I ONCE bit a policeman’s leg. It was the only way I could break his grip on my long, auburn locks. This was at London’s third LGBT march in 1974 – and it was much more of an angry rally than a celebration.
We mobilised to show establishment thugs it was not okay to intimidate and brutalise gays and that we were no longer prepared to take persecution lying down.
But lying down is precisely what we did. The authorities had agreed a march route with organisers but suddenly a large contingent of hostile plods decided to divert the 900 or so protesters down a side road.
We were having none of it and lay down in the road. And that’s when I was seized by the hair by one of the constables who moved in to break up our demo.
Vivid memories of that rally came back to me when my diary flagged up the fact that Benidorm is to host its eighth Pride from September 2 – 8.
An enormous rush of satisfaction came over me when I recalled how liberating it was, in those early days, to stand up – nay, lie down – and chant “we shall not be moved!”
We were angry, and had a great deal to be angry about. In those days police harassment was endemic, and it was still fresh in many older protesters’ minds that one of Britain’s greatest geniuses, Alan Turing, the gay computer expert who played a pivotal role in enabling the Allies to defeat the Nazis in many crucial engagements, had been prosecuted for homosexuality in 1952.
He accepted chemical castration rather than face prison, and died of cyanide poisoning in 1954 aged 41. An inquest found he’d committed suicide.
In 2009, following an Internet campaign, then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an official public apology on behalf of the British government for “the appalling way he was treated”. The Queen granted him a posthumous pardon in 2013.
Turing was one of thousand whose lives were blighted by stupid and inhumane legislation, and, even after the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 decriminalised homosexuality, the UK authorities – egged on by religious hate-mongers like the ghastly Mary Whitehouse and neo-fascist groups – persisted with their intimidation well into the 1980s. Ironically, this ghastly woman’s antics inspired the formation of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association.
But then a sea-change occurred that saw LGBT rights in the UK improve with astonishing speed. This welcome progress culminated with the introduction of same-sex marriage in 2014.
The change in Spain was even more dramatic. The country rapidly became a world leader in gay rights after decades of Franco’s rule, which saw sexual minorities imprisoned or even killed. The legendary poet Garcia Lorca was one of many who were murdered.
But when the Franco era mercifully ended in 1978 the country embraced liberalisation with a passion that left right-wing primitives reeling.
In 1979 Madrid’s staged its first Gay Pride march, and in 2005, Spain became one of the first countries in the world to legalise same-sex marriage. In 2007 it was hailed as having the most advanced LGBT rights on the planet.
In the same year, EuroPride was held in Madrid, and welcomed more than 2.5 million people over the course of one week. This year Madrid hosted World Pride, which attracted even greater numbers to the city.
I am immensely proud to have been in the vanguard of a movement that, back in the 70s, drew a line in the sand and said “enough is enough!”
But, as we blow whistles, wave rainbow flags, bang tambourines and dance in the streets, let’s pause to consider the plight of those living in places where being gay remains a criminal offence – 74 countries in total. It’s an appalling fact that 12 of them have the death penalty for homosexuality.
If these countries are in receipt of Western foreign aid – and many are –- then we should immediately cut off all financial assistance to them until they learn that LGBT rights are an integral part of human rights.