Chris Creegan

Comment | Ideas | Opinion

Pink embers in the ashes

by Chris on 24th June 2016

14350200419_61b88e0078_b1-550x367Not everyone feels hopeless about today’s European referendum result. Those on the winning side feel hopeful that they have ‘their country back.’ We have been told repeatedly that theirs is an outward, globally focused hope. But it feels to me like a brittle, hard hope. A cold, contorted hope which far from looking out at the world, is set on battening down the hatches.

So not only can I not share their hope. But I confess I feel a sense of despair today. That’s a terrible thing because I’ve always believed in a politics of hope; not one invested in what someone else might do for us, but one rooted in what we can do for ourselves.

And that’s why I’m glad that, for me, despite that hopelessness, there are some embers in smouldering in the ashes. Embers which defy at least some of the odds because they are scattered across our seemingly disunited kingdom. They are the pink embers of pride. LGBT pride. Tomorrow sees the annual Pride march and festival in London; an event which has become increasingly commercial over the years but which has, tragically, had new political life breathed into it by the appalling massacre in Orlando less than two weeks ago.

Although I’ve been involved in campaigning on LGBT rights for the best part of 40 years I’ve always felt rather reticent about the notion of pride. All those years ago when Tom Robinson sang Glad to be Gay, was I glad? When I first started going on Pride marches in the early 1980s, was I proud? It all felt a bit ostentatious for the introvert within me, a bit declaratory for my shyness. I still remember, though, how I overcame that reserve.

It started with the inspiration of miners marching with us in 1985 in response to the heroic efforts of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. It was consolidated by the defiance of Never Going Underground a few years later when the force of Section 28 was unleashed. And then it really struck home in a deeply personal way in the late eighties when I looked across the thousands gathered in London’s Brockwell Park at the Pride mainstage to see my union’s name writ large.

I don’t mind admitting now, 25 years on, that I was bursting with pride inside that day. Because it was something we had done. We had invested hope not in others because it wasn’t a fashionable cause, but in ourselves because we believed we could change the world. I was reminded of those efforts this week when Frances O’Grady, the TUC General Secretary tweeted from this year’s TUC LGBT conference that she was standing in solidarity with her LGBT brothers and sisters.

The tweet took me back to September 1985. We had persuaded my union, NALGO, to second a motion on gay rights at the TUC conference in Blackpool. I was co-chair of NALGO’s fledging national lesbian and gay committee back then. We weren’t part of the union’s official structures but we were knocking on the door and had raised some funds to organise a fringe meeting to galvanise support for the motion. Six people came.

Such was the draw of a gay event at a mainstream union conference in those days. No matter, though, because the next day the motion was carried. And with the support of the mighty NUM itself in solidarity for all the work that LGSM had done. For the first time, the TUC had a comprehensive policy on gay rights. And when I saw Frances’ tweet this week I thought, blimey, it started all those years ago. I was there. And it was a proud memory.

My old union’s sponsorship of the main stage in Brockwell Park pales into insignificance when you compare it to the endorsement that Pride will receive this weekend. The pinnacle will be a rainbow flag at the Houses of Parliament no less, something which would have been unthinkable then. That endorsement is replicated across the trade union movement, political parties, multi- national companies and even the armed forces, to name just a few.

And the reason why Pride feels so relevant today is because it was born out of a hope which far from being about battening down the hatches, was about throwing open the shutters. A warm, inclusive hope which reached out. A hope which was rooted in common endeavour, not individualism, transparency not dog whistling, self-organisation not a response to someone else’s contrived call.

The last two weeks have been tumultuous. Orlando was a horrible, unimaginable tragedy which left us reeling but found us organising. Jo Cox’s murder just a few days later was a moment so deeply shocking it stopped not just Jo but all of us in our tracks. It was intended to divide us but was met with the wonderful response from Jo’s family that we have more in common.

The opening question on tonight’s Any Questions was, has hope triumphed over fear? Some will say it has. Many of us will feel the reverse, not just today but in the wretched events of that have unfolded these past two weeks. At the very least hope is divided and that was laid bare by the ugly schism which quickly developed on the panel. My hope is your fear; your hope is my fear.

My urge today was to reach out to those from elsewhere in Europe in the various communities I inhabit to remind them that they are welcome, that we are grateful for their contribution. And I was glad to hear that sentiment spelt out clearly by the First Minister and others. We need to have faith in those who lead us. But far more than that, we need to have faith in ourselves.

The flying of the rainbow flag above Westminster this weekend didn’t happen by accident. Ultimately we won the endorsement of leaders and they gave us the protection of laws. But it started with us. I don’t know how to feel hopeful about what happened today beyond those small neighbourly gestures. And I’m completely confounded about how to reconcile the two versions of hope embodied in the result of the referendum.

But I know at least where to start looking. And that’ll be in the story of Pride which will be played out this weekend. And which responded with such resilience last week in response to Orlando. It’s to ourselves that we have to look at moments like this. Others will take their inspiration from elsewhere. But as I strive to make sense of it all today, it’s those pink embers of pride that give me hope.

  • Claire Lewis

    Hi Chris, I”m one of the LLFamily directors, hence came across your site. Just wanted to say this post has moved me to tears (I’m at it a bit today – I started before breakfast reading Obama’s handover to Hilary speech!).
    I share the same fears of the roll back, but Obama reminded me that there are far more of us that believe in love than fear or hate. We just have to keep speaking up, and finding ways to put out the love. In the spirit of which, I look forward to reading many more of your words.
    x

    • Chris

      Thank you Claire.

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