Ever been punched in the face for your sexuality? I have. At the time, it wasn’t very fun but now it makes a good story. Especially the part about still not being able to hear very well out of my left ear after a fist landed directly on it. At that point of the story telling, someone would normally ask a question and, as witty as this bisexual man is, I’d pretend not to hear. Everyone would laugh and we’d go back to drinking or playing Fifa. I still tilt my head to the right slightly to make sure I hear what people are saying.
I have never really been scared of my sexuality when out in public or at a club or on the bus, tube, in a shop, pub or a restaurant. But then, I’ve never really thought about whether or not I’m afraid of showing my sexuality. When I start to think about it more and more, it is more of a realisation that I’m used to a certain norm of revealing a small part of my personality at certain times and hiding a big chunk of it at others. For the majority of my life, I truly believed that other people’s homophobia or biphobia was my problem; I shouldn’t go somewhere because someone who I knew was homophobic would be there; I shouldn’t wear pearls or a beret to a village pub because I’d get strange looks. In fact, I once ordered prawn cocktail crisps in a pub and the bartender said that they were for gays. I guess he was right. A fucking bigot but bang on. Whilst living in Russia, me and my friends asked another customer in a shop which vodka was the best and he pointed to one on the shelf and said, “not this one. This one’s for gays.” Of course, I looked down in my basket and it was the one I had picked up. I cannot remember what astonished me more, his casual homophobia or his accuracy. But isn’t it more astonishing to know that Britain shares the same levels of casual homophobia as Russia? And there we were all thinking that Russia was this backwards country where people are beaten and killed for their sexuality and in England you can vogue down the street and everyone around will join in like an outtake from Hairspray. Though, I was never really scared of my sexuality when living in Russia because, in some strange, messed up way, there is some comfort in the casual homophobia, knowing that facing it with silence or walking away leaves the more dangerous homophobia bubbling away under the surface. The kind of homophobia you read in the news, like the murder of LGBTQ+ activist, Yelena Grigoryeva, or the murder of Vladislav Tornovoi in Volgograd after he came out to his “friends”, the anti-gay purges in Chechnya or the hundreds of other murders and beatings you will never read about. You may ask, “but that’s Russia, right?” And I’d pretend not to hear. Simply, no. Of course, there may be more frequent, horrific attacks in Russia and former Soviet satellite states, but you don’t start hopping because your other leg doesn’t work. By that I mean you should not disregard an issue because it is bound to another country because if you support the LGBTQ+ Community it is not enough to just support it once a year when you go to a Pride parade in Brighton or London or Manchester.
England has dangerous (note: all kinds of homophobia is dangerous) levels of homophobia bubbling under the surface too, just like Russia. My first glimpses of it were getting hit for my sexuality and also having to change my route to college as I was followed around my hometown by a boy who asked, “are you gay? Are you bi? If you are, I’m gonna punch you in your fucking face.” Many people will still think that often people say these things and have anti-LGBTQ+ opinions because they question their own sexuality. I want to briefly say that I think this is absolute bollocks. Sure, sometimes a guy might say he doesn’t like gay men because he wants to cover up for the fact that he himself questions his own sexuality, but it is important to understand that most people have anti-LGBTQ+ views because they are (often) uneducated and full of hate. A racist white man isn’t racist because he thinks he’s secretly not white – he’s racist because he’s racist; uneducated, absorbed the opinions of his racist parents, reads the newspapers and blog posts of other racists, thinks racist jokes are funny etc. etc. etc. I hear the guy that followed me around my hometown is in prison now, which, if what people say about homophobic people is true, good for him – I hear it’s a great place to pick up guys.
Britain is full of homophobic hatred. And it is for this reason that Pride is – and should still be – a protest. According to the Evening Standard, there has been a 22% rise in homophobic attacks year-on-year with almost 55 recorded attacks each week. We all saw the London bus attack where four teenagers aged between 15 and 17 attacked a gay couple, leaving them with facial injuries. Do you really think those kids did that because they’re all questioning their own sexuality? Want to know what I did when I was questioning my sexuality? I spent a lot of time googling “How not to be gay”, bought a pair of baggy jeans and started listening to more hip hop. I did not start attacking gay couples to throw people off the scent. Recently, one of the biggest names in literature, J.K. Rowling, spoke out against transgender women and the use of single-sex spaces. Firstly, I’m confused as to why anyone might get their opinions from someone who *checks notes* wrote books about a fucking wizard, but the most dangerous part of Rowling’s comments was that she used her platform and notoriety as one of the highest selling authors to churn misinformed and offensive opinions about the lives of people which are debated as if they are simply a point of discussion for abuse or what it means to be a woman/man. There is a wealth of brilliant articles which break down and discuss J.K Rowling’s statements, which I suggest you read, if you have not done so already. Though, at this point, I would like to remind you what the ‘T’ stands for in LGBTQ+. Put simply, you cannot support the LGBTQ+ Community without supporting the lives of Transgender people. Much like with the Black Lives Matter movement, you do not get to pick and choose which lives you support.
This is why Pride is still a protest. Such a statement should not be a radical assertion, but a reminder. A reminder that Pride began as a riot against police brutality and fought for by queer heroes such as Marsha P. Johnson, Stormé DeLarverie, Sylvia Rivera and Tammy Novak. A reminder that, as queer folk or allies, when we can attend Pride events again, we do so not for the music or the hiked-up drinks prices or the glitter or the outfits or the fun day-out, but to remind ourselves that the freedoms many LGBTQ+ people have nowadays were fought for by a community that are still hurting across the world. Whilst the casual homophobia and the heinous anti-LGBTQ+ hatred bubbles away under the surface of societies worldwide, we must not think of Pride only as a festival. Whilst there is still a fight to be fought in the name of queer rights, Pride will always be a protest.
By Ry Jackson