Reflecting on a Pride celebration is often a challenge because you first need to decide what it is you hoped/wanted/dreamt Pride to be. For many, Pride is their gateway to the LGBTQ+ community; a chance to meet people who think, behave, dress, sound and exist just as they themselves do. For others, it is the opportunity to celebrate another year of increasing global freedom, whilst tempering that joyfulness in acknowledging all that still needs to be achieved. And of course, for many, Pride is a huge opportunity to immerse yourself in socially acceptable daytime drinking, securing that perfect selfie, and potentially a love affair that could span decades to come, or, more likely, the small hours of Sunday morning.
For me, Pride has in recent years been a chance to serve my faith community and those who have been attacked, marginalised and vilified by those who belong to the same body of believers. Through the work of Christians at Pride, we have sought to bring cohesion to the broad range of Christian traditions, as well as challenge the very real and experienced reality that the Christian Church is for homophobes and those who are forced or choose to keep their sexuality or gender identity a secret.
This year, Christians at Pride were the largest community walking group in the parade with 250 joining together, and our numbers cheering from the side peeked at close to 70. Our evening service of celebration at St. James’ Piccadilly, despite the late starting of the parade and delayed arrival of our marchers, saw the building filled with those who regularly attend church, those who’ve never attended, and those who thought they never would again. The day was joyful and colourful, perhaps even a little triumphant in the message that we believe is central to the Christian faith: God loves all. It seemed especially potent that the theme of this year’s Pride in London was: Love Happens Here, and undoubtedly that love was felt throughout the day.
It seems fair to also reflect on some of the feedback that I heard throughout the day; particularly that this year’s parade felt even more corporate than years previous. With the community groups still visible but smaller and sandwiched between large corporations and their impressive sound-systems, well-designed shirts and giveaways, and sheer volume of people involved. It’s hard to escape that large businesses are increasingly likely to show their support for initiatives such as Pride, particularly in cities like London, because they know that this is not only important to their workforce, but also to how they’re perceived by their consumers and the world around them. It should also be said that without large corporate sponsors, much of the parade and festivities that spring up around it would not be able to happen free of charge. The question that needs to be asked then is: how do we ensure that community groups are heard, seen and respected in a way similar to the well-financed businesses? It’s certainly a challenge that those involved in organising Pride in London are well aware of, and it is one that will need careful thought as the festival continues to grow in popularity.
Pride in London has visibly been on a journey over the last few years, from almost ceasing to exist, to becoming one of the larger European if not global Pride celebrations. It struck me this year how important the journey is: my first Pride in London I was barely out and had yet to find peace in reconciling my faith and sexuality, this year I again joined the team who plan the efforts of Christians at Pride and can gladly say that 7 months into our marriage, Steven has yet to leave me for someone who is slightly less highly strung. I stood alongside a dear friend (although he is Anglican), who himself has in the last 2 years been on a formation journey towards ordination and ministry in the Church of England, and another who not only officiated at my wedding, but who has time and time again stood above the parapet despite the personal cost to herself and her vocation in the Baptist Union of Great Britain. We are all on journeys, even those who stand and proclaim a hateful message and not one of love, and it is times such as Pride in London that we come together to celebrate how far we’ve come and acknowledge that there is yet more work to be done in the days to come.