Pride in London head condemns transphobic parade hijack: Protesters ‘don’t represent lesbians’ (Exclusive)

Pride in London was overshadowed on Saturday when a group of transphobic, lesbian protesters hijacked the front of the parade, and and led much of the march – in front of London Mayor Sadiq Khan and equalities minister Penny Mordaunt.

That this group – carrying a banner that read “transactivists erase lesbians” and handing out transphobic leaflets – weren’t removed from the march has outraged many in the LGBT+ community.

Stonewall’s CEO Ruth Hunt hit out at Pride in London, saying organisers had “a duty to act and protect trans people.”

The mayor of London, meanwhile, criticised the protesters, with a spokesperson for Khan’s office telling PinkNews that “transphobia is never acceptable.”

On social media, cisgender lesbians shared messages of solidarity and support for trans women, using the hashtag #LwiththeT – to contradict the anti-trans group’s use of #GetTheLOut.

In a statement on Sunday, Pride in London condemned the “vile” actions of the group, saying: “We are sorry.” However, organisers were criticised for initially releasing a statement citing “hot weather” and “safety” behind the decision to let the protest group to lead the parade. 

As the dust settles on the controversial episode that clouded Saturday’s parade, Pride in London co-chair Alison Camps spoke to PinkNews about her and the Pride board’s reaction to the parade hijack, why the protesters weren’t removed and what steps organisers have taken to ensure this never happens again.

You’ve condemned the actions of this anti-trans group of lesbian protesters on Twitter. As a lesbian yourself, why were these transphobic protesters in the wrong?

Camps: The protesters were bigots, who brought disgrace on themselves. They hijacked the front of the parade, stood and stamped on the rainbow flag and yelled in our faces divisive messages about lesbian erasure and removing the ‘L’ from ‘LGBT’.

They were wrong because they undermined the very essence of Pride; the freedom to be yourself, to identify how you want, to be respected and included like anyone else. They claimed to be speaking for lesbians, but they do not, they speak only for themselves. Trans people face higher levels of discrimination, violence and suffering than most other groups in the LGBT+ community.

Leaflets handed out by anti-trans protesters at Pride in London’s parade on Saturday. (Nick Duffy)

Why don’t these protesters represent the lesbian community?

For a start, they don’t represent me, my lesbian colleagues on the board of Pride in London or in our wider team of volunteers. They want to deny trans women their rights as women and we reject their message completely. They claim to be speaking for lesbians, but they do not, they speak only for themselves and the less oxygen we give them, the better.

What can cisgender lesbians do to support the trans community?

We need to show that this kind of bigotry has #NoPlaceAtPride. We also need to show that we are stronger when we have the #LWithTheT. My team have been making videos to show their support – it’s not a huge thing, but being vocal is really important.

The trans community needs to feel our support both emotionally and practically, to be welcomed into our lives and our spaces. To make sure that we understand the issues they face and how we can help, for example by giving cover when they come under attack.

The anti-trans group leading Pride in London’s parade on Saturday. (Nick Duffy)

Why did Pride in London not remove this anti-trans group of protesters from leading the parade?

The parade is 1.3 miles long and although there are barriers along the route it is impossible to fully secure it, not least because there are crossing points. If someone wants to protest we cannot predict where they will enter – previous years have seen groups infringe at different points in the route.

We do not have right to physically remove people and they did everything within their power to stay within the law, which meant the police could not make any arrests – because people have a right to peaceful protest. The Met has confirmed that no offence was committed.  (Editor’s note: A Metropolitan Police spokesperson told PinkNews: “The group at the front of the parade did not commit any criminal offences and the role of the police is to facilitate peaceful protests.)

We tried to surround them and move them off the parade but were not successful. We did not want a photo of them being forcibly dragged off the streets by their armpits to grace national news everywhere, making them martyrs for their cause.

Ultimately, with the heat and need to ensure the safety of 30,000 people waiting under a very hot sun – including, importantly, older LGBT+ people and those with access requirements – we took the uncomfortable decision to send them as far ahead as we could as they were showing no signs of moving. In hindsight, I honestly wish I had been the one to cause a breach of the peace, so that the police had to intervene.

Parade goers during Pride In London on Saturday July 7. (Tristan Fewings/Getty)

How will Pride in London ensure that something like this does not happen again? 

We need more power and control. We also need to review our contingency plans – we followed the agreed process this year, but the outcome was very clearly unacceptable. Every year we work with the Metropolitan Police Service, the Greater London Authority and the Mayor of London to ensure Pride is a safe and secure event for everyone in London. In our planning for 2019 we will be looking more closely at how to up the level of security and stewarding at the front of the parade.

It’s a fine line as we don’t want to scare people off — after all Pride should be a celebration — and it’s such a crying shame that a group within the LGBT+ community chose to abuse all of the progress that has been made collectively over the years. We will also be looking at what we can do for the trans community to ensure we stand in solidarity and have already been contact with organisations with as TransPALS to plot a path forward.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I am sorry. I am sorry it happened, I am sorry for how it turned out and I am sorry for the impact it has had. But we have to unite in our efforts to stamp out all forms of prejudice and bigotry within our community. The actions of eight people have tarnished Pride for so many people who didn’t experience the roars of the crowd that followed. They undid all of the hard work that we put in to push us forward as an event, and a community. We are going through a lot of introspection as to why it happened and to make sure it never happens again.

It has also been desperately hard to see volunteers who have poured their heart and soul into delivering London’s most diverse Pride event ever, come under sustained attack. I understand people’s anger and disappointment – and believe me I share it – but to pile hate on top of hate cannot be the answer.