East London celebrates Pride after a rocky year

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East London Pride is to be held tomorrow.

The event comes after a tumultuous year for the local gay community.

In February, a homophobic sticker campaign warned that the area was a “gay-free zone” and claimed Allah would be “severe in punishment”.

An 18-year-old man was fined after pleading guilty to distributing the stickers.

In March, a planned Pride parade was cancelled after it was revealed that one of the organisers, Raymond Berry, was a former member of the English Defence League.

The event became controversial as local groups Rainbow Hamlets and Out East accused the march of being a front for the EDL and of stirring up tension between gay people and Muslims.

The East London Mosque has been pressured by gay rights campaigners not to host anti-gay preachers, but was accused of breaking its promise in June.

Tomorrow’s event will include a march across Hackney and Tower Hamlets, then a festival in Bethnal Green’s Oxford House with performers and speakers. There will also be a picnic in Weaver’s Fields.

Organisers are waiting to hear whether Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman will be able to join the festivities.

Jack Gilbert, one of the organisers, said: “Over the last six months, east London has had a hell of a time, whether it’s been homophobia or street violence. Now it’s time for a celebration.”

As with previous attempts to hold a Pride march in the area this year, this event has attracted criticism.

Veteran gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell criticised organisers for not inviting “leading Muslim organisations” to the festival.

He said: “I wish leading Muslim organisations – like the Muslim Council of Britain and the East London Mosque – had been invited to speak at the post-march festival. Since they’ve declared their opposition to homophobia, they should be invited.

“If these organisations and the Muslim Mayor of Tower Hamlets attended, it would send a strong, positive signal locally. Their involvement would be a powerful statement against both homophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice. It would build bridges.”

But Mr Gilbert said: “Why would we invite the Muslim Council of Britain to an east London Pride festival? This isn’t a conference or a seminar, this is Pride.

“Earlier this year we held a groundbreaking conference with faith speakers. Peter was invited but didn’t show up on the day. We are having an intense dialogue with the London Muslim Centre about homophobic preachers.”

Mr Tatchell also questioned why the march would not go through the E1 area, which includes Shoreditch and Whitechapel, where the East London Mosque is.

Mr Gilbert responded: “We’ve chosen a route which goes through two boroughs – Hackney and Tower Hamlets. It’s a misconception to say that stickers were only found in E1 – they were found in locations we will be walking past.”

However, another organiser of the event, Terry Stewart, says he urged for local Muslim leaders to be invited to the event.

Mr Stewart accused the other organisers of “ducking the issue” of Muslim homophobia and said: “If you’re going to have a Pride in east London, you have to challenge homophobia.”

He added: “I asked for a [post-parade] discussion on homophobia and faith. Instead, we have a discussion on racism and Islamophobia.”

For more information, see the East London Pride website.