'If you're partying at Pride without knowing the history behind it, you should go home' (Opinion)

Failing to appreciate LGBT history is a middle finger to those who got us to where we are today, writes Harry Nettleton.


Note from Attitude Publisher Darren Styles: This being LGBT History month, we at Attitude thought we’d mark the moment by giving the floor to a series of media commentators, asking each of them for an opinion piece on our life and times.

We have to come: insight from the author Matthew Todd, Nick Coveney, co-chair of @PrideinPub, and – following here – Harry Nettleton, Editor of BOYBLUE magazine.

We chose to lead, yesterday, with Dylan Jones, the Editor of QX. His take was incendiary, to say the least. But we asked for an opinion, and we got it. And while Attitude may be many things, and be accused of many more, an echo chamber or a censor it is not. And so we ran it.

We regret doing so without context, but we offer no apology for placing Dylan’s view in the public domain. It’s a view a group of people hold, and if you can’t see it or hear it then you can neither debate it nor counter it. Dylan’s view was not, and is not, our view. It was very clearly labelled as an opinion piece. And in nearly 300 issues across nearly 25 years the Attitude values we stand for are plain to see. We’re proud of our own LGBT history.

We have never ducked the challenge of alternative viewpoints, and we’ll not start now. Ann Widdecombe hides in plain sight, and our speaking against her in her ill-judged crusade to become a ‘national treasure’ these past few weeks has been relentless. Sometimes, you have to acknowledge or broadcast a view you don’t like in order that people know, or remember, it exists. It’s a hidden danger that offers the greatest threat.

And so we hand the floor to Harry Nettleton…

We are at an interesting point in our Queer history. Many have the privilege of acceptance while others are still turfed out of family homes, being bullied at school and treated with little respect. According to The Albert Kennedy Trust, 24% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+ and a staggering 77% believe coming out to their families was the main factor. Sex education in schools is still not LGBTQ+ inclusive and important information and education has to be found on a Google search. Homophobia is not ‘SO 2008’, it is here and it is daily.

We can celebrate the fact that there are many more LGBTQ+ role models within mainstream pop culture. However, this doesn’t mean we’re seen as equal, it just means that we’re a creative and talented part of society. The mainstream British press print daily propaganda and derogatory remarks attacking the transgender community. Since when was it an open debate as to whether we are going to treat another human being with dignity and respect? While these stories are used to generate fear and hatred within our ‘civilised’ society, transgender people have to fight just to be themselves.

According to Stonewall, more than two in five trans people have attempted to take their own life. Not thought about it – actually attempted it. And LGBTQ+ hate crime is still rife within society, not just our schools.

I can understand the protective blanket London must give to some Queer people, a safe environment to be yourself and feel completely at ease in your surroundings. That daily privilege must distort some people’s understanding of our history and what we are currently fighting for. There are many other great LGBTQ+ venues all across the UK with scenes thriving and becoming the hub of the city. I certainly felt free and accepted when I was 19 and treading the floor boards of some northern Queer venues.

But the reality is that, even if we are in a safe space and can be ourselves freely, it doesn’t mean the fight is over. Towards the end of 2015 I was leaving a gay venue in the early hours of the morning and I was kicked in the face for standing up for myself. In a gay venue. I heard a rather large man refer to myself and my boyfriend as ‘faggots’. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This bar, this haven I’d hung out in for the past year felt suddenly unsafe and the outside world closed in.

Many LGBTQ+ people don’t make it through their youth undamaged, and to suggest that they do demonstrates an unfortunate privilege. Making it through with little ridicule, no attacks, no mental or psychical abuse is, very sadly, extremely lucky. But to state that LGBTQ+ youth are making it through unscathed in 2018 is damaging and wrong.

As these kids hit their late teens and early 20s an unapologetic group of LGBTQ+ people have emerged, but why? Because of our past, and because older generations of LGBTQ+ fought for our equality, that’s why.

To fail to learn from our past leaves us bound to repeat it. And to suggest previous generations of LGBTQ+ people are jealous of the privilege some LGBTQ+ people have today is a middle finger to our history, and to all of the turmoil and abuse those people faced for us to enjoy a better future. The older generation of LGBTQ+ people have every right to call out younger generations for not learning from or remembering the AIDS crisis – and thankfully a lot of us do. But sadly, as we have seen, there are few that choose to disrespect our history.

There is no tendency for older gay men to think they know all there is to know about being gay. The ‘experience’ of being gay in 2018 is almost unrecognisable when compared to twenty years ago, and why? Because of older generations of LGBTQ+ people shaped this privileged future for you.

If you think Pride is just about ‘cracking open a Strongbow Dark Fruit and having a dance to Little Mix’, I think you should go home. Pride is a celebration of what our past generations have achieved, but to disregard history is folly. Being gay remains illegal in 72 countries, and in 10 means a death sentence, so why wouldn’t you want to sit down and plan the next march? Too busy dancing? 

In your world of £1 Freddos and £10 mascara, where sex is cheaper than food and drugs are cheaper than alcohol, why aren’t you going on marches or writing think pieces to try and make the world better for our community? Because you can’t afford the time off work?

Well, the next time you write an opinion piece on why LGBTQ+ history isn’t threatened, maybe think of the young LGBTQ+ person reading in a country where they may well be murdered for being who they are. Then educate yourself and start a new draft.

Also, the last time I checked - Marsha P Johnson was throwing the first brick at Stonewall – not downing a WKD.

Harry Joe Nettleton is the Editor of BOYBLUE Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @HarryJNetts.