Why we still need Pride: ‘I was fired and evicted for being gay’

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Watch now: Author and campaigner Damian Barr on why we still need Pride

Yahoo! is the official headline sponsor of Brighton & Hove Pride this year. Damian Barr is a Brighton resident, long-standing supporter of Pride and well-known LGBTQ+ campaigner. See his powerful column below.

Right now, it’s the best of times and worst of times to be LGBTQ+ in the UK. Thanks to the work of Stonewall and others, and action from allies, we’ve never enjoyed more of the same rights as everybody else. Because that’s all we’ve ever wanted – the same, not more, not extra. We bring our own extra.

In my twenties, I was fired (more than once) and evicted – from my first student digs – for being gay. Then, the law was not on my side. Now, I’m protected. But, post-Brexit, there’s no European Court to stop homegrown hate turning back the clock.

Conservative politicians continue attacking equal marriage. Our Health Secretary Sajid Javid “is reviewing” the already underfunded Gender Identity Development Service. This government acknowledges the horrors of conversion ‘therapy’ before dropping its commitment to ban it, then reversing this for LGB but not T people. Either we’re all human and deserve equal human rights or we’re not, and we don’t – the Scottish and Welsh governments are banning it for everyone.

Facing prejudice

I grew up in Scotland in the 1980s in the shadow of Thatcher – her government introduced Section 28, banning the ‘promotion of homosexuality’. Of course, it’s homophobia that’s the learned behaviour. Pride is about helping us all to unlearn this. Such laws are returning in the US – ‘Don’t Say Gay’ laws could easily happen here.

A portrait image of a smiling Damian Barr, a regular visitor to Brighton & Hove Pride.
Damian Barr made the move to Brighton in 1999 which he described as 'a beacon of hope'. He goes to Brighton & Hove Pride every year. (Daisy Honeybunn/Honeybunn Photography)

Growing up, the age of consent was 21 and if I wasn’t sent to jail for kissing my best friend Mark, I was sure we’d both be murdered or killed by this new disease called AIDs. We carried all this fear and hate in our school bags. The bruises are long faded but I’ll never forget the insults. Then, even the nice teachers felt unable to help because of Section 28. Now, we’re in the grip of another moral panic but the script is the same.

Mark killed himself at 23. Every insult, every punch, every blind eye turned, pushed him closer to that day. LGBT+ young people are still twice as likely to consider suicide than their straight peers, according to research by the charity Just Like Us. Sticks and stones do break bones but not always right away. I wrote about all this in my memoir Maggie & Me. Since then, things have got better. And worse. The dark is always deepest when the light is brightest.

Read more: Coming out as LGBTQ+: How to support someone

Power of Pride

Hate crime against LGBTQ+ people in England and Wales hit record levels in 2021 – rising every year from 2016/17, according to the Home Office. Racist hate crime is rocketing even further. These are not unrelated.

A society which turns away when LGBTQ+ people are abused isn’t too bothered when people of colour are also hurt. And, as the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer shows, misogyny pervades the very institutions which exist to protect us.

These are the dots we need to join. That’s all intersectionality means: winning equality for all because we are all more than one thing.

Two men at Brighton & Hove Pride sitting in rainbow chair
Brighton & Hove Pride is both a celebration and a chance to raise vital funds for The Brighton Rainbow Fund. (Image: Brighton Pride)

Freedom at last

I moved to Brighton in 1999 – it was a beacon of hope, as bright as the Palace Pier, calling me to come and be free by the sea. We now have the biggest Pride in the UK.

Whatever the weather, Pride is always the sunniest day – the solidarity and joy powers me through darker times. The first Pride I marched at was the very first Pride in Scotland. It was June 7, 1995 and I had no idea what to expect – who would be there? Would I be safe?

Read more: Yahoo! is the official sponsor of this year's Brighton & Hove Pride festival

That day the sun shone on Edinburgh and for the first time ever, I was surrounded by people like me. Everywhere I looked, there were men holding hands – IN PUBLIC! I remember a band of lesbian drummers and banners, lots of banners. It was unafraid and unashamed and so was I.

Brighton & Hove Pride has a fantastic line-up again this year including Christina Aguilera and Sophie Ellis-Bextor
Brighton & Hove Pride festival on 5 and 6 August has a fantastic line-up again this year including Christina Aguilera and Sophie Ellis-Bextor. (Image: Brighton Pride)

Every year, I march in Brighton with Amnesty carrying a placard for one of the 69 countries where it’s still illegal to be LGBTQ+. Saudi Arabia is one of 11 countries still executing LGBTQ+ people. People from those places rush up to thank us for recognising their struggle, for sharing their story.

Read more: True love: 'My husband became a woman and we're still together'

Every year more nations remove these laws, most notably India. This is heartening. But making something legal is not the same as making it acceptable, never mind celebrated, especially in former British colonies where homophobic laws were exported with vigour.

Pride invites us all to be ourselves whoever, and wherever, we are. It’s not about one day or one city. None of us are free until all of us are free. And that starts with you and me.

Follow Damian Barr on twitter @Damian_Barr and see www.damianbarr.com

How to get support

If you’re struggling or feeling suicidal visit The Samaritans or call their free helpline on 116 123.

For support, you can contact the following LGBTQ+ organisations:

Stonewall – the leading campaigning charity for LGBTQ+ people.

Mermaids – a UK charity for gender-diverse children, young people and their families.

The Beaumont Society – a UK charity for trans people and their families.

Find more information about Brighton & Hove Pride or to make a donation see here.

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