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Why lesbians and trans people marched in solidarity at Pride In London

Following last year’s anti-trans protest, multiple organisations pulled out the stops to show that trans people are welcome at Pride in London

This year, at Pride In London, the debate around brands’ involvement in the parade seemed to reach critical mass, as an alternative, anti-capitalist Pride formed. Within the city’s biggest ever Pride, which attracted a crowd of an estimated 1.5 million people and was awash with logos for the likes of Barry’s Bootcamp, Google, and most major UK banks, queer people felt that the message of Pride has become diluted by corporate co-option and brands looking to pinkwash their image

These people gathered in Park Square Gardens, and were made up of a bunch of grassroots organisations including African Rainbow Family, Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, Queer AF, Outside Project and Voices4 held an anti-corporate gathering, where political speeches sought to put the protest back in Pride. After the speeches, the groups marched peacefully behind the main parade shouting: “We’re here! We’re queer! We are not going shopping!” only to be temporarily blocked off by police and held from marching. 

Amongst all of this anti-corporate organising, there was another equally vital counter protest going on. Multiple collectives decided to make a stand against last year’s attack on Pride by anti-trans protesters – a small group of women who identified themselves as lesbians and stormed the front of the parade with the message that trans people are not welcome. The main event’s organisers condemned the message, but the damage was done, trans people have said that it made them feel unsafe at Pride. When London Trans and Intersex Pride was recently announced, the organisers admitted that it is, in part, a response to the 2018 anti-trans protest, and a feeling that Pride overall is too cis-centric. 

While London Trans and Intersex Pride is undoubtedly a good thing (the more spaces the better), this year it felt important to let trans people know that they are welcome at Pride In London – which is why the event was awash with lesbians and cis women wearing T-shirts and carrying signs with slogans such as; “I learned what I know about true feminism from the trans women in my life,” and “Not gay as in happy, queer as in fuck TERFs”.

Artist and activist Kat Hudson and dozens of other people marched under the banner “Lesbians For Trans Rights.” Hudson explained why it was important for her to make a stand: “Anyone is welcome to join the movement, even if they don’t identify as lesbians, but as a cis woman and a lesbian, being spoken for like that last year by those women spreading hate speech felt like a violation. My friends and I felt strongly that we needed to raise our voices and never let them speak like that for us again. I know how many of us there are and I know we can drown them out ten times over when we come together.” 

In an emotional speech at the alternative gathering in Park Square Gardens, Hudson told the crowd: “To our trans family I would just like to say that we are sorry. We are sorry that it took what happened last year to spark our trans rights march here today. We are sorry that you have been on the front line fighting for trans rights for so long without feeling all of us here by your side every step of the way.”

Within the official parade, at the front, Dykes on Bikes® London made their debut. “In a climate of increased transphobia, homophobia and lesbian erasure, we stand proud of our Dyke identity and ongoing support of all LGBTQI communities and are grateful for their support in return,” they said in a statement. “Several of our riders identify as Trans dykes and we have proudly waved the Trans flag alongside the Lesbian and Pride flags and the flag of our charity of the year the Outside Project to raise awareness and show London our inclusive stance.”

Elsewhere in the main parade, an activist group called #LwiththeT marched in solidarity with trans rights by carrying placards of the names of trans people who have recently been murdered (four trans women were killed in America during Pride month alone), pictures of Marsha P. Johnson and banners that said “trans folks, sex workers and people of colour started Pride”. Jules Guaitamacchi, one of the people involved, explained: “We are a queer, trans, lesbian, all-inclusive campaign created in Brighton in direct response to when anti-trans lesbians hijacked the front of the London Pride parade in 2018.” 

Guaitamacchi continued: “All of a sudden last year, the world had a snapshot of what the trans community have been experiencing consistently in terms of online abuse and anti-trans articles in the media. It seems that the trans community as a minority have little power and so it’s important that allies take a stand in the face of discrimination. We decided the best way to fight against hate was with love.” #LwiththeT has since evolved and become a solidarity campaign inclusive of other messages and campaigns, such as #nomorewhiteignorance.

Emma Frankland, a trans woman who is a member of #LwiththeT added: “Sadly there is a current climate of misinformation and fear of trans people being spread by the media in the UK, which leads to an assumption that a person’s default stance will be anti-trans.” Frankland explains that visible and active allyship is hugely important as it sends a clear message that these opinions are not a default, that they are a minority view, but believes this needs to happen on an individual level, too: “Actions like clearly stating that trans women are welcome to events, sharing pronouns and speaking out against transphobia are all excellent and easy ways for cis allies to make a big difference.”

On Friday, a small group of anti-trans protesters reportedly gathered outside LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall’s young people conference shouting anti-trans rhetoric, but thankfully there was no such demo at Pride on Saturday, the organisers of Pride In London having stepped up security after last year’s breach. In the case that there would be another anti-trans protest, an ABC guide to how to deal with TERFs circulated on Twitter before Pride via activist Nim Ralph, as well as at Pride itself via pamphlets circulated by a group led by TPOC. The advice read: “Alert people. Block them from view. (Give them the) Cold shoulder.”

“This year I was invited to march in a solidarity block as an activist and trans person of colour with the likes of Para Pride and UK Black Pride,” explains Nim. “Given everything that’s happened in the last year since the transphobic lesbians stormed the 2018 Pride in London march – which has culminated in an 81% rise in transphobic hate crimes – it felt important that the LGBQ+ community showed up to make this year’s Pride all about their solidarity with trans folks.” 

However, Nim adds, we must remember how many trans people attended the event, even in the face of hatred: “I’m so grateful that there has been so much media coverage on the solidarity displayed for the trans community, but it’s almost as if you wouldn’t know any trans people were there. That touches on the fundamental work there still is to do around Pride: centring it on the people facing the sharp end of hostility and oppression in our communities; queer people trapped in the hostile immigration system, trans people – especially trans women and trans people of colour, disabled queer people and homeless queer people,” says Nim. “Pride should not just be tolerant of us joining the march, and not just inclusive of us – it should be led by us, as it was during Stonewall 50 years ago.”