Lesbian and Gay Pride 85 marked a significant turning point in the fortunes of what we now know simply as ‘Pride‘.
At that time there were no regional rallies; there was a national Lesbian and Gay Pride parade and it was always in London.
But attendance had been on a steady decline. We reported in Gay East Midlands that 3,000 people had taken part in 1983. Capital Gay reported 2,000 at the 1984 event. Personally, I think that latter figure was an over-estimate; it felt like a few hundred as we straggled through London’s main thoroughfares struggling to make our voices heard.
Indeed, the turnout was so low in 1984 I think many people were beginning to question whether it actually had a future.
I don’t know who was behind the organisation of the 84 rally, but I’m sure I heard not long after that that there had been a ‘palace coup’ within the organising committee. I have to say I have no concrete evidence to back up that assertion so it may simply be my faulty memory. Nonetheless, it was clear that something changed – and significantly so.
As the ‘Thank you’ ad (right) in the following week’s Capital Gay demonstrates, a huge organisational effort went into the 85 event. In both 83 and 84, the day was essentially a march through London then a ‘social’ at the University of London.
Lesbian and Gay Pride 85 was way more than that.
In it’s report of the 85 rally, Capital Gay estimated attendance at 10,000 and called it, “the biggest gathering of homosexuals Britain has ever seen.” Given the hundreds of thousands that turn out now, that may seems inconsequential but way back in the 20th century this was a huge achievement! (Especially when one considers the 1980 BBC documentary Coming Out, in which the 3,000 participants in the 1979 Gay Pride rally are described as “the largest assembly of homosexual men and women Europe has ever seen“.)
The rally assembled at Hyde Park and then wound it’s way to Jubilee Gardens beside what was then the Greater London Council Headquarters at County Hall.
Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners were immediately behind the lead banner.
They were accompanied by miners and their families from South Wales, repaying some of the support the LGBT community had given them during the protracted miners strike.
That in itself was an indication of just how much LGBT activists allied themselves to wider political struggles at that time.
Maggie Thatcher also put in an appearance – or at least an 8-foot tall caricature of her did.
As did Gay’s the Word, still fighting the archaic obscenity charges that had been brought against them by HM Customs. Passing motorists were somewhat baffled by the sight of two High Court judges decked out in wigs, robes …and fishnet stockings!
The diversity continued once the rally reached Jubilee Gardens where a stage, cabaret tent and various stalls had been erected.
Gay icon Tom Robinson shared the stage with 50’s icons The Beverley Sisters. In their day, the Beverley Sisters had a hit with a song called ‘Sisters‘, which included the line “Heaven help the mister who comes between me and my sisters.”. On June 29th, 1985 that line took on a completely new meaning!
Meanwhile, out on the River Thames, Heaven’s party boat The Elizabethan sailed quietly into position. And then Divine climbed up onto its roof…
All-in-all, it was an extraordinary – and empowering – day. It was the day that our community came together to ensure the future of Lesbian and Gay Pride. The rest, as they say, is history.
My thanks to Facebook Group Lost Gay London for unearthing the Divine video.