OPINION: Pride and LGBT+ rights – is it time for a change of ownership?

by Steve Wardlaw | Emerald Life
Friday, 5 July 2019 08:35 GMT

A participant takes part in the annual Pride in London parade, in London, Britain July 7, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As a white gay man, I think white gay men should take a step back … just a little

Steve Wardlaw is chairman and founder of Emerald Life, an insurance company

There is plenty to celebrate around Pride and particularly this year as we mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York.

Over the past few years, we have seen a reassessment as we remember the trans women and people of colour who led from the front on that night maybe because, being economically and socially less empowered, they had less to lose. We see a lot more talk of Marsha P Johnson now, for example, than we did 20 years ago. We also talk more (but not enough) about the lesbians who rallied around as friends, carers and advocates in the early days of the AIDS crisis but who were then forgotten.

Visibility, or more accurately invisibility, has become an issue

And what of Pride in London itself? It’s an institution, it has history, it is the most visible Pride in the UK. And yet, each year we have the discussion of what is Pride for? Is it designed to be a celebration? In part, yes.

It is important to celebrate how far we have come, even while we look ahead to further struggle. At the same time, many of our trans and BAME friends and colleagues aren’t seeing the victories that white gay men see in their everyday life, with their lives celebrated by their friends and employers.

Is Pride in London really for everyone? If it is, why do we have Trans Pride in Brighton and UK Black Pride in London as separate events? And even our discussions are predicated around Pride in London being the model. Pride in London is often being accused of being over-commercialised, yet it is important to note that UK Black Pride has one corporate sponsor. One.

And what about HIV education? For a long time there was a focus on the (then) largest at-risk group, gay men. Although the efforts were made to target everyone in that group, education mainly reached white gay men, who were quicker to get the message and form their own leadership within the fight for a cure.

Today, the picture is different.

The UK has reached the UN’s 90/90/90 target (the percentage of people in the UK diagnosed/on treatment/responding to treatment) two years early. The message of testing, PrEP and safer behaviour has been heard by (mainly white) gay men, but we have seen increased infection rates among the BAME community. This may be because those now most at risk don’t seem themselves reflected in the leaders of that HIV sector, or its message.

It is not to denigrate the efforts of white gay men. Not at all. But within the hierarchy of privilege, there needs to be an understanding that white men tend to rise to the top. But with this privilege comes responsibility and we should regularly assess if the current leadership structure remains the right answer for today.

To be clear, in no way is this a suggestion that white gay men excuse themselves completely, nor to seem ungrateful for the work they have done. But an over-visibility of one part of the LGBT+ community is looking increasingly dated (and I say that as a white gay man myself).

The struggle for equality is often the struggle for visibility. White gay men often led the push for visibility as in many ways they were (in their time) perceived as a “more acceptable” part of the community than, say, trans people of colour.

But the world has changed.

The struggle for visibility has moved to our trans, non-binary or gender-nonconforming friends, and BAME members of the LGBT+ community.

Running for office in 1977, Harvey Milk said that it’s not enough to have allies leading; we need to see ourselves leading, to see leaders in order to believe that we can lead.

“We must be judged by our leaders….those who are visible,” he said.

The LGBT+ community will only be stronger with a more diverse leadership. If we want visibility for, say, our trans and BAME colleagues then we need to stand alongside them, and then stand behind them as they step forward to positions of leadership that will finally reflect the diversity of the LGBT+ community.