It might not seem like it, given the sheer volume of #loveislove slogans and rainbow icons splattered all over your timeline, inbox and local high street, but Pride 2019 has got off to a pretty horrific start, with the first week and a half of June marred by a variety of homophobic and transphobic news stories.
Last Friday, news broke of Melania Geymonat and her girlfriend Chris' ordeal as they were beaten and robbed on the top deck of a London bus after they refused to kiss each other at the behest of their male attackers. The assault left the couple covered in blood with one of them unconscious, while widespread reporting of the story left many in the LGBTQ+ community shaken, not least because most media outlets used a photo of the visibly distressed couple covered in blood in the aftermath of their assault. The widely circulated image was a disturbing reminder of the danger queer people face simply for showing affection in public.
As Refinery29's social media editor, Sadhbh O'Sullivan puts it: "It was horrible to see that photo of the bloodied couple repeatedly on Twitter from well-meaning people. It felt quite thoughtless because me, other lesbians and queer women found it, understandably, deeply upsetting to see over and over, but people didn't seem to realise how triggering it could be."
Many would like to believe that violent incidents like this are few and far between in an ostensibly progressive country like ours, but the very next day brought reports of another assault, this time on Lucy Jane Parkinson and Rebecca Banatvala, who were verbally abused and pelted with stones while on their way to perform in LGBTQ+ play Rotterdam at Nuffield Southampton Theatres. Two performances of the play were cancelled as a result, with the theatre issuing a statement saying that they are "devastated that this kind of behaviour is still so prevalent, a fact which reinforces the importance of this play’s message."
Over the weekend it also emerged that children’s charity the NSPCC unceremoniously severed ties with its first ever LGBTQ+ campaigner, the trans model and activist Munroe Bergdorf, after Times journalist Janice Turner, who has often been accused of transphobia, urged people via Twitter to cancel their direct debits to the charity if it didn’t stop working with Bergdorf.
I'm so sad to be writing this. Yesterday a Times journalist @victoriapeckham decided to launch a transphobic hate campaign on Twitter, calling me a 'Porn Model' & suggesting that if @NSPCC didn't stop working with me they would be urging people to cancel their direct debits. pic.twitter.com/6kXT3cBMLw— ＭＵＮＲＯＥ 🌹🌹 (@MunroeBergdorf) June 8, 2019
Bergdorf has said that her role with the charity was unpaid, that she was shocked that it severed ties without speaking to her first and that she is "unbelievably sad" that it has bowed to pressure from transphobes.
Despite being heavily criticised for its decision, the NSPCC is still using rainbow logos on social media, and is just one of a whole host of organisations demonstrating such blatant hypocrisy.
The Home Office and British Airways (whose planes the former uses) have also come under fire for jumping on the rainbow-coloured bandwagon despite being responsible for deporting LGBTQ+ people to countries in which they are in danger of being tortured or imprisoned for expressing their sexuality or gender identity, as was almost the case last week with Kenyan rugby player Ken Macharia, who detailed in The Guardian the kind of discrimination he would face in the country of his birth.
All of this takes place while protests against inclusive sex education continue outside schools in Birmingham, and during a Tory leadership contest in which several candidates have at best shown a complete lack of interest in championing LGBTQ+ rights and at worst been unapologetically homophobic, with Dominic Raab declaring that he definitely does not want to make it easier for somebody to change their gender and Esther McVey stating that parents should be allowed to take their children out of inclusive sex education lessons.
It’s not just our country that should be ashamed of how Pride month is panning out. As much as I am loath to give them any more of the attention that they desperately crave, last week it emerged that a group of dudebros in Boston have applied to the city government for permission to hold a Straight Pride march, with one of the organisers quoted as claiming: "Straight people are an oppressed majority. We will fight for the right of straights everywhere to express pride in themselves without fear of judgement and hate."
Meanwhile, trans women in the US continue to face despicable violence, with four trans women – Chynal Lindsey, Johana Medina Leon, Chanel Scurlock and Layleen Polanco – having been murdered or found dead already this month. All four of these women were under 30 years old, three of them were trans women of colour and two died while being detained.
These are of course only the stories that have made the news. Elsewhere more incidents will have gone unprosecuted and unreported. As a queer person, it is deeply upsetting that a month which is supposed to be about celebrating our community is being tarnished by a relentless cycle of grim stories showing just how hostile the world still is towards us. Yet I’d like to think that there is also an upside to it.
It’s easy to become complacent about LGBTQ+ rights in a country which has had equal marriage for five years, currently has 45 lesbian, gay or bisexual MPs, and where the capital city’s Pride parade is attended by a million people and sponsored by the likes of Amazon, Barclays and Facebook. It’s also difficult to get enthusiastic about Pride month now that it is synonymous with corporate posturing and pinkwashing. But stories like the ones we’ve seen in recent weeks remind us that we can never get complacent about eradicating homophobia and transphobia from our society. No matter how hard they are to hear or read, I hope all these stories serve as a reminder of exactly why we need Pride in the first place.