pride after orlando
Following the events that took place in Orlando this month, and the divisive outcome of the EU referendum on Friday, this year's London Pride had a special poignancy. Here, photographer Holly Falconer reflects on the love, energy and unity that she saw...
Just over two weeks ago 49 people were killed and 53 wounded at Orlando's Pulse nightclub. The venue was holding a Latinx night in celebration of Gay Pride Month, and its punters would have arrived expecting the same kind of safe environment they'd always experienced. Gay bars are hard-won sanctuaries where LGBT+ people can hang out with their friends in complete confidence - and this violation of such a space was extraordinarily horrific.
Last Thursday I went to a talk called Pride Is A Protest - The Radical Roots Of Pride in central London and was again reminded of the sanctity of safe queer zones such as prides, clubs and other community centres. The evening focused on how commercial pride has become - with Barclays leading the parade in 2015 -- and militarised, with the Red Arrows doing a flypast this year and BAE Systems walking in the parade. Speakers also spoke about the difficulty London's early LGBT+ activists had in finding venues to meet up and discuss ideas. During its formative years, the Gay Liberation Front regularly met in Notting Hill, and had to hold "gay-ins" in pubs after being repeatedly refused service by pub landlords in the area. London's prides in the early 70s were highly charged political events - less about parading, and more about fighting for acceptance and basic human rights.
However - despite its flaws Pride in London still has a very important role to play, especially after Orlando. In countries where prides are possible they should be loud and proud. I spent my weekend at two London pride events, Pride in London's parade and UK Black Pride, and they were so moving: full of love, happiness and friendship.
Pride in London's parade filled the capital's central streets, winding through Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square. This year's procession was opened by Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, backed by a float filled with Sink the Pink's troupe swinging from its rails dressed in various Patsy and Edwina guises. And then it began: the music, dancing, rainbow-collared dogs, drag queens, campaigners, unions, wide-eyed first-timers, big brand floats, undecided rain, someone dressed as our actual queen, bubbles, more rainbows, undecided sunshine, religious groups, more rain, choirs and a river of crowds. I chatted with asexuals who were so proud to be represented, danced with cancer charity campaigners and made friends with a wonderful human pup as we bonded over my Mamiya camera. So many important groups were there: people were marching for those in Istanbul who aren't allowed to celebrate pride, showing support for LGBT+ immigrants and holding placards campaigning for PrEP funding.
UK Black Pride is smaller but just as loud. Europe's "largest not-for-profit event for African, Arab, Asian and Caribbean-heritage lesbian, gay, bisexual & trans people and friends" took place on Sunday in Vauxhall's Pleasure Gardens. I arrived in the early evening, and made straight for the main stage where people had gathered together for a day of brilliant DJs, singers, comedians, speakers and performers. By the time I got there, hundreds of people were dancing in the gardens, filling the space with their families, children and friends. What started as a small event in Southend in 2005 has mushroomed into something incredible.
After Orlando, a few of my friends were nervous about going to pride events this summer. Some were afraid for their safety and I confess I was too. But I'm so pleased I went. The sheer sight of thousands of LGBT+ people filling London's streets, parks and clubs was so beautiful and had never felt more important.
Text and photography Holly Falconer