2012-2022: Why Pride Still Needs to be a Protest

30 May 2022

Pride 2022 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first official UK Gay Pride Rally held in London.  We are marking each decade from 1972 to 2022 with a blog every week throughout June.
 

The decade 2012-2022 witnessed one of the most seismic victories of the LGBTQ+ community – the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was passed in 2013, legalising marriage for gay and lesbian couples in England and Wales, and it was adopted across Britain, its crown dependencies and overseas territories over the following years.

The idea that people should have equal rights to marry was previously the subject of debate and controversy – so the real achievement was the fact that marriage equality has now become (for the most part) accepted as the uncontroversial human right that it is. But the decade also saw another major shift, which was reflected around the world; the trans+ community’s journey towards visibility and acceptance – a story that continues to unfold, with its successes and struggles, as Pride enters its sixth decade.

Although the first years of the new millennium saw the building blocks of legislation safeguarding trans rights passed in the UK – the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and the Equality Act 2010 – the 2010s heralded a new tide of greater visibility for the trans+ community in the UK and worldwide.

Trans people – after years of being underrepresented – began to secure a platform to inspire and encourage their trans siblings to live openly. In 2014, TIME Magazine described what it called the ‘Transgender Tipping Point’ as the next frontier for civil rights, featuring Laverne Cox of Orange is the New Black fame on the cover (in honour of whom a new Barbie has just been announced). This reflected the fact that the 2010s gave trans people much greater prominence in culture and the public consciousness.

The decade is festooned with trans and non-binary people carving out space to ensure their voices and stories are heard. Eye-catching examples include Chelsea Manning who, already attracting 24-hour news coverage over her trial for leaking classified information to WikiLeaks, came out as trans in 2013 and has since forged a career in activism. In the same year, model Andreja Pejić came out as a trans, and has since continued on her trajectory to become one of the most successful faces in fashion.

The decade also featured political success, such as the election of the first ever non-binary mayor of a city in 2021, Owen Hurcum in Bangor, Wales, and the appointment of Rachel Levine to be America’s first openly trans Assistant Secretary for Health. It also touched the world of journalism, where Freddy McConnell, solo dad to his two children, has forged a career as an advocate for his community  (see his ‘Transnational’ documentary on VICE), and India Willoughby became the first openly trans newsreader (an achievement notably replicated by Marvia Malik in Pakistan in 2018).

Of course, trans representation in the acting world has only increased as the decade has progressed – from Matrix co-director Lilly Wachowski following in her sister Lana’s footsteps by coming out in 2016, to Elliot Page breaking the internet in 2020 and, most recently, Mancunian actor Yasmin Finney joining the cast of Doctor Who, with gay actor Ncuti Gatwa at the helm. And there is no better exemplar of the ascent of the trans community than when Torrey Peters’ debut novel, Detransition, Baby, topped bestsellers lists on both sides of the Atlantic and was long-listed for The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2021.

This groundswell of trans and non-binary talent and visibility inevitably filtered down into the rest of society. In 2013, the first UK Trans Pride was held in Brighton; around 450 people took part, and it was the first of its kind to be held in Europe. London’s first Trans+ Pride was held in 2019, with more than 1,500 attendees – and the next edition in 2021 (2020 having been cancelled by the pandemic) saw over 7,500 people attend (trans and cis alike).

As a consequence of Stonewall extending its remit to campaign for trans equality in 2015 (long overdue), workplaces across the UK are now conscious of, and engaged with, their responsibility to all their employees – not just those that fit a cisgender, heterosexual mould. Equally importantly, the treatment of trans people medically has fundamentally changed, with the World Health Organisation no longer considering gender identity health issues as ‘disorders’ as of 2019. And for the first time, the UK census in 2021 included questions on gender identity and sexual orientation, allowing the collection of meaningful data on the LGBTQ+ community to inform social policy for the next decade.

However, this decade’s worth of progress in normalising what previous generations of trans pioneers had had to fight for should not obscure the real difficulties and obstacles still faced by trans and non-binary people.

As excruciatingly chronicled by Shon Faye in her 2021 book, The Transgender Issue, trans+ healthcare in the UK is at breaking point – with NHS waiting lists reaching five years or more. This is compounded by ‘culture wars’ over the rights of trans and non-binary people to the respect and dignity enjoyed by the majority, reflected in cruel media coverage over, for example, trans participation in sport; debates over false narratives surrounding the Gender Recognition Act reform; and the endangerment of trans youth (not least via the omission of trans people from the UK Government’s proposed conversion therapy ban).

The situation is often highlighted as being particularly acute in the UK – consider the UK’s dramatic fall in the ILGA-Europe 2022 rankings for LGBTQ+ rights across Europe, citing in particular the refusal to grant non-binary identities legal recognition, and the failure of the UK’s Equalities & Human Rights Commission to “effectively [protect] on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.” However, this narrative ignores the erosion of trans rights elsewhere – a potential cascade effect, as demonstrated by Hungary preventing people from legally changing gender in 2020, now followed by the state of Montana doing the same only last week, insisting that birth certificates show only ‘sex’ and not gender. The fact that US conservatives, who dominate Montana’s state legislature, held their annual CPAC conference in Hungary this month, with the keynote speech given by Viktor Orbán, is a worrying indication of how reactionary forces can feed off one another.

None of this bleakness should eclipse the hard-won successes of the trans and non-binary community – nor dishearten those hopeful of future progress towards trans liberation. Despite the best efforts of those who oppose trans rights, the momentum is against them. In response to the UK Government’s consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act in 2018, 70% of respondents were in favour – and, in a recent YouGov poll, only 14% of Britons felt that a conversion therapy ban should exclude gender identity.

Trans rights are an effective litmus test for acceptance and tolerance more widely, including beyond the LGBTQ+ community. The increased freneticism of moral panics over trans rights in recent years has mirrored a comparable fall in security and safety for people across the rainbow, with hate crimes based on hostility to sexual orientation having doubled in four years. The focus for the next decade of Pride must be to support, safeguard and celebrate all members of the LGBTQ+ community – there can be no sacrificial lambs, as arguably has occurred in the past.

Pride In London 2022 is marching under the slogan #AllOurPride, seeking to celebrate the successes and acknowledge the challenges faced by the community. But London Trans+ Pride 2022, with its title ‘Pride is a Protest’, provides a stark reminder of what Pride needs to be, fifty years after the first Pride march, for all of its supporters and allies in 2022-2032 – and for society as a whole.

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