Around this time each year I start to see tweets, Facebook statuses and blogs debating the current relevance of Pride events. Those who doubt the need for such events usually talk about the fact that they have become corporate circuses and are now focused around partying and getting drunk. Another argument against Prides is that in 2016, with equal marriage now a reality in the UK, there really isn't a 'need' for such a gathering of communities -- after all, what else is there left to fight for?
To understand Pride and the its significance we need to take a step outside of our own experience and look at the bigger picture. Of course, I'm not trying to convince anyone that they should attend a Pride event if they really don't want to, but I do think it's useful to provide an alternative view of what Pride is for.
I came out in 2002 when I was 21, but even now when I'm marching in the Pride in London parade with 400 other colleagues, friends and Stonewall supporters, I feel a renewed sense of acceptance. It's hard to explain how it feels to walk through the streets of your capital city publicly displaying your support for LGBT people and to get universally cheered and applauded by hundreds of thousands of people, LGBT and straight, parents with their kids. We shouldn't need that affirmation but unfortunately, living in a world that is still overwhelming geared towards straight cis-gendered people, many of us still do.
I work at Stonewall and each year we enable 150 young people join us in that parade and for many of them it's a day of firsts; first time in London, first time around so many other LGBT+ people, first time seeing so many allies showing their support for the LGBT community. The impact of such an experience on a 16-year-old is immeasurable. It's always a very emotional day and I know those moments stay with the young people for a long time after the last sticker or flag has been swept up.
It's true that same sex couples can marry now in the UK, but they can't in Northern Ireland, that fight continues. And let's be realistic, just because laws have changed to make life for LGBT people better, that doesn't mean that homophobia, biphobia and transphobia have been wiped out. In fact, in 2015 homophobic crimes in London rose by almost a third. Whether this was due to more actual crimes or just more effective reporting mechanisms, the figures don't lie. There are still many people out there who simply don't like us, and more than that, will make that dislike known and felt.
Last year 75,000 young people were bullied for being lesbian, gay, bi or trans. 23 percent of lesbian, gay and bi young people have attempted suicide. For trans young people that figure shoots up to 48 percent.
Having sex with someone of the same sex is illegal in 75 countries, and you could be put to death in ten. Each year, one in twelve Trans people in Europe experience a violent hate crime.
The recent 'bathroom bill' in America shows not only the severe lack of understanding of trans people but also a blatant disregard for trans people's human rights.
I could go on but you get the point. If you think that Prides are pointless because there's nothing left to fight for, see above.
There's no doubt that over the years Pride events have changed. They are a great opportunity for corporate organizations and public services to show their support as well as showcasing how far they've come in becoming more inclusive for LGBT people. Staging a Pride event, even just the parade aspect, is not cheap. The money needs to be found from somewhere, and if large organizations want to offer financial support, as well as celebrating their own LGBT staff and inclusive cultures, then surely they should be able to.
The main point of Pride for me isn't about seeing two thirds of Atomic Kitten performing 15 year old songs to a bunch of drunk people, but what's wrong with that? Remember, the parades are always free to watch, if you don't want to stay for the evening, you don't need to. Throughout its history, Manchester Pride has given out over £1.3 million to local LGBT charities, organizations and community groups in Greater Manchester. Lots of this money would have been raised from the sale of wristbands. Birmingham Pride raises around £75,000 each year which is distributed to local LGBT causes.
I'd estimate that I've been to around 20 Pride events and no matter where I am there's always a moment that hits me and reminds me why we still need them. Whether that's seeing someone give me the thumbs up from the side of the parade, reading a powerful banner about international LGBT inequality or simply enjoying a moment with my friends. Has Pride changed? Most definitely. Is Pride still needed? Absolutely.
Wayne is the founder of the charity RUComingOut.