If I’m being quite honest, I wasn’t sure why I was marching. I guess I’ve been very fortunate. I came out at 21 and have been surrounded by family and friends that don’t register being homosexual as “a thing” at all, it’s no different from their heterosexuality.
I’ve worked in businesses where, again, it has never been “a thing”. I think, both selfishly and foolishly, I had forgotten the previous 21 years and have, in a sense, brushed over the reality for those people not afforded the same basic human rights that I have. This weekend I received a reality check… An all singing, all dancing reality check.
As a Pride “virgin” I was unsure what to expect, but as colleagues from Virgin Money, Virgin Management, Virgin Media, Virgin Trains West Coast and Virgin Trains East Coast Trains assembled on the sun drenched roof garden, we could all feel it was going to be a really special day. Our very own Sir Richard Branson appeared on the roof terrace accompanied by two larger-than-life drag queens that tottered alongside him in their 6 inch stiletto heels.
Like a big school outing with a rainbow flag, we left the office and made our way through the streets to a reception of cheers and honking of car horns. We were scheduled to start marching at 1.30pm but, due to a delayed start caused by the sheer numbers of people marching, we were forced to sing and dance with all the party goers for couple of hours.
Shortly after 3pm, we began to march towards the official starting point at the top of Oxford Street. Over 260 different organisations took part in the parade and, just in front of us, Fujitsu held up banners of Alan Turning – computer pioneer and code breaker- who was recently pardoned 59 yeas after his conviction of “Gross Indecency” for which he was chemically castrated before taking his own life. ‘Gross Indecency’ was what they called being gay less than 60 years ago. Pride’s theme this year was ‘Heroes’ and, although it’s fantastic that this pardon was given, LGBT organisations along with others continue to work towards the pardon of 49,000 other men who were convicted of the same offence during this time.
People from all walks of life lined the route, clapping and celebrating the event, including tourists, families, clergy men, children and dogs too. Looking up to the shops and offices there were people hanging out of windows, cheering and waving flags. The biggest impact on me that day was when I saw a very elderly man stood at the barrier. He had on a t-shirt with the word PROUD across it in bright colours and was covered in badges and stickers given to him by the marchers on parade. It is incredible to think that, when he was a young man, he couldn’t admit who he loved or how he felt for fear of arrest and being brutally punished. Now, he was stood in the closed streets and roads of London, celebrating love for all with a million others.
The day’s mood was definitely heightened by the previous day’s announcement that the United States had lifted the ban on gay marriage across the country. The supporters in London showered the marchers with nothing but love and support.
It wasn’t about why “I” was marching, it was about who I was marching for. I was marching for that young child who feels alone and scared, for the children that have taken their own lives because they were being bullied for being gay, for that person who cannot get a job or a promotion because of who they love, for the people who are arrested, punished and even killed simply for being gay. We marched together to show people that Virgin Money and the Virgin Group are a company that support and encourage diversity in their business. I was marching for all those people who made it alright for me to march and I was privileged and honoured to do so.