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Pride and Parliament: What does Pride Month mean for members of the gayest Parliament in the world?

The UK Parliament has 46 out LGBT+ MPs. Pride Month runs throughout June | Alamy

7 min read

Pride Month looks different in the pandemic, whether it’s seen as a protest, a celebration or both. But what does Pride mean to some of the UK’s out LGBT+ parliamentarians? Luke Pollard, Baroness Barker, David Mundell and Hannah Bardell share their reflections

Luke Pollard, Labour and Co-operative MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport and shadow environment secretary

Pride is a protest. But it can be a fabulous one. Pride month is a time when corporations splash rainbows and glitter on their logo. It sometimes feels like a shameless grab for the pink pound with high street banks, government departments, shops and mobile phone brands all embracing the LGBT+ theme for a month. It often makes me feel uneasy. 

As a gay man, I’m not just a market to be targeted with faux equality messages to drive additional sales. I want to see these organisations embrace LGBT+ equality all year round. 

That means having workplace policies that support diversity and embrace equality. It means having LGBT+ voices not just on marketing materials but in leadership roles, front and centre all year round, not just in a single month. It means doing more to address workplace discrimination than buying rainbow T-shirts for parades. 

Corporate rainbows may be shallow and lazy marketing, but it is a million miles from the world I grew up in

In being cautious about this newly found love of all things LGBT+ I did stop and pause. As a young, spotty, awkward, closeted teenager in the early 90s, there weren’t many out role models for me. If I had seen rainbows in every shopping centre, banks embracing equality and big brands telling me it gets better, would I have come out earlier? Would I have embraced who I was, rather than spent so long hoping I wasn’t gay? 

Corporate rainbows may be shallow and lazy marketing, but it is a million miles from the world I grew up in. And perhaps they’ve helped young LGBT+ folk to be themselves and feel happier with who they are. 

Visibility matters: in Pride month, rainbows are aplenty. Let’s just make sure equality isn’t locked into a single month and is something we truly embrace all year round. 

Baroness Barker, Liberal Democrat peer and Lords voluntary sector spokesperson

When I was growing up, Pride was another world; one which did not include me. It happened away in America and London and, judging by the news coverage, involved only people whose employers – unusually – did not mind, and drag queens. 

When I moved to the city, with Bronski Beat’s Smalltown Boy as a soundtrack, I joined a small but growing number of young people who, for one day only, dared to be visibly different. I did not fear the police and danced along with the floats of the only corporate sponsors of Pride – gay bars.  

Two things caused the community’s growing confidence to stall – HIV/Aids and the Conservative government’s introduction of Section 28. But with I Will Survive ringing in our ears, and Peter Tatchell leading the fight, the Terrence Higgins Trust and Stonewall became anchor points for our resilience, with Pride our annual boost.

Every year, more community groups, professional organisations, trade unions, and businesses began to get involved and the marchers became more diverse, with older people from the charity Opening Doors (which supports LGBT+ people over 50) and people of colour celebrating their heritage and their sexuality.

Today, Pride is scouts marching in six-inch heels (that deserves a badge)

The serious purpose of campaigning for legal equality continued year-round in communities all over the UK. Each Pride became a festive event at which we celebrated steps towards equality and gave hope to LGBT+ people living in countries where oppression and criminalisation are the everyday reality. 

Today, Pride is scouts marching in six-inch heels (that deserves a badge), lesbian drummers, bi bankers, gay rugby players, trans teachers and people from around the world belting out Born This Way

The news images are stuck in 70s’ stereotypes but we know the true essence of Pride is building a world in which difference is cherished and everyone is safe to be themselves.

Happy Pride, wherever you are.

Hannah Bardell, SNP MP for Livingston and consular affairs spokesperson 

Happy Pride month to my fellow LGBTQI+ community members and allies! Pride month is supposed to be a celebration of how far we have come in recognising, celebrating and promoting the human rights of the LGBTQI+ community, but it’s also vital that we still see it, and celebrate it, as a protest. 

The fight for true equality for all in our LGBTQI+ community both at home and abroad is far from over. 

Before the colourful, joyous celebrations we know them as today, Pride marches originated as protests predominantly by people of colour against police and government oppression of the gay and lesbian communities. Trans and non-binary people were also at the heart of those protests, something we should never lose sight of as they fight for their rights today.

Section 28 was a law passed under the Thatcher government that prohibited the “promotion of sexuality” and was hugely damaging to attitudes to the LGBTQI+ community and rights in the UK. I started school the year that law passed and, like many, lived with the grim reality of it through my school years and beyond.

Trans and non-binary people were also at the heart of those protests, something we should never lose sight of as they fight for their rights today

The media’s vicious rhetoric at the time of the Aids epidemic also had devastating implications for the gay community. Sadly, these attitudes have prevailed to some extent and there is still work to do to undo the stigma. 

While visibility and allyship of the LGBTQI+ communities is essential and largely positive, corporations now verge on commercialising the month for profit. Corporate gestures of “support” in the form of Pride-themed products or Instagram posts are meaningless without substantive action from the company, whether this be through genuinely inclusive employment practices or choosing not to engage with countries that persecute members of the community. 

So while we are celebrating Pride month for ourselves or our LGBTQI+ friends and family, let’s not forget the true origins of Pride and remind ourselves of the vital work that LGBTQI+ charities and organisations do for our community. Now more than ever, they need our support. 

David Mundell, Conservative MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

For me, Pride month is an opportunity to reflect on how very lucky I am, because my own experience since coming out has been overwhelmingly positive, with the benefit of a loving family, great friends and a supportive work environment. 

Only one constituent has raised my coming out negatively with me face-to face on the doorstep and I’ve never yet experienced verbal abuse, but of course there is a well of poison on social media. 

Homophobia is part of that and sometimes directed at me. What happens now on social media is a wider problem in our society, and while I don’t even read most of what is said about me, it is important, at times, to push back. 

Despite our record numbers of LGBT+ MPs, there are some who have chosen not to come out

Sadly, my own overwhelmingly positive experience is not the case for everyone who comes out in our country and why, for many, the decision to do so is still such a hard one. I know that other MPs have faced abuse and hardship as a result of their identity and, indeed, despite our record numbers of LGBT+ MPs, there are some who have chosen not to come out.

It is always a personal decision and there is no one approach or right answer as to how to do it. Everyone must do what is right for them. What is not acceptable is that people feel unable to come out because of fear of abuse or discrimination, and parliamentarians have a duty to ensure sexuality is never a barrier. 

So, while Pride month is a time to celebrate what has been achieved, it is also a time to ensure we continue to move forward on LGBT+ issues and give our support to those who need it. 

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