Why Pride in 2021 needs urgent support and allyship

Over the past year, amid the pandemic, official Pride events have had to move off the calendar. Rainbow flags have been absent from public life, as public life has diminished. Now, this Pride Month, many parades and protests will once again be cancelled or delayed, which raises the question: What can we do instead? Writer AMELIA ABRAHAM, author of We Can Do Better Than This: 35 Voices on the Future of LGBTQ + Rights, considers the urgent need for activism and allyship in the face of crucial issues faced by the global LGBTQ+ community


I’ve been thinking about the question of what can be done urgently for LGBTQ+ rights, not just as we enter Pride Month, but as a spate of awful headlines have been reporting on violence towards the global community recently. In Belgium, where I’ve been living, back in March, a man was murdered after reportedly being lured by catfishers on Grindr. In Iran, last month, a 20-year-old gay man was killed by his family in an honor killing related to his sexuality. And, in Cameroon, two trans women were recently arrested for “attempting homosexuality”, which criminalizes them with five-year prison sentences and erases their identities as trans women. These are just a few global stories. They are horrific and shocking, yes, but less surprising when you consider that, at the time of writing, 69 countries still criminalize homosexuality, while at least 13 United Nations member states still criminalize trans people.

Up until Covid hit, the numbers of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic hate crimes in the UK were steadily rising, with two thirds of LGBTQ+ people reporting that they don’t feel safe holding hands with a partner in public. In the first chapter of We Can Do Better Than This, contributors, such as Years & Years singer and It’s A Sin star Olly Alexander and UK Black Pride founder Lady Phyll, shine a light on these issues. Author Tom Rasmussen – also known as their drag alter ego, Crystal – argues that there is a huge gap between the acceptance of LGBTQ+ people in the law and media and the way that LGBTQ+ people are treated at street level – and especially those who don’t fit into conventional ideas of masculine or feminine. They recall the times they have been heckled and even violently attacked for appearing in drag in public. “I am glad I can be in drag on the cover of a magazine,” they write, “but what’s the point of that if I can’t even stand on the street looking the way I feel?”

The musician Shura echoes this, explaining that LGBTQ+ acts of affection seem to pose a particular risk – and remembering times she has been catcalled for kissing her girlfriend in public. She writes painfully accurately about the calculations queer people have to make on a day-to-day basis: “We’re not just saying, ‘Is it safe to kiss?’ or ‘Is it safe to hold his or her hand?’. What we are really wondering is, ‘Is it safe to be me?’”

According to ILGA World, a global organization that tracks LGBTQ+ rights, Covid-19 may have made things worse, officially stagnating legal progress when it comes to LGBTQ+ equality over the past year in Europe. In some places, our rights have been rolling backward, while our safety and security become more precarious. In Poland and Hungary, for instance, “there has been a resurgence of authorities and officials using LGBT people as scapegoats, while authoritarian regimes are empowered to isolate and legislate without due process,” says Evelyne Paradis, executive director of ILGA Europe. Due to Covid-19, LGBTQ+ homelessness has also significantly worsened, she adds, with those “who have become vulnerable to homelessness forced to move back into hostile family and community situations”. Meanwhile, says UK charity Opening Doors London, older LGBTQ+ people have found themselves increasingly isolated – perhaps less likely than their straight counterparts to have supportive family members or children as carers.

Buy, read, gift and regift queer books. Share positive stories about the LGBTQ+ community online and verbally. In a climate where trans and non-binary people are facing anti-trans rhetoric, celebrating their existence is a powerful act of resistance

For all of these reasons, Pride Month is more important than ever this year, which brings us back to the question: what can we as individuals do to contribute to the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, at such a crucial and uncertain time?

The first thing is uplifting LGBTQ+ voices. Particularly those we hear from less – like intersex, asexual and non-binary people, as well as queer people of color. Follow activists on Twitter. Buy, read, gift and regift queer books. Share positive stories about the LGBTQ+ community online and verbally. In a climate where trans and non-binary people are facing anti-trans rhetoric, celebrating their existence is a powerful act of resistance.

The second thing is supporting LGBTQ+ organizations, both on a local and international scale. Whether it’s donations of time, money or amplifying the cause, we can assist with whatever resources we have. From charities working on awareness, education and legislation, to those offering direct support to queer people experiencing stigma, violence, and those who have been forced to flee from places where they cannot live openly, there are so many that need assistance and backing to continue their vital work.

The third thing we can work on is education. Inclusive sex and relationship education is crucial when it comes to eradicating enduring stigma towards LGBTQ+ people. As well as lobbying for it to be part of school curriculums, we can start the job ourselves: with our kids, through the way we talk to them about sexuality and gender (inclusive books are helpful here) and with friends, colleagues and family members.

As the gay YouTuber and TV presenter Riyadh Khalaf explains in We Can Do Better, changing attitudes is the very first step to preventing violence, which is why it is important to correct other people, and yourself, when they use the wrong pronouns. “Language that is connected to identity or relationships is only words, yes, but those words are also verbal validations that are cherished by queer people.” This is part of being “outwardly vocal in our support,” he adds: “It’s one thing to tell someone queer you love them and will support them unconditionally, but it’s another to fight their corner when they aren’t even there. This can be done in many ways, from the kinds of causes we post about on social media, the charities we support, the news we actively make a point of understanding, the opportunities we turn down because we know a queer person would be better suited, and the bigotry we call out in day-to-day life.” We might be getting out of the house more these days, but allyship, he writes, starts at home.

Even if we are forced to cancel or delay official Pride, pride with a small “p” is not something that can be moved off the calendar. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t need an in-person event to celebrate or demonstrate, and we don’t need to commit things to a calendar either. We can campaign online, support one another remotely, and we need to do it all year round.

We Can Do Better Than This: 35 Voices on the Future of LGBTQ + Rights is available to buy now