These days it's easy to feel a bit blasé about Pride in London. Though the capital's annual LGBT+ festival actually offers more than two weeks of talks, performances, fundraisers, workshops and parties, if you ask someone whether they're "going to Pride", they will probably presume you mean the huge parade through central London that takes place this Saturday. Historically, LGBT+ people would march to the beat of social and political change, as they campaigned for the repeal of Section 28, better care for people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS, and the right to marry someone of the same gender. But as we've won equal rights and greater freedoms, Pride has inevitably become less impassioned and more celebratory in nature. "It's just a load of topless kids drinking gin in a tin from Tesco Metro on Dean Street," I heard someone sneer last year.
But in the wake of this month's senseless homophobic terrorist attack in Orlando, in which 50 people were killed and many more were injured simply for congregating in a gay club, Pride in London 2016 gains a greater weight. Last week, the spiritual centre of London's LGBT+ community was brought to a standstill as thousands flocked to Old Compton Street at 7pm on a Monday night to pay their respects to the Orlando victims at an incredibly moving vigil. "It reminds me of Pride," I said to one of my friends at the time. "Because it's not just the gay people you always see who've come out. All different types of LGBT+ people are here." Back at home later that evening, when news websites ran aerial shots of Soho flooded by a sea of people, and my Instagram and Twitter feeds revealed how many friends, exes and former work colleagues had made the effort to attend, I couldn’t help but well up. I felt immensely proud of London and its defiantly united LGBT+ community.
This sense of togetherness is the brilliant thing about Pride. It's a time when all members of the increasingly diverse LGBT+ community, happily fractured by acceptance as we are, can assemble regardless of age, race, body type, gender and sexuality - because allies are welcome too, of course. You'll see older guys in leather trousers squeezing into the same corner of Soho Square as coltish teenage girls nervously holding hands. You'll see trans people who "pass" and trans people who don't. You'll see drag queens and dykes, Muscle Marys and mincers. You'll see people we don't have a slightly reductive label for yet. You'll probably see topless kids drinking gin in a tin from Tesco Metro on Dean Street. And they all have exactly the same right to be there as each other.
If you haven't bothered with Pride in London for a few years, or perhaps you've never felt the need to attend, please make this year the exception. Pride is a time to celebrate the rights and freedoms we have and to remember those who fought so hard for them. It's a time to think about those who died and still die from AIDS. It's a time to be thankful we live in a city where, for most of us, sexuality isn't an impediment to getting a job, making friends or simply being able to go out and enjoy ourselves. It's a time to show homophobic terrorists we can't be cowed into crawling back in the closet. It's a time to applaud ourselves for not being beaten whenever someone called us "faggot" or "tranny" or "lesbo". The fact we can do all this simply by showing up is amazing. That's why Pride still matters.
Going to Pride? Here's our guide on everything you need to know