Fatal homophobic attacks, ‘Don’t say gay’ bills and pro-conversion therapy groups. You might think we’ve taken a deep-dive into the history books, but this is very much the here and now. It’s a spine-shivering reminder that whilst we’ve come a long way in LGBTQ+ history, the fight for equality is only just beginning – and we’re certainly not hanging up our gloves until real change is made.
We only had to paint a set of steps in rainbow colours during Pride 2020 for hate to rear its nasty head. Tutting passers-by appeared to have no qualms being the face of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, with remarks such as “What a waste of time and money”. It echoed the behaviour seen nationwide during the pandemic, where hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community soared to alarming levels.
So in a time when gay marriage has been legalised and same-sex couples are seemingly widely accepted in society, why do LGBTQ+ people still face marginalisation and repression? And the bigger question – what do we do about it?
Looking at the event’s history, it’s clear to see how far we have come. What started as protesters taking to the streets illegally in the 70s to fight for their freedom is now the Pride we see today – a diverse, inclusive and colourful celebration that promotes visibility, unity and equality. More and more people and an increasing number of brands are flying the rainbow flag for gay rights.
Amazing, right? Well, largely yes, but whilst the renowned rainbow provides a universally accessible way to show support and allyship, it does little to tell the history of the LGBTQ+ movement – and the work that’s left to do today. It means serious messages are being lost and over-commercialisation has made Pride just another ‘date for the diary’.
We decided to sponsor the event with one mission in mind – to make real change. Our first bold step? To remove the rainbow and present the facts in black and white, unearthing everything from the heavy discrimination faced by trans people to speeches about women’s rights. Next, we looked to pop culture references and humour in a bid to poke the haters where it hurts.
We took words and phrases that are often used against the LGBTQ+ community and spun them on their heads. “Gay is good” and “Here because we’re Queer” were now ours to own.
Taking back words like "Gay" and "Queer" is a tactic Pride activists have used brilliantly over the years. More recently Coca-cola and Fanta harnessed creativity and the support of the LGBTQ+ community to reclaim a specific phrase in Brazil - the results can be seen here:
Our entire campaign channelled the activist spirit from the London Marches in 1972, borrowing original campaign slogans and even typefaces from placards. By rediscovering Pride’s roots, we brought back the core messages that had become lost amongst a sea of colour.
We needed to challenge people’s misconceptions, to silence anyone who questions “Do we really need Pride?” and to stick two fingers up to those who ask “Blimey, do they still have to go on about it?”. With the conversations started, it was time to deploy the rainbow again - but this time we'd be using it tactically.
We knew when we painted the rainbow steps, a chorus of disgruntled chatter would spring up IRL and online, it happened to the team painting the steps in 2019, making 2022 their second 'outing'. So we did what we had to do, and upped and ante with a huge banner saying "Walk this gay" proudly displayed along the railings.
Because we'd used flowing 70's psychedelica inspired fonts - we could be bolder and more upfront without appearing aggressive.
Mantra will continue to work with Pride to challenge the way we promote change. Because if we become complacent, we risk sleepwalking backwards. After all, we’ve all seen how years of progression doesn’t always continue in an upward curve and can be overturned in a heartbeat. Take the decline of women’s rights in the US. The amendment to Roe vs Wade has seen the same anti-abortion movement redirect their attention to fund operations in the UK, Europe and Africa.
And whilst the Conservative government passed a bill outlawing conversion therapy on gay people, it still allows conversion therapy (which can involve electric shock therapy) to be used on trans people – implying they are unwell or confused.
It’s time to create a safe world, not just safe spaces. So as well as continuing to march in the face of the haters, let’s immerse ourselves in the LGBTQ+ history – looking past the glitter– so we can help shape the future. Let’s educate ourselves with the challenges that are still being faced in the community and the obstacles still stand in the way of true equality. Then together, let’s take action.
Pride is for everyone. It has stuck up for a number of causes historically – and won’t stop doing so. The more we unite against hate and discrimination, the more we accept people for who they are and the more we raise awareness, the closer we get to a place where everyone can love freely and be whoever they want to be. It’s a basic human right which, let’s be honest, is no big ask.
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