Last Saturday I marched through central London as part of World Pride 2012. I was with friends as part of the Families Together London group, helping boost their numbers and generally pointing my camera around the place. (I’m not directly associated with FTL but they do good work.)
For me Pride is about visibility above all. Visibility for the marchers and their causes, of course, and also visibility for the faces in the crowd. And it’s an amazing crowd, all the way from Baker Street to Whitehall: smiles, cheers, clapping, cameras. Families of all kinds and ages. Tourists and locals. Straight people and GLBT.
Visibility for straight people in the crowd at a pride march might seem an odd concept. But it’s a kind of solidarity. Sure, you’ll get a small fraction of homophobes waving their prejudices, and a chunk expecting some kind of freak show. They’re not worth getting too worked up about as long as they’re not causing any trouble — it’s a free country, for small values of free. The vast majority of the straight people in the crowd are supportive, and happy to be seen to be supportive. That form of visibility is unquestionably a good thing, equally as good and important as the visibility of GLBT marchers.
But what struck me while marching, as it did at my last Pride two years ago (I was unwell in 2011), was the number of gay couples in the crowd. They were lined along almost the entire route: holding hands, or with arms around each other in every configuration, or just being together. No worried glances around, concerned about the reactions of others. Simply couples and families in the crowd, alongside and no different to other couples, other families. Being visible.
Prejudice evaporates by pressure of numbers, because bigots are bullies, and bullies are cowards, and cowards shrink and fold and crumble when outnumbered.
And prejudice evaporates by familiarity, because people fear the unfamiliar, the different. Visibility shows that GLBT people are not that unfamiliar, and not that different.
And this is one of the reasons why (cue the inevitable plug) my own stories include strong gay characters: for visibility. That doesn’t mean my stories are written exclusively for a gay audience, although some aspects of a story might resonate more with gay readers.
Sometimes, as in Till Undeath Do Us Part, the sexuality of the characters is almost entirely irrelevant to the story. In my next book, The Pink and the Grey, the sexuality of the characters is more to the fore — though not in an X-rated way. Events centre mostly around a fictional Cambridge college, St Paul’s, slap bang in the middle of the city and very much the gay college — just as the real Newnham College is a women’s college. But the core of the plot isn’t about sexuality. It’s just the backdrop upon which the action takes place.
Which is a bit like Pride, I suppose. And like Pride, St Paul’s is a bit short of cash…