Homophobia today: why we still need Pride
Deepa Lalwani explains the harsh reality faced by LGBTQ+ people and the need for a truly intersectional politics.
At the end of May, two women enjoying an evening out together were subjected to a homophobic attack on a London bus. The image of the couple, covered in blood, quickly circled the internet, sparking outrage and sympathy worldwide. The women had been attacked by a group of male teenagers after they refused to kiss for the men’s entertainment – the fact that such a homophobic attack could take place in London, supposedly one of the most progressive and inclusive cities in the world, seemed to shock and appal millions online.
Since then, five men, aged between 15 and 18, have been arrested for the assault. One of the victims, a woman named Chris, wrote an opinion piece for The Guardian, speaking not only about her experience of being attacked, but also of the necessity for others to speak up when they witness any homophobia and/or misogyny. Published on 14 June, just a fortnight after the incident, Chris described the media circus surrounding her assault, initiated, she believed, because she and her date were “white, feminine, draped in pretty hair”. The article noted how the photo Chris and her date took of themselves after the attack was published and printed, voyeuristically, by companies and media outlets who have supported anti-gay, racist, and misogynistic policies and politicians in the past. Chris denied the common reaction that this attack and the media response, taking place in 2019, was surprising. Instead, she acknowledged the ubiquity of oppression even in the Western world today. An American woman now living in the United Kingdom, Chris remarked that in both Western countries, “it always has been and still is open season on the bodies of (in no specific order) people of colour, indigenous people, transgender people, disabled people, queer people, poor people, women and migrants”.
Although it may seem that intersectional feminism has become part of the contemporary political mainstream, Chris’ response reminds us that there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to the fight for equality
The fact that Chris, a bisexual (as she said in her article) woman who had been so brutally attacked, would write of her own luck and privilege, asking for people to pay attention not to her and her date but instead to the wider struggles of minority groups, is significant. Although it may seem that intersectional feminism has become part of the contemporary political mainstream, Chris’ response reminds us that there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to the fight for equality. The Guardian analysis recently revealed that, since 2014 in England and Wales, offences against gay and lesbian people have doubled, and trebled against trans people. The attackers in this case were young men, most still school-age – it might seem less surprising to learn this when you take into account how many schools and parents across the UK still refuse to educate their students about LGBTQ+ identities. It’s hard to say whether websites like 4Chan, often hotbeds for homophobic and misogynistic beliefs, have worsened the situation, or if the internet has been a force for good in educating people of all ages about inclusion and diversity.
Either way, we need to stop the narrative that the Western world is a place of equal rights, that the UK and US are countries where Pride is no longer necessary, now that marriage equality has been achieved. Across the world, it is still illegal to be gay in most countries. Even where it is supposedly legal, LGBTQ+ people are constantly being persecuted for being themselves out in the open – this is still true in the UK.
On Saturday 6 July, the annual Pride march will take place in London. It’s been 50 years since the Stonewall riots in New York, the incident that ignited the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement. London Pride is often – rightly – accused of being corporatized, for portraying Pride as a party, rather than a protest. If we want Pride to be a celebration of equality, we need to get far past the point where gay people are at risk if they merely go on a bus together. We need to listen to people like Chris, who stressed that she and her partner were attacked because of their sexualities, but also because they are women. Pride must be inclusive: last year’s parade was hijacked by a trans-exclusionary lesbian group that were allowed to go ahead despite their transphobic attitudes. As individuals, LGBTQ+ identifying or not, we have a social responsibility to elevate marginalised groups, to do what Chris called for and do our research into the corporations and politicians that have reinforced the status quo for so long. Perhaps now more than ever, the political impetus of Pride needs to be recognised; we must remember those who have fought for it, and continue to do the same work.