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Marching in gear

Pride is upon as and, for the first time, BLUF is registered as a group to march in the parade in London. Amongst all the outpourings of emotion and anger that have been caused by the poor organisation and near collapse of the event, there are also some familiar themes, that many will have heard – or perhaps expressed themselves – over the years.

One gay news website even ran an article suggesting that Pride causes more harm than anything; in an astonishing feat of mental gymnastics, it even tried to lay the blame for suicidal gay teens on the flamboyant members of Pride parades. Yes, really. Read it yourself.

Even aside from such extremes, it’s quite common to hear the sentiment that the drag queens or the leather guys – that’s us! – give the community a bad name. Why, the complaints go, can’t we just be normal? The press will print the pictures of the guys in leather, or dresses, and everyone will think that’s what gay is all about.

Yes, the press probably will; I’m a journalist myself, and I know that given the choice between a guy in jeans and a t-shirt, a scary looking butch person in leather, or someone with twelve tons of feathers stuck to their head, the guy in jeans won’t get much of a chance from the picture editor.

But you know what? That’s not his fault. It’s not the fault of the leather guy, or the feather guy. It’s the media that does that, and I’m honestly not convinced that making the Pride march look like ‘everyman’ (or woman) would mean that photos of the ‘regular’ people are what would appear; If an image isn’t visually arresting, it won’t get used.

And do you believe that people – the people you work and live alongside – really think that every gay person wears leather just because they saw a photo in the paper? In 2012? That might have been true back in the 1970s, and of course there’s sometimes a more sinister reason for picking the outré photos, to make us look ‘other’, but it’s less so now. Ask yourself if seeing flamboyant people in the Notting Hill Carnival makes people imagine the UK’s black community is always wandering around wearing glittery spandex wings, and you’ll see how low an opinion of humanity you need to hold that view.

Is marching in leather flaunting the sexual side of things? It depends how much you read into the leather – but if people abide by the appropriate rules for what they wear in public, why shouldn’t they? Why should a single section of the gay community be told “no, you shouldn’t be here, you give us a bad image?” What next? No gay Tories, or Muslims? No disabled people, or people who don’t go to the gym enough?

Let’s not forget that sexuality, whether gay or straight, is a broad church, and while equal marriage is important, it’s not the only thing we should be campaigning for. Across the world, many people still have real problems just because they’re gay. Here in the UK, proposed new laws on pornography, and judgements like the Spanner case affect the sexual freedom of everyone. And no, these aren’t just of concern for ‘perverts in leather’, just as marriage isn’t only for the sweater-wearing classes. People are more complex than that.

Just as Pride is about visibility overall, all the different groups within the gay community should be visible, because we are often all, to one degree or another, affected by the same laws and regulations. Standing united we are stronger; and we shouldn’t allow anyone, least of all ourselves, to decide that certain parts of the community should be shuffled off gently into a corner, so that we can present the sort of slick image that would please a TV evangelist.

Equal rights are for everyone, regardless of how they dress, or whatever consensual things they do in bed. Marching in leather, we aren’t claiming to represent every gay man, just as no one imagines that what Max Moseley does represents every straight person. But we are on the streets to say “Yes, we’re here, and everyone deserves to be treated equally.” Whatever they're wearing, why should some of us have to sit at the back of the bus?

If you honestly believe that by appearing in Pride marches, leather guys, or men in frocks harm the cause of equality, that we would all be treated equally, if only we kept up appearances and “looked right,” then turn your backs as we pass, so that you don’t have to watch.

But as you do so, perhaps you’d care to remember the words of Pastor Martin Niemöller, or ponder that when the police raided the Stonewall Inn in 1969 and started the battle for gay equality that so many are still fighting around the world, some of the first to start the fight were the guys in frocks and heels.

Nigel Whitfield, BLUF webmaster, LondonSubNigel (3), 06 July 2012

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