After celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2022, Birmingham Pride once again returns at the end of May. But will the chilling anti-LGBTQ+ winds coming primarily from the USA mean that in future years, celebration of progress turns back into a protest if rights are rolled back?
In 2022, Birmingham Pride celebrated its 25th anniversary. With its predecessor, the Five Days of Fun, it has a long history of bringing the LGBTQ+ community in the city together to celebrate. This year’s event, from 26-28 May is closely followed by Wolverhampton Pride on 10 June and Sandwell Pride on 25 June, with similar events happening all over the country.
Progress for the LGBTQ+ community
Progress for the LGBTQ+ community over the past 25 years has been phenomenal. It’s still hard to believe that King Charles and Queen Camilla legally married each other in the same place, Windsor Register Office, and with a similar ceremony, as Sir Elton John and David Furnish.
It’s a shame that someone like Stephen Fry wasn’t called to say a few words during the Coronation (after all, he was in the congregation). It would have made the event much more inclusive to atheists and of course the LGBTQ+ community. At least Claire Balding was one of the main BBC commentators and the occasion did include more bling than Eurovision and probably more men wearing frocks and robes than Drag Race.
The Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street, happens to be gay which goes completely unnoticed while Birmingham’s neighbouring borough Sandwell, has its second gay mayor in a row, Bill Gavan, who was instrumental in setting up Birmingham Pride all those years ago. All run of the mill stuff.
Sponsors, sponsors and more sponsors!
The rainbow flag can be found just about anywhere and will certainly be found all over Birmingham at the end of May. A symbol of inclusion and unity, it seeks to make everyone feel welcome. With the St Patrick’s Day festivities currently much reduced due to roadworks in Digbeth, Pride will undoubtedly be the city’s biggest celebration of the year, bringing the city millions in additional revenue whilst also raising thousands of pounds for local charities.
Of course, it’s only with lots of corporate sponsorship that the event gets to be the size it is. This year, Birmingham-based bank HSBC is the main sponsor and companies now fall over each other to be involved.
I remember back in the early 1990s at Pride in London getting a sample of PG Tips tea and thinking ‘we’d arrived’ – just a couple of years beforehand, any major brand would have run a mile from anything to do with the LGBTQ+ community. Although some might say Pride is now too commercialised, a community event takes place on the Friday night before the main weekend festivities, which include the ever-growing Pride Parade which will snake its way through town on Saturday 27 May with the ticketed event carrying on until Sunday evening.
Safety is still an issue for the LGBTQ+ community
Amongst all the progress, there is more to be done according to the Peter Tatchell Foundation. Although relations between the police and the LGBTQ+ community are far better than they were, it shouldn’t be forgotten that the West Midlands Police historically had an appalling record and were often seen as the most homophobic in the country, wrecking countless lives through their unwarranted actions. Despite requests for an apology for their previous behaviour, there has been complete silence on the matter.
Even though the police now do treat hate crime more seriously, a sharp rise in homophobic attacks has seen the formation of the volunteer group Rainbow Streetwatch trying to make Birmingham a safer place for the LGBTQ+ community.
A chill wind blowing?
Pride celebrations must be seen in the wider context. The National Conservatives have recently been in the headlines after holding a conference in the shadow of Westminster, attended by several government ministers. The fact that the group has been called the ‘Nat Cs’ should strike fear into the heart of any gay man, imprisoned and forced to wear a pink triangle under the Nazi regime.History shows time and time again that the right wing needs a scapegoat. Anyone who is different or doesn’t believe in their ‘values’ is at risk. For years, in the UK, the European Union was blamed for everything. That’s no longer possible since we have now apparently ‘taken back control’, so blame will now undoubtedly fall on the shoulders of another community.
National Conservatives are ultra-right wingers with a totally different agenda from the ‘caring conservatives’ of yesteryear who seem now consigned to history. Our government often expresses a wish to remove the UK from the European Court of Human Rights, who have frequently defined the rights the LGBTQ+ community now take for granted. Ironically, much of its legislation was drafted by a Scottish Conservative. Meanwhile, the National Conservatives, whose tentacles seem to have reached into the Tory Party, are proving to be very frightening creatures, especially when it comes to the rights of the trans community who have well and truly become the new scapegoat for so many ultra-right wingers and fundamentalist Christians.
The Women and Equalities Minister, Kemi Badenoch, is at times the antithesis of an ‘LGBTQ+ ally’ and a prime example of how obstacles are appearing in the path of progress for the LGBTQ+ community. She’s hardly likely to consider LGBTQ+ rights in countries when desperately trying to do trade deals in her other role as International Trade Secretary. The mere fact that she holds both positions at the same time shows how little the government thinks about equality. This is underlined by the prime minister himself trying to wage ‘a war on woke’, in a stance very reminiscent of homophobic African leaders saying that ‘being gay is not African’, when in fact historians say the exact opposite is true.
It couldn’t happen here?
There are worrying signs from the USA however, which seem to provide many Conservative politicians with their ideas. The new darling of the Republicans in the US, Florida Senator Ron DeSantis has just launched his Presidential bid. He has been the main driver in getting five new anti-LGBTQ+ laws passed in the state, on 17 May, International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. No, this didn’t happen in Russia, it took place in Joe Biden’s America, a country where carrying a gun is more important than to be able to go to the loo in dignity.
It’s not just Florida where the LGBTQ+ community is coming under attack. In many states, “drag bans” have been imposed supposedly to protect minors. In the UK, with our proud tradition of pantomime, it’s hard to work out how drag can be seen as a threat. Such a shame these same minors can’t be protected from being shot at school. In some states, US retailer, Target, have had to move Pride month merchandise to the back of the store, or stop selling it altogether.
I’ve always thought one of the main benefits of marriage equality has been the dignity LGBTQ+ couples are given when visiting their spouses in hospital. Throughout the AIDS epidemic, things were made worse by couples not being able to see each other. That’s nothing compared with one of DeSantis’s new laws which means that in Florida, doctors will now be able to refuse to see a patient due to their sexual orientation. Surely that flies in the face of the Hippocratic Oath?
The noises being made by our government about scrapping all EU laws and dragging us out of the European Court of Human Rights might well have sweeping implications for all communities, especially the LGBTQ+ community.
Incredibly, even the Daily Mail is pleading for liberal values to be protected.
Let the party continue
Over the Birmingham Pride weekend, many people will be partying very late into the night. Long may this be a celebration of the LGBTQ+ community’s progress. But we can’t afford to turn a blind eye to events happening across the world which have reversed progress.
Let’s hope we can always take the joy and celebration Pride brings for granted and that it doesn’t have to become a protest in future years.
Information about this year’s Pride events in: