This article was written by a queer activist who has attended Reclaim Pride events in London and Brighton, and followed the other events via social media.
Cities across England are resisting corporatised pride. On July 17, a grassroots Reclaim Pride event was held in the capital with support from anti-fascists for promotion. Later, on August 7, a rally was held in Brighton (the weekend of a cancelled corporate pride event) in which organisers spoke about their experience as part of the Kill The Bill Movement). Manchester also ran a Reclaim Pride Event in August, and Liverpool also had its own grassroots event on September 18 with support from Democratic Socialist Jeremy Corbyn. Liberal reformist NGOs, with boards built from ex-politicians and straight allies such as the Peter Tatchell Foundation, are also able to acknowledge the problem of corporate pride. The Foundation hosted its own sadly deeply police-collaborative event on July 24, starting at London’s Parliament Square.
This series of movements in the UK came after the USA had its own movements to reclaim pride, such as the Reclaim Pride Coalition in NYC. The American protests stressed the significance of the history around queer resistance and sought to honour the vision of Stonewall and other early protests. It is part of a broader cross-national struggle, one in which on-the-ground non-hierarchical affinity groups led by gay, trans and other LGBTQIA+ people are looking to build real community support networks and pride spaces that are genuinely inclusive.
So how did we get here? And what is driving this surge in alternative pride events?
Brighton Reclaim Pride made their motivations clear in an Instagram mission statement, outlining their admiration for historic pride events as militant political actions, rather than 'a bank-sponsored party for allies'. This admiration was clearly seen on the ground, both at their own event and at others elsewhere, in which chants of 'it’s our history, don’t deny it, Stonewall was a fucking riot' were common, and the demand for 'no cops at pride' echoed through crowds. Brighton Reclaim Pride goes on to state that they want to 'take back pride from the cops, corporations and liberal support that never materialises into meaningful change.' Liverpool Reclaim Pride explains on its Facebook event a similar desire, attacking 'pink-washing organisations' and calling for a political struggle for liberation rather than street parties.
The UK is facing a surge in hate crimes; Liverpool Reclaim Pride highlighting a 900% increase since 2014 in Merseyside. British media transphobia is a major issue in queer advocacy at present, with speakers at trans rights protests having to dedicate entire minutes of time to the topic, and trans writers going as far as to pass comments such as ‘Transphobia is Everywhere in Britain’. And so much more, with issues from LGBTQ+ youth homelessness to never-ending trans healthcare waiting lists also facing the community.
It is in the face of these conditions that the Reclaim Pride movement was birthed.
While mainstream Prides withdraw support for HIV prevention schemes and face accusations of silencing Black voices, Reclaim Pride is getting people on streets and screaming until it’s breathless for key demands such as Housing, Healthcare and the ability to walk Home Safely.
The condition for British queers is a two-fold crisis, one in which the state, bigots on the ground, media organisations, landlords, and much more are stacked against us, and where our own Pride events for liberation have been coopted into doing little to fight this oppression. This is why authentic, working-class led, and radically left-wing Reclaim Prides are emerging. This is why we fight.
What follows is a series of transcriptions from some of the speeches made at Reclaim Pride Brighton, obtained with permission from the organisers. Hopefully these speeches will elaborate further on the issues facing British queers at present and thus the need for events of this nature.
Radical Action Speech
(This speech was made by an LGBTQIA+ woman at the rally)
This is a radical action! This is a protest! We are not here to politely ask for reforms: we are not here for the cops, the government, or for any company.
What we are doing here today is reminding ourselves, not them, who we are.
We are reconnecting with our community, because if we stand together like this every time we are abused, harassed, and humiliated, then no one can fucking touch us.
We will not need governmental reform, we will not need the government to protect us, today we declare that [we], our community, ourselves as we are, are enough, that we are strong enough to protect ourselves, and support ourselves. That is what liberation means, and that is what pride means.
So tell me what community looks like.
This is what community looks like.
(repeated in call, and response)
Wi Spa Speech
(The following speech was originally planned to be read on the day but was not due to time constraints. Organisers have asked that it is included here anyway.)
Content Warning: fascism, physical injury, trans-exclusive radical feminists (TERF’s), transphobia, police violence.
Forty arrested! Two stabbed! The violence at Wi Spa in Los Angeles last month was an attack against the existence of queer and trans people. It began with a lie about a trans woman just being in a women’s changing room in a Koreatown spa that has always had strong ties to LA’s local queer communities.
