Peter Tatchell explains why police should be banned from Pride marches: ‘We need to reconfigure Pride’

LGBTQ+ activist Peter Tatchell at an event

Peter Tatchell thinks the Pride movement needs to return to its activist roots – and that means banning police from taking part in marches.

The trailblazing LGBTQ+ rights activist has been fighting to make life better for queer people for decades – he was among those who took part in London’s first ever Pride march in 1972. Organised by the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), that march represented a powerful moment in history – one where the LGBTQ+ community stood up and demanded to be seen as equal.

To mark the 50th anniversary of that march, Peter Tatchell and other activists behind that first ever Pride march will be taking to the streets of London on 1 July to take a stand against the Conservative government’s mistreatment of LGBTQ+ people.

Peter Tatchell joined PinkNews for a discussion about that first ever Pride march as a part of Pride for All, which is PinkNews‘ annual online Pride event.

“It was an incredibly exciting, exhilarating and actually quite daring thing to do because it had never been done before. We had no idea how many people would turn out,” Tatchell says, reflecting on that first march.

In the end, around 700 people took to the streets of London to show the world that they existed – and that they wouldn’t be cowed by a deeply homophobic society.

“Back then most LGBT+ people were deeply closeted, they would dare not reveal themselves because they feared arrest, bashing, rejection by their friends and family and perhaps seven losing their jobs,” Tatchell says. “It’s an anniversary that’s worth remembering because it kickstarted the whole Pride movement in this country.”

Peter Tatchell at Trans Pride London.

Peter Tatchell at Trans Pride London. (Provided)

Their march on 1 July will draw attention to the many issues facing the LGBTQ+ community today, but it will also act as a fitting tribute to the veteran activists who kickstarted the Pride movement in the UK.

“There are still so many issues here in the UK and around the world that we have to fight for and win,” Tatchell says.” This 1 July parade is us saying, we really do want to carry on the fight that was begun 50 years ago.”

Peter Tatchell wants Pride to return to its radical roots

He also hopes it will remind LGBTQ+ people that Pride is a protest as well as a celebration. He, and many of those who attended that first GLF march in 1972, aren’t happy with how commercial and corporate most mainstream Pride events in the UK have become.

“We accept there needs to be some sponsorship and funding but the corporates really dominate – they’re the only ones who can afford the big, extravagant floats in the main parade. We just think that we need to reconfigure Pride to get back to the grassroots.

“It should be by and for the LGBT+ community. We should be front and centre. People like the Mayor of London and others are welcome, but they shouldn’t be taking pride of place. The veterans from ’72 should be front and centre at Pride this year.”

We need to ensure that [Pride] is properly funded, but not at the expense of letting corporates dominate and letting politics and human rights slide to the back room.

As far as Tatchell sees it, the UK Pride movement has “downplayed the struggle” for LGBTQ+ rights over the last two decades. It’s time to press the reset button. Such an event shouldn’t be promoted as a party when conversion therapy is still legal, when LGBTQ+ asylum seekers face deportation to Rwanda, and when the government refuses to reform the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), Tatchell says.

He also points out that the fight for LGBTQ+ rights needs to be global. Numerous countries continue to criminalise same-sex sexual relations, and countless governments continue to impose laws that prevent trans people from living as their authentic selves.

“The battle is far from won,” Tatchell says. “We need to ensure that [Pride] is properly funded, but not at the expense of letting corporates dominate and letting politics and human rights slide to the back room.”

Police shouldn’t have a place at Pride until they respect the community

It’s for those same reasons that Tatchell believes police forces should be banned from taking part in Pride marches. The debate around police at Pride has been raging for years, with little sign of consensus emerging, but Tatchell believes allowing uniformed officers to march in Pride when their forces have issues with “racism, misogyny and homophobia” is a problem.

He thinks all police forces, but particularly London’s Met Police, need to “clean up their act”.

Peter Tatchell during his ill-fated campaign in the Bermondsey by-election.

Peter Tatchell during his ill-fated campaign in the Bermondsey by-election. (Provided)

“Quite a few Prides around the world have taken a decision to ban the police for a range of different reasons, but here in Britain we do have a record of police racism, violence, misogyny and homophobia and I think that there are very strong, serious concerns that the police – the Metropolitan Police – are institutionally homophobic,” Tatchell says.

“That certainly was one of the outcomes of the inquiry and investigation into the serial killings by Stephen Port. The police made a whole host of investigatory errors based on stereotypical assumptions about our community. They failed to act on the evidence which might have saved the lives of three fo the victims. So I think on all these grounds on I don’t believe that the police should be invited to march in uniform until they clean up their act.

He continues: “By all means, I would welcome officers marching in plain clothes, in casual wear – that is fine, they are welcome, but as an institution, the Met Police stands accused of not only institutional homophobia, biphobia and transphobia but [also] racism, violence and misogyny.”

Looking back on that first Pride march in 1972, Tatchell says they were “pretty heavily policed” and they experienced incidents of police “openly” abusing them.

“Now back then there was no police complaints procedure, no watchdog to hold the police to account, so we just had to lump it,” he says. While homosexuality was partially decriminalised in 1967 in England and Wales, persecution didn’t ease off. In fact, Tatchell says the police response at the time was to enforce the remaining laws with a newfound “zealousness”.

They basically acted as though we were criminals.

During that first Pride march, Tatchell sensed that the police were “very, very hostile” to the LGBTQ+ community who had gathered to fight for their rights.

“They basically acted as though we were criminals, and of course in some respects we were because many aspects of our lives were still criminalised and we were still subjected to widespread discrimination,” Tatchell says.

Pride needs to get political again

That first march was deeply political, and Tatchell wants to see that same energy return to the Pride movement today – particularly when the LGBTQ+ community continues to endure so many attacks from government figures. Queer people need more than just simple platitudes.

Peter Tatchell at Dublin Pride.

Peter Tatchell at Dublin Pride. (Provided)

“What we want from the government is not sweet words, we want action. We want all of our community protected including our trans siblings. What the government is doing at the moment is fuelling the trans culture wars and in particular the recent statement by the attorney general that schools should not pander to trans kids – I thought that was absolutely outrageous. Using children to score political points, failing to recognise the very severe circumstances under which many trans kids exist, and the need for support that is truly shameful.”

Tatchell is hoping people will turn up to Pride this year with placards and not just rainbow flags and balloons.

All the progress we’ve made over the last five decades has been the result of people getting up off their knees and taking a stand.

“We need to send a message loud and clear that we are fed up. We have had enough. it’s absolutely shameful that Britain has now dropped to 14th in the European rankings for the best policies on LGBT+ rights. There are many countries way above us. We were at the top a few years ago, now we’ve sunk to 14th.”

The key to change could lie with the next generation, but figuring out how to make the world a better place isn’t always easy. Tatchell’s advice to young activists is simple, though – get involved in an LGBTQ+ organisation and start fighting for yourself and for others.

“All the progress we’ve made over the last five decades has been the result of people getting up off their knees and taking a stand, telling the world that things have to change,” he says.