Last month, I accompanied PGN Publisher Mark Segal on a trip to the U.K. hosted by Shea Coffey at Medway Pride Radio. Getting to know Medway (35 miles east of London) and its community was a true joy, and the experience was a reminder that we need to bring the message of Pride to people all year long, not just in June. We need to remind people how our community was built and the platform it stands on today. And we need to be honest about the biases we combat both inside our ranks and out.
The trip left me with a few additional insights about the realities LGBTQ people face and how similar they are from country to country.
LGBTQ people are used as political bait worldwide
Just as the U.S. LGBTQ community is being used as a political wedge issue by our Republican party, the same can be said for the U.K.’s LGBTQ community being used by its conservative party. In the race to see which conservative member of parliament will replace disgraced Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Penny Mordant (who was recently eliminated as a candidate) had to backtrack on the trans-inclusive views she held in years past. She’d previously said that trans men are men and trans women are women, but in a recent radio interview, she did a full floor routine of verbal gymnastics to try and distance herself from those pro-trans statements. It’s unfortunate, yet not surprising she felt the need to do that, considering that the trans community in the U.K. is under as much scrutiny and discrimination as in the U.S. The anti-trans rhetoric in both countries is deafening.
Many queer bookstores are thriving
Our community owes a lot to our bookstores. Many of us first learned about the LGBTQ community from walking into a queer bookstore and picking up a book or talking to the staff. Like their mainstream brethren, the rise of online booksellers killed off many queer bookstores. Some, including Giovanni’s Room, survived with major adjustments. But after a few precarious years during Covid, our bookstores, at least in the U.K., look to be thriving. Gay’s The Word in London was packed on the Thursday afternoon we stopped by. And in Manchester, Queer Lit, which opened its physical space last year, has become a cornerstone of its neighborhood. Both London and Manchester have huge queer populations, and it was heartwarming to see them supporting their local bookstores.
Living your truth uplifts everybody
During the trip, PGN Publisher Mark Segal spoke to several groups about his role at Stonewall and in Gay Liberation Front, along with his efforts to make LGBTQ people visible in the media. His stories of storming the set of the CBS Evening News and working to develop a LGBT senior living facility drew applause from union members, businesspeople, young people and older people. After an event in Medway, one young person in attendance told Segal that he had inspired them to come out.
You’re never too young to be an activist
At that same event, Segal presented an award to a middle school student who was recognized by his school for furthering equality in the community. Activism is important at any age, but especially now, with “Don’t Say Gay” laws throwing LGBTQ teachers and students into tumult, it’s crucial for young people to take care of one another, stand up for equality and call out bigotry.
Similar to how the members of Gay Liberation Front had to take care of their own and fight for their community, so too do students have to take care of one another. Now that teachers in some states can get fired for mentioning their same-sex spouses or even just saying “it’s okay” to a student questioning their sexuality or gender identity, it’s up to the students to uplift their classmates who might feel silenced.
It’s never too late, or too early, to stand up for others. Equality has no age limit.
Local pride celebrations matter as much as the big cities’
On August 20, Medway is having its Pride celebration at Rochester Castle, which features a beautiful 12th-century keep and a large open space that seems perfect for people to show their colors. Hilary Cooke and the Medway Pride organizers, just like those from New Hope, Lehigh Valley, and throughout Pennsylvania, understand that regional Pride celebrations provide space for people outside of big cities to come together.
Local Pride celebrations let those who can’t attend larger cities’ festivals the chance to experience Pride. They remind local communities and, importantly, local politicians, that LGBTQ people are in every municipality and their voice matters. They also remind people that they can be proud of where they live. Medway has a fascinating and lengthy LGBTQ history, including what’s thought to be the oldest continuously running gay pub in the world. Medway also has a vibrant LGBTQ community living there today and making worthwhile contributions.
LGBTQ people should never feel forced to live in urban areas. There are thriving communities in suburban and rural areas. Medway, its community, and its Pride celebration, remind us of that.