Thousands flock to London for World Pride 2012

by Patrick Camara Ropeta, ABS-CBN Europe News Bureau

Posted at Jul 10 2012 05:49 PM | Updated as of Jul 11 2012 06:57 PM

LONDON - Thousands of equal rights campaigners invaded the streets of the British capital for World Pride 2012 over the weekend, including Filipinos from the UK who joined the international community to support the cause of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities (LGBT).

An estimated 25,000 people from around the world participated in the festival, alongside thousands of spectators in central London, marching from Baker Street to Whitehall, followed by an open-air concert at Trafalgar Square.

Celebrities from the LGBT community came out to support the event, including stylist Gok Wan, '80s icon Boy George, politician Brian Paddick, and pioneering campaigner Peter Tatchell.

Among the chanting crowd is a group of passionate Filipinos in Britain campaigning for gay rights in the Philippines and the rest of the world. The group, called Filipino LGBT UK, donned indigenous costumes with body paint, whistles, banners, and the Philippine flag.

“Our message is to make sure that we are part of the worldwide concerns about gays and lesbians. This is part of our celebration to tell the world who we are, what we are: we are a vital party of the community,” Joel Medina, president of Filipino LGBT UK, told ABS-CBN Europe as they joined the march in London.

He continued: “My message to the Filipino people and the Filipino gays is to please fight for your rights. Stand up for your rights. Be united. We are one with you, and you are one with us.”

“We would like to inspire all the LGBT Filipinos in the Philippines and all over the world on how great it is to live in a city where homophobia is not being tolerated,” Chris Sta Brigida, a gay Filipino professional, said.

Lahing Kayumanggi Dance Company, a London-based arts group promoting Philippine heritage in Europe, also joined the festival showcasing Filipino folk dances and native costumes, alongside hundreds of social, cultural and political groups from different countries, including LGBT groups from New York, Lithuania, Sri Lanka, Bermuda, Mexico, and Turkey.

A very serious message

World Pride is an international festival known for its music, street parties, float parade and outrageous costumes. But beyond all the fun and games is a very serious message against oppression based on sexuality.

The festival calls for an end to the criminalization of homosexuality, which is still illegal in 78 countries, including Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Barbados, Malaysia, Uganda and Pakistan. The punishments are also often severe, from imprisonment to death penalty.

“The message from us is to make sure there is no homophobia and LGBT people are taken into mainstream society. In England, we have fairly good gay rights. But [in] other parts of the world, gay rights isn’t good. And that’s what World Pride is designed to do. It’s there to make sure the message gets out, and people from LGBT are not discriminated against,” explained Tony Hughes from Pride London, organizers of this year’s World Pride.

Filipino transsexual Vivienne Melanie Mesias, a UK-based professional who had her sex reassignment surgery a few years ago, added: “We have to stand together. We have to unite. We have to have the same feelings towards freedom, equality, and diversity. It’s not about your color, your religion, or your age. It’s not about where you’re from and your social status in life. What matters most is how you prove that you are part of this society.”

This year’s London Pride was also in support of same-sex marriage, amid controversial proposals to extend civil marriage to the LGBT community in the UK, supported by British Prime Minister David Cameron.

“I have many gay friends all over the world, and Filipinos here in the UK. They’re professionals. They’re the same as everyone. So, why are they treated differently? They shouldn’t be treated any differently than a straight man or a straight woman. So I’m here to show to everyone, to Filipinos, to the world, that everyone should be equal: gay, straight or whatever,” said Kathleen Serafica, a heterosexual supporter of LGBT rights.

Same-sex marriage is recognized in only 10 countries, namely: Canada, Sweden, Norway, Portugal, Argentina, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Iceland, and South Africa. It is also accepted in parts of the US, including New York, Vermont and Iowa.

Since 2010, there has been mounting pressure for the UK to follow suit, against strong opposition from the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.

Pride & Shame

World Pride 2012 was considered a success despite major setbacks on the lead up to the event. Reports in the media suggested turmoil within the organizing committee, Pride London, as the event hit logistical and financial woes a week before showtime.

The group later changed the schedule, cancelled some events, and scrapped the use of the signature floats in a bid to scale down the festival, citing financial shortfall as the main reason. Some blamed the organizers, while others blamed lack of support from the government.

The controversy led to the resignation of Pride London chairman Patrick Williams, who was quickly replaced by interim chair Hughes. London Mayor Boris Johnson, whose office helped fund the festival, also cancelled his public appearance at the event.

Despite all the chaos, however, the festival went ahead without major issues, and participants remained firm on the spirit of the pride.

“We are here in our numbers and we will be back as strong. We will have the floats on the parade next year. We’re only sorry for World Pride that we’re only doing a march. But we’re still out in our thousands and the government can’t keep us down. We’ll be back fighting next year,” said Betty Gallacher, chair of the LGBT committee of UNITE The Union.

World Pride 2012 coincided with the 40th anniversary of London gay pride, and is part of a series of international festivals in celebration of the 2012 Olympics, which starts from the city on July 27.