30 Years of Gay Pride

Recollections of Britain’s first Gay Pride march in 1972.


Thirty years ago, I was a member of the Gay Liberation Front and helped organise Britain’s first Gay Pride march. It took place on 1 July 1972.

Only 700 people turned up. Many of my friends were too scared to march. They thought everyone would be arrested. That didn’t happen, but we were swamped by a very heavy, aggressive police presence. They treated us like criminals. It was quite scary.

Despite this intimidation, we were determined to have a fun time and make our point. The march was a carnival-style parade, which went from Trafalgar Square to Hyde Park. There were lots of extravagant costumes and cheeky banners poking fun at homophobes like Mary Whitehouse.

We got mixed reactions from the public – but predominantly curiosity and bewilderment. Most had never knowingly seen a gay person, let alone hundreds of queers marching to demand human rights.

Unlike nowadays, there was no festival or entertainment in the park after the march – just an impromptu Gay Day. Everyone bought food, booze, dope and music. It was all shared around.

We played camped-up versions of party games like spin the bottle and drop the hanky. I won one of the games and my prize was a long, deep snog with a gorgeous French gay activist. It was more than good fun. Because we were kissing illegally in public, it was a gesture of defiance.

Looking back over the last three decades, it is fantastic the way Pride has grown from one march with less than a thousand people to 10 nation-wide festivals with a combined attendance of 250,000.

The increasing acceptance of lesbians and gay men is another big change. In 1972 homosexuality was still viewed as an illness, lesbian mothers had their kids taken off them, and the police were at war with the gay community – with thousands of gay men arrested for consenting behaviour.

Although there remain many injustices to overcome, our community has made huge strides towards freedom over the last 30 years. None of these gains have been given to us on a plate. Every advance has been the hard won result of determined campaigning. It took us 33 years to win an equal age of consent!

There is no room for complacency. Much discrimination still needs to be overturned: Section 28, the ban on gay parenting and partnership rights, and the lack of legal protection against homophobic discrimination. That why this Saturday’s Pride Parade is important. See you at Hyde Park at 11am.

Pink Paper, 5 July 2002

Copyright Peter Tatchell 2002. All rights reserved.