Fascists and TERFs took to the streets arm in arm to chant 'Protect Real Women' and 'Protect The Children.' They called us paedophiles, and used biological essentialist rhetoric to demonise trans women’s existence. Counter-protests erupted across the city. The trans communities around Wi Spa took to the streets to defend themselves, and were met with violence from fascists and police alike. Pigs aimed rifles at protesters’ heads at point-blank range and enabled fascist militias as they attacked the counter-protesters. This is what led to the stabbings.
The rising fascist violence against queer people across the world has been ignored by the right-wing press’ propaganda machine. They’d have you believe that it exists inside a vacuum. We know that’s a lie! We’re living through the consequences of TERF propaganda, and the purposeful oppression of trans people, and our lack of housing, healthcare, safety, and freedom. Our queer communities have always had to fight, tooth and nail, to defend themselves, and now we must do so more than ever.
Wi Spa isn’t an isolated incident; it just reminds us why we fight for liberation, how decades of history and struggles and heartbreak have led us to where we are now. It’s led us to actions like this, where affinity groups of queer people continue organising radical actions for the sake of self-defence, for the sake of educating the next generation of queers. The queer affinity groups that defended Wi Spa in the face of fascist and state violence demonstrated their will to fight for their right to exist, and their right to survival. And we will continue to do the same, for the sake of everything that we love and support, a lot of which is around us today. We will defend ourselves because that is Pride. Pride is every instance of injustice being met with community support and with resistance.
Solidarity to the LA trans community, and any and every trans person across the world, fighting for and with Pride. I’m going to leave you all with a quote from Assata Shakur, and I want us to chant it so loud that they can hear us in LA. Repeat after me:
It is our duty to fight for our freedom!
It is our duty to win!
We must love and support each other!
We have nothing to lose but our chains!
*crowd loudly repeats*
Home Safe Speech
(This speech was made by a Kill The Bill activist at the rally)
Content warnings: police violence, sexual assault, murder, misogyny, queerphobia.
All the heavy shit you deal with as a feminine person in this society.
I went on my first ever night out recently and it’s an experience I don’t think I’ll ever forget. I have the most incredible friends and I had a great time.
But it’s not that which I remember the most.
What I remember most is feeling fear at the end of the night, the weight of which spanned entire generations in single breaths. I remember feeling fear that I know all women, misogyny-affected people, and queer people have been unified in at some point.
I remember that last hour of the night when I went from happily tipsy to more sober than I’ve felt before.
I remember getting to the stage of the night where you ask yourself, ‘Will everyone get home safely?’
This is a question that should never have to be asked. We should live in a society where we know everyone will get home safely. It shouldn’t even cross our minds.
Will everyone get home safely?
And after you run through flashbacks to your stolen childhood, the catcalls of your teenhood, the scars of oppression and you feel the weight of centuries of patriarchy on your shoulders. While you’re sitting below stinging bar lights, you ask yourself the next question.
What can I do to make sure everyone gets home safely?
Because you know that the alternative isn’t bearable. You know it would destroy you. You love these people, and you can’t let them get hurt.
This is your found family, the real family to whom you feel safe being out, and you need them to be OK more than you’ve ever needed anything before.
So far everyone with me has got home safely. Collectively, we’ve cared for each other, the way women and queers have been caring since the dawn of time.
But I still cried when I got into bed after my first night. But I still wept three times the next day. Because not everyone was with me. Because every night out for the rest of my life would be that way. Because even when you care for each other, you still wake up asking yourself if you could have done better, if next time you’ll need to do better.
I wanted to tell you this not just because I knew the crowd would relate, not just because I knew that my tears and my fears were one and the same with ones you have been and will continue to go through. But because I’ve been a part of the Kill The Bill movement since March, and because today is explicitly an anti-cop pride event, not one escorted by cops or organised in collaboration in the way corporate pride events are, but a grassroots anti-cop event.
Earlier this year, Sarah Everard was murdered by a police officer, and this story hit home for people across the country.
It hit home here in Brighton too, for me and many others.
And when we came out to mourn the police acted brutally, sparking much of the early support for the Kill The Bill Movement, and re-traumatising many of those who’d already had bad experiences with the police.
I’m telling you this because the lack of safety I feel on nights out as a feminine queer individual is directly linked with the fact that we can’t trust the police, that officers in daylight are just as dangerous to us as men at midnight.
I’m telling you this because when the first pride events happened it was as a response to police brutalising trans people, drag queens, gay people and every other member of our community, especially those of colour, who just wanted to socialise, who just wanted to fucking exist.
The police haven’t been our allies historically, they’re not our allies now, and when I try my best to get home safe and to protect those I love, it’s not the police who are my allies in doing so — it’s my fellow queers. I don’t want police at pride, I don’t want the police to have more powers, I don’t want the police to murder a single sister more, or to brutally police others.
I want to live in a society where the unity of the people, of queers, of women and of the oppressed gets us home safe.
A society wherein we support each other, and wherein a strong feminist movement crushes the oppression of cisheteropatriarchy with big sweeping changes.
If you can dream it, and if you think it would benefit us when we’re suddenly shocked sober in fear at lights up, I want to hear it.
I’m tired of hearing about solutions involving the same police who laugh off our hate crime reports. I want people-led, feminist solutions.
I want a justice system that fucking listens to survivors when we say I’m [REDACTED NAME], I’m [REDACTED AGE], and I was assaulted.
It is our collective care for each other that will make us safe. Dismantling patriarchy will make us safe, shattering cisheteronormativity will make us safe, destroying white supremacy will make us safe.
If we trust in each other and work for an abolitionist and feminist future, that is what will make us truly safe, not the false safety of policing.
Say it with me
(chant is lead five times)
Now, I can’t walk you all home later today just to know that you’re safe, and I can’t wait all night on texts from you all either. I’m sorry for that, if I could be there for every person in this crowd I truly truly would.
But I can give my voice to this movement, and hope to inspire you to do the same, so that one day you will be safe, your friends, siblings and children will be safe. So that one day we can live in a feminist and abolitionist future.
Because no one deserves to live in fear.
(This speech was made by a trans woman at the rally)
Content Warnings: transphobia, medical transition, GIC, autogynephilia, self-medication
Today I am going to be talking to you about the hideous way the NHS and medical system treats trans people in the UK. I am a trans woman who has been transitioning about eight years now. Seven years of that was spent trying to get adequate health care. I did what anyone else would do: I went to my GP and told them I wanted to see a gender specialist. I had been referred to Tavistock’s under 18’s clinic. I thought this was progress, but it was far from it. During my time at Tavistock, I was seen by two older men who I cannot remember the name of. They asked me lots of very personal questions about my sex life and masturbation habits. It goes without saying that you should never ask an actual child any of these questions. At the end of my time there they told me what I was feeling was probably just a sexual fetish whilst completely disregarding any feelings about dysphoria and discomfort in my own body. For those who are unaware, they were saying the only reason I wanted to transition was due to a sexual attraction to myself presenting as a woman. Not only was this incredibly insulting but it also shows the negligence and lack of understanding that these ‘professionals’ had.
After I was discharged from Tavistock under 18’s, I was told I would be sent directly to the over 18’s clinic. They had not passed my details on at all. It took me another year to realise I was not even put on the next waiting list. Three years of waiting later, I had heard nothing. Three years of waiting for a phone call that I knew would change my fucking life. Eventually, after a friend convinced me not to self-medicate, I kept pestering and phoning the Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) until they finally booked me in for an appointment. This was in February of this year. I still found them frustrating to deal with and very regressive in their thinking. When asking about one of my ex-partners I was asked “were they male or female.” After I said non-binary, they then said, ‘that’s a schoolboy error on my part.’ No shit.
I have highlighted some of the issues I have had with just the GIC. I could go on for hours explaining how the GIC and the NHS are both nearly impossible to navigate if you are a trans person. I haven’t even touched on non-binary or intersex people here, although I also believe I do not have the expertise to do so.
However, I still haven't touched on the fact that we shouldn't even require a GIC or gender clinics. Why the fuck are cis people making decisions about trans health care and trans people's bodies?
A study by YouGov commissioned by Stonewall in 2018 found 41% of trans people said that healthcare staff lacked understanding of specific trans health needs.
62% of people who have undergone any kind of medical intervention have not been satisfied with the waiting times. And just over 11% of trans people were buying hormones online.
This is hardline proof that the GIC and trans healthcare is not working. This is hardline proof that a simple reform of the healthcare system is not enough.
Trans liberation and trans equality starts with the abolition of the GIC and bullshit healthcare requirements.
These waiting lists are costing lives.
Waiting lists kill.
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