The story of 50 years of pride in the UK through 50 pioneers
On July 1, 1972, around 2,000 people marched down Regent’s Street in London in the name of Gay Pride. Up to 40 members of the Gay Liberation Front had organized the protest, hoping it would serve as an antidote to widespread homosexual shame throughout the community. Same-sex sexual acts had only been decriminalized in England and Wales five years earlier, so the LGBTQ+ community was still grappling with the trauma it had suffered in previous decades. . “They were ashamed of their sexuality and their gender identity, so our counterpart to gay shame was Gay Pride,” Peter Tatchell – one of the organizers of that 1972 Pride – recently told GAY TIMES.
Prior to July 1, 1972, there had been many marches for LGBTQ+ rights across the UK, but this was the inaugural demonstration that would become part of the modern global Pride movement. While Pride is a highlight of the calendar for many LGBTQ+ people, when promoting the march in 1972, the GLF faced resistance from the community. “At the time, the vast majority of LGBTQ+ people were locked up, shamed and didn’t believe they were entitled to equal rights,” Peter told us, adding that gay customers outside of queer pubs were throwing at them. coins and beer bottles. “They said we were extremists, they said asking for equal rights for gay people would only bring public attention to us and lead to further oppression,” Peter explained. “Our point of view was that if we didn’t fight for our rights, we would continue to be persecuted and harassed forever.
Over the past 50 years, we have come a long way. Pride is now a massive annual event attended by millions of people around the world. In the UK, we have fought for and won many rights – from same-sex marriage, equal age of consent, gender recognition law and the right to adopt, to repeal of homophobic Section 28 which banned the teaching of LGBTQ+ experiences in schools in the 90s. We still have some very big battles to win, but it is undeniable that our community as a whole feels the strongest has ever been.
This unification of LGBTQ+ people and the victory of the rights we enjoy today is one of the greatest stories in British history of the last 50 years. In the face of adversity, discrimination and oppression, the LGBTQ+ community has persevered through the toughest times. This guide aims to tell some of that story through 50 LGBTQ+ pioneers who have positively impacted the lives of queer people in Britain over the past 50 years. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of the many LGBTQ+ people and organizations who have done remarkable things, but it does provide insight into the courage, kindness and community building that has helped shape positively about LGBTQ+ life in the UK as we know it. today.
We’ve listed 50 people and organizations in chronological order of the years they’ve been active in their careers to give a timeline of LGBTQ+ people who have helped create Pride’s history in the UK since the very first march in 1972 until our days .
Although his early work predates the modern Pride movement, the late Antony Gray was widely regarded as Britain’s first gay rights campaigner. The former British Iron and Steel Federation press officer began volunteering with the Homosexual Law Reform Society (HLRS) in 1958, which campaigned to change laws that criminalized homosexuals. Four years later, he became secretary of the HLRS and the Albany Trust, a charity to help homosexuals who developed psychological problems after being persecuted. Antony was also instrumental in forcing the government to pass the Sexual Offenses Act 1967, which laid the groundwork for modern law reform. In his years after 1972, he continued to fight passionately for LGBTQ+ rights, defy censorship, and became secretary of the Sexual Law Reform Society. After his death in 2010, fellow activist Andrew Lumsden credited Antony with paving the way for the Gay Liberation Front, Outrage!, Stonewall and the Campaign for Gay Equality. Former Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill hailed Antony as a “true hero for gay equality” and said the UK LGBTQ+ community “owes him a huge debt of gratitude”.
In the years leading up to the very first Pride march in the UK, Allan Horsfall was a tireless LGBTQ+ campaigner who was a key voice in the fight to decriminalize same-sex sexual acts in England and Wales in 1967. Throughout the 1970s, however, he was heavily involved and eventually led the campaign for gay equality. The organization grew massively and at its peak consisted of over 130 local groups across England and Wales. It is widely recognized as one of the largest member-driven LGBTQ+ organizations in the UK, having brought together over 5,000 lesbian and gay people. During the same decade, he also attempted to establish “Equire Clubs” — essentially working men’s clubs — for LGBTQ+ people, to create safe spaces for socializing and self-help facilities. He has been consistently recognized as one of the most important and influential figures in the modern LGBTQ+ movement in Britain, laying much of the foundation for the progress made after his time.
Model and trans trailblazer, April Ashley was one of the first known British people to undergo gender reassignment surgery. Undergoing surgery in 1960 after saving money working as a dragster in Paris, April then returned to the UK to pursue a modeling career. During this period, April enjoyed early success being photographed for British Vogue and opposite Joan Collins in the film Road to Hong Kong. However, it was not widely known that she was transgender and her career was cut short in 1961 when she was exposed by the Sunday People newspaper. This and a messy divorce that ultimately resulted in an annulment as the judge ruled that April was a “biological male”, thus rendering the marriage invalid, thus ending April’s career. From there April retreated to Hay-on-Wye and later to the US West Coast, only returning to the UK decades later in 2005 when she was legally recognized as a woman in the light of the law on gender recognition. April’s story has since been widely hailed for shedding light on the early prejudices faced by trans people in British society, discussing it in an interview towards the end of her life, April said: ‘It’ was a crazy and wonderful time. Why not enjoy it ? This has always been my philosophy.
A tireless and dedicated LGBTQ+ activist, Jackie Forster first made a name for herself as a minor actress before pursuing her true passion as a broadcast journalist. A hit with audiences at the time, she pioneered the direct-to-camera address and produced award-winning coverage, including of Grace Kelly’s wedding in Monte Carlo. A trip to Georgia in 1957 led to Jackie having her first lesbian encounter and realizing her true sexuality. After leaving a failed marriage, Forster returned to the UK and moved in with her girlfriend. Her life trajectory changed in 1969 when emboldened by the decriminalization of homosexuality in the UK two years earlier, she officially came out at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park, telling the assembled crowd: “You look a roaring dyke.” From there, her lesbian activism defined much of the gay rights movement; she joined the Campaign for Gay Equality, founded the Gay Liberation Front in 1970, took part in the first British Pride March in 1971 and founded the leading lesbian magazine, Sappho a year later. Today, Jackie is remembered as “Saint Jackie of the Lay Sisters Eternal Mission”, a true lesbian icon who fought hard for LGBTQ+ liberation.
In November 1970, while visiting the cinema to see the classic gay film The Boys In The Band, Ted Brown received a leaflet from a newly formed Gay Liberation Front in London. He attended the third GLF meeting and soon became part of the group that months later would organize the first ever Pride march to be held in the UK. Ted was one of the few black people present at the 2,000 person march that day, but his work would continue to have a positive impact on many. He would later be a powerful campaigner against homophobic and racist policing in the UK, leading the black section of Galop, as well as working for Lewisham Action on Policing. He also founded Black Lesbians and Gays Against Media Homophobia; an organization that challenged and called out media headlines that at the time regularly carried anti-LGBTQ+ and racist reporting in the UK brimming with misinformation and discrimination. He continues to be a strong advocate for the big issues the LGBTQ+ community still faces today, including speaking out against the horrific treatment of trans people by the UK press in recent years.