This is an article I wrote for Leicester Socialist Party on the 10th anniversary of Pride, celebrating the battle to have a Pride event in Leicester at all.
Yesterday, we had a lively stall, against academy schools, many of which are attempting to bring back homophobic regulations, reminiscent of Thatcher’s hated Section 28, banning the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ (whatever that is supposed to mean). We marched behind the Leicester and District Trades Council banner, forming a left / trade unionist contingent. Unions had stalls at the event and the NUT were also campaigning against academy schools. In Leicester, Rushey Mead School (where I worked quite a few years ago) is under threat of academisation, and we must build a huge campaign to stop this from happening.
In 2000, the first Leicester Pride event (then called the Mardi Gras) was threatened by the far-right National Front and BNP. The organisers cancelled the event because of threats of violence.
Yet a varied group of people, including Socialist Party members, other political activists and the LGBT community in Leicester, established a campaign “Unity Against Prejudice. On 29 July 2000, despite further threats of violence and a National Front mobilisation attempting to block its route, the Pride event still took place. This fore-runner of today’s Leicester Pride has been forgotten by most. But its beginnings should be celebrated.
The far-right BNP and EDL still threaten to divide our society. We still need to educate and organise against hatred and prejudice.
A sustained and poisonous campaign attempted to link gay men to paedophilia, included the setting up of a group “the silent majority”, which attempted to get the Mardi Gras banned. Letters appeared in the Leicester Mercury, and a petition was taken to the council. The organisers of this campaign were neo-nazis, and used it to try to build their far-right groups.
A Socialist Students meeting at the university discussed LGBT rights. It was attended by people with a number of political stances and they all agreed to the idea of a public meeting in the city centre to discuss putting on an event anyway. We would not stand for any event being cancelled because of threats by the far right. If they could attack Pride then they could do the same to trade union demos and cultural events, such as the Mela or Caribbean Carnival.
Building the campaign
70 people attended the initial meeting and agreed to set up the UAP campaign as well as organising a march from the City Centre to an event on Abbey Park where the original Mardi Gras was to be held.
Unity against prejudice (photo courtesy of Outrage)
We agreed that the march had two aims:
To enable people to celebrate LGBT lifestyles.
To build unity of gay, straight, black and white and all groups of ordinary people against all forms of prejudice.
We built a broad movement, which involved communities, students unions, trades unions etc.
Standing up to far-right threats
During the campaign we were repeatedly threatened by the far right, and many obstacles had to be overcome, but the event went ahead with great success. 400 people marched through the city centre to the festival at Abbey Park. 70 far right protesters turned up but were unable to stop our well stewarded event.
The following year, a Pride event took place without hitch and has become an accepted and established event in Leicester.
Fight for your rights!
Today homophobic crime and prejudice still exist in society; the gains that have been made by the working class, will always be under threat in a capitalist society. Campaigning against all forms of prejudice, whether it be homophobia, racism, sexism or on grounds of disability etc. must continue.