant homophobia and bigotry; they marched across New York, covering fifty one blocks of the city.
“There was little open animosity, and some bystanders applauded when a tall, pretty girl carrying a sign “I am a Lesbian” walked by.”
– The New York Times coverage of Gay Liberation Day, 1970
Nearly five decades later, Pride looks very different, but its core message remains the same. Pride is a protest, and in the UK alone, there have been grim reminders of why this is still the case. Hidden beneath the array of rainbow flags which have been pasted onto the social media platforms of every major corporation, the battle for the equality and safety of the LGBT+ community is far from over.
Earlier this month, Munroe Bergdorf – a trans woman of colour and one of the most high profile activists in Britain – was dropped from a campaign with well-known children’s charity, the NSPCC. Munroe had been approached by the charity to support their most recent campaign which focused on supporting LGBT+ youth, and she would have been their first ever LGBT+ campaigner. Instead, she was dropped without warning, and left to discover the news after reading an online statement issued by the NSPCC which read: “[Munroe] will have no ongoing relationship with Childline or the NSPCC”. It was soon revealed that an infamous transphobe and Times Journalist, Janice Turner, had tweeted the charity asking: “…why has a children’s safeguarding charity hired a porn model as a Childline ambassador? Is it worth the cancelled direct debits?”
Turner’s tweet gained a small amount of traction on twitter from fellow TERF’s (trans-exclusionary radical feminists), but of course had no actual grounding in truth. Rather, Munroe had once again been the victim of a transphobic hate campaign. Soon after the NSPCC issued their statement dismissing her from her role, 150 staff members came forward in solidarity with Munroe and signed an open letter which expressed their “shame” and “embarrassment” about how easily the organisation pandered to the will of the blatantly transphobic campaign. After further backlash, the NSPCC backtracked and issued a weak-willed apology. Nonetheless, the damage had already been done. Munroe stated in an interview:
“I have been targeted an sexualised beyond by own sexualisation […] being trans in this country is like being a second-class citizen.”
The actions of the NSPCC have sent an unequivocal message to the LGBT+ youth which they claim to support, and to the wider community. Their public apology is nothing less than a PR stunt. If a figure as visible as Munroe can be dropped without warning because of the simple fact she is trans, what hope does that give to the LGBT+ youth who might have turned to Childline before it was tarnished with hatred?
Later this month, we all woke up to an image of two young women on a bus in London. They were covered in blood and crying. Melania Geymonat and her partner Chris were travelling home after a date when a group of men approached them and asked them to kiss so that they could watch. When the couple refused, they were robbed and violently beaten. Melania posted the picture on facebook, and highlighted the danger of existing at the intersection of misogyny and homophobia:
“I am tired of being taken as a sexual object, of finding out that these situations are common… we have to endure verbal harassment and chauvinist, misogynistic and homophobic violence because when you stand up for yourself shit like this happens.”
Despite the overwhelmingly violent nature of the attack, the couple remain defiant. Chris, who wishes to remain anonymous, said “I am not scared about being visibly queer. If anything, you should do it more”.
In November, the Home Office, who are also ironically sporting the pride flag in their twitter icon, rejected Ken Macharia’s asylum appeal. Ken is a gay man, and is currently being detained and facing deportation to Kenya – his country of birth. Kenya currently punishes homosexuality with up to 14 years in prison. In an open letter published by The Guardian, Ken addressed the Home Office’s blatant disregard for his life and safety:
“I felt my whole world collapse around me as I read the matter of fact words on the Home Office headed paper…the government need to wake up to the fact that are putting my life, and the lives of many others, at risk”.
These events might seem like they have been cherry picked, but they are a small facet of the problem. The persecution and violence which faces the LGBT+ community worldwide is nothing short of an epidemic. Last year, 26 trans women of colour were murdered in the United States, and 7 have already been killed this year. These statistics are heart-wrenching to say the least, but in reality the numbers are higher. In London, homophobic hate crime has nearly doubled since 2014, with over 2,500 cases reported last year.
So, when people ask if Pride is still necessary, the answer is yes. It is necessary now more than ever. Beyond the dizzying pinkwashing and rainbow capitalism, Pride remains a crucial reminder of the challenges and dangers the LGBT+ community still face, just for existing.
In the words of Da’Shaun Harrison, “TO BE VISIBLY QUEER IS TO CHOOSE YOUR SAFETY OVER YOUR HAPPINESS”. Until that is no longer the case, we will continue to march.