With the dress code set as ‘whatever makes you feel liberated,’ dozens of Gay Liberation Front members took to Trafalgar Square in Central London to recreate the first London Pride today (17 June).
Marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellions that birthed the GLF in New York City, members old and new joined together to announce their new demands.
Holding-up banners reading ‘We are the radical roots of Pride,’ members recreated where the first Pride in London was held back in 1972.
Why were they back?
In a sun-splashed square, some of the original members, wearing rainbow striped ties, dungarees, and neon fur coats, of the 70s LGBTI rights movement came together to voice their demands out of microphones.
‘We are taking to Trafalgar Square to remember and reinvigorate the fires that fought back against centuries of oppression and seemingly overwhelming odds,’ said original member Ted Brown.
‘We gather to remember and acknowledge those who had their rights stripped from them in the past and to ensure that doesn’t happen to generations now and in the future.’
A legacy not forgotten
Stuart Feather, another member who remembers the original meetings in vivid color, spoke fondly of the need to bring the protest back into Pride parades.
He said: ‘We were part of the first openly public demonstration by homosexuals in this country and present on the first Gay Pride March.
‘Others are millennials, activists from Act Up who celebrated the achievements of GLF in 2015 and we all came together in 2016 to prepare and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2017.’
Coinciding with 50 years since the Stonewall rebellion, GLF are also preparing for their own. 2020 will mark 50 years since the GLF formed, and a legacy of the first London Pride reminds the members of the progress achieved and the work still to do.
‘We did what we did to rescue ourselves,’ said Nettie Pollard, an original member.
‘But we always thought of you as well. You, who would come out after us, and will come out until the world ends.’
‘If it wasn’t for GLF, I might not be here now.’
Speaking to Gay Star News just before the talks was Don Pepper, 68.
Walking with a cane and handing out flyers, a Pride flag wrapped around him like a cape, he told me that if it wasn’t for GLF, he wouldn’t be here today.
‘I was 19 when Stonewall started and back then, I couldn’t be out.
‘Aged 22, I sat at a train station platform waiting to throw myself in front of an inbound train. I was that desperate. Literally everyone was so anti-gay that… I just felt like a freak. I was made to feel like a freak.
‘My parents never spoke to me about it. I had to fight this on my own.’
Pepper was close to making a call that could have been his last, but instead, he dialled the Samaritans. ‘But they weren’t sympathetic to me at all. The guy on the other line said: “You can’t expect me to understand a bloke like you.”
‘But he did introduce me to someone from GLF. I was going into the office to meet him, I saw this large, old guy covered in jewelry. He helped me come out and introduce me to other gay men my own age.
‘If it wasn’t for GLF, I might not be here now.’
‘We haven’t been authorized in years’
However, the protest didn’t go without a hitch.
A heritage warden, ironically wearing sunglasses by Italian brand Police, attempted to call-off the protest as it wasn’t ‘authorized’ at just before 5:30pm.
‘We have until 5:30pm,’ a new GLF member, Dan Glass, in a yellow and pink neon fur jacket shouted.
‘The gays are always late, we need more time,’ someone in the back of the group muttered, before another member said: ‘We haven’t been authorized in years.’
The officer gave the group five more minutes, to the delight of the group – ‘Let’s get a decent picture’ – and to the group of six photographers standing by. The group stood down to the applause of passers-by, before they set off to the front of the square for members to deliver speeches.
What were the demands?
- Pride is free – Pride organisers who want ticketed events must arrange free Pride marches as well. No one should be denied entry to Pride because they don’t have enough money.
- Pride is always a protest as well as a celebration. We’ve a whole world yet to change and we’ve hardly begun.
- LGBT+ community groups actively engaged in grassroots LGBTQIA+ empowerment programmes, or key allies such as the miners in the 1980s, always to head Pride Marches.
- Arms dealers and other corporations who trade with nations in violation of the U.N. International Charter on Human Rights are never again to be allowed to sponsor or have floats at Pride Marches. Individual LGBT employees of such corporations are welcome as always, but not marching in groups in corporate logos.
- The target is to be vehicle-free: no diesel-powered vehicles unless for mobility or safety reasons
- Full accessibility and reminders to LGBT-friendly venues near the March that full accessibility is the target.
- Gay Liberation Front (GLF) to lead Pride in London in 2020.
Who are the Gay Liberation Front?
The first meeting of the GLF was held in a dimly-lit basement of the London School of Economics on 13 October 1970.
Founders Bob Mellors and Aubrey Walter had seen the effect of the GLF in the US. As a result, the pair created a parallel movement based on revolutionary politics.
In under a year, the group was widely recognized as a hub of resistance in the national press.
Weekly meetings once with only a dozen or so in attendance – became crammed with 200 to 3oo people.
From drag queen kiss-ins to mice let loose, the GLF took to the city sidewalks to make their presence known.
The group glittery tact spread to provincial towns across the UK – Bristol, Bradford, and Leeds – but back in the capital, the group splintered by 1974. These branches survived for years.