Author and campaigner Damian Barr on why we still need Pride

Damian Barr says: 'I was fired and evicted for being gay'

Video transcript

DAMIAN BARR: Right now it's the best of times and worst of times to be LGBTQ+ in the UK. Thanks to the work of Stonewall and others, and action from our allies, we've never enjoyed more of the same rights as everybody else because that's all we've ever wanted, the same, not more, not extra, we bring our own extra.

In my 20s, I was fired more than once and evicted from my first student digs for being gay. Then, the law was not on my side. Now, I'm protected, but post-Brexit there's no longer any European court to stop homegrown hate from turning back the clock.

Conservative politicians continue attacking equal marriage. Our Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, is reviewing the already underfunded Gender Identity Development Service. This government acknowledged the horrors of conversion, so-called "therapy," before dropping its commitment to ban it. Then, reversing this for LGB, but not T people. Either we're all human and deserve equal human rights, or we're not and we don't. The Scottish and Welsh Governments are banning conversion therapy for everyone.

I grew up in Scotland in the 1980s in the shadow of Thatcher. Her government introduced Section 28, banning the promotion of homosexuality. Of course, it's homophobia that's still learned behavior, and Pride is about helping us all to unlearn this. And laws like that are returning in the US. Don't-say-gay laws could easily happen here.

Growing up, the age of consent was 21. And if I wasn't sent to jail for kissing my best friend Mark, I was sure we'd both be murdered or killed by this new disease called AIDS. We carried all this fear and hate and our school bags every single day. The bruises are long faded, but I'll never forget the insults. And then, even the nice teachers felt unable to help because of Section 28.

Now, we're in the grip of another moral panic. This time about trans people, but the script is the same. Mark killed himself at 23. Every insult, every punch, every blind eye turned pushed him closer to that day. LGBTQ+ young people are still twice as likely to consider suicide than their straight peers, according to research by the charity Just Like Us.

Sticks and stones do break bones, but not always right away. I wrote about all this in my memoir, Maggie & Me. Since then, things have got better, and worse. The dark is always deepest when the light is brightest. Hate crime against LGBTQ+ people in England and Wales hit record levels in 2021, rising every year from 2016 and 2017, according to the Home Office.

Racist hate crime is rocketing even further. These are not unrelated. A society which turns away when LGBTQ+ people are abused is not too bothered when people of color are also hurt. And as the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer shows, misogyny pervades the very institutions which exist to protect us. These are the dots we need to join. That's all intersectionality means, winning equality for all because we are all more than one thing.

I moved to Brighton in 1999. It was a beacon of hope as bright as the Palace Pier calling me to come and be free by the sea. Now we've got the biggest Pride in the UK. Whatever the weather, Pride is always the sunniest day. The solidarity and joy of it powers me through darker times.

The first Pride I marched at was the very first Pride in Scotland. It was June 17, 1995 and I had no idea what to expect, who would be there, would I be safe, what would I wear? That day the sun shone on Edinburgh, and for the first time ever I was surrounded by people like me. Everywhere I looked, there were men holding hands in public. I remember a band of lesbian drummers, and banners, lots of banners. It was unafraid and unashamed, and so was I.

Every year I march in Brighton with Amnesty carrying a placard for one of the 69 countries where it's still illegal to be LGBTQ+. Yes, 69 countries. Saudi Arabia is one of 11 countries still executing LGBTQ+ people. People from those countries rush up to thank us for recognizing their struggle, for sharing their story.

Every year more nations remove these laws, most notably India recently, and this is truly heartening, but making something legal is not the same as making it acceptable, never mind celebrated. Especially, in former British colonies where homophobic laws were exported with vigor. Pride invites us all to be ourselves, whoever and wherever we are. It's not about one day or one city. None of us are free until all of us are free, and that starts with you and me.

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