The story of the Pride movement is one of people tirelessly overcoming adversity to create a better, fairer, more compassionate world. Alison Camps, co-chair of Pride in London, shares her thoughts.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve personally risen to?
I am very conscious that I have led a privileged life and that the challenges I’ve had to face are relatively few and small in comparison to many people. Coming out was a very big challenge for me; although I knew from a very young age that I was ‘different’, I grew up in a very straight (in every sense) town and had no positive points of reference for what being gay could mean, or role models to take a lead from. It was the ’80s, and even if I had known what the term ‘inclusive education’ meant, we certainly didn’t have it in my under-achieving comprehensive school—one of the reasons I am so passionate about it now. We help no-one by denying children the right to understand and explore who they are.
So I followed the path I thought was expected, got married, bought a house, got on with building a career. But of course I was living a lie and although literally no-one else knew that, I did and eventually the whole thing came tumbling down. I met a woman, fell in love and finally came to terms with the fact that I just couldn’t carry on being this person I had created and curated that wasn’t true to who I actually was, and am.
Fronting up to the truth was brutal and it cost me relationships with people who had really mattered to me. I didn’t speak with my parents for a year. But I was, after 37 years, free from deceiving myself and everyone else and in a place from which I could build a life which had integrity.
That was hard, and it took time. Looking back, it would be easy to see those 37 years as wasted. Being able to think of them as a valid part of my journey, to forgive myself and give credit where it was due, and then to take steps to transform my experience into a positive for me and others through my activism all helped get me through. Of course I have regrets, wish things had been different, but I wanted to be defined by what I did next and, ultimately, that’s what got me through.
How do you pick yourself up after being knocked down?
When things go wrong, we face a choice: will we let it take us down, or will we take control and change the dynamic? I am by nature an optimist; I believe that things can always be better. I’m also my own harshest critic, and when I screw up, I own it and I apologise. In my position as co-chair of Pride in London it would be easy to become despondent when people single you out for criticism, fair or not, so I try to put myself in their position to understand their point of view and channel disappointment with myself into thinking about how I could do better next time.
In my ‘day job’, working in an agency environment means you deal in successes and ‘failures’ on a weekly basis. You just have to lift up your head, talk about how you’d do it differently next time and crack on.
I am resilient, I can absorb a lot of stress and pressure, but I know that this is a weakness as well as a strength, and I have had to become more skilled at recognising when things are getting on top of me. I rely very much on my wife and close circle of friends to keep me honest, to distract me and refocus me when I need clarity or direction. Fresh air and time in the woods helps.
And if none of that works, I put Taylor Swift on the record player and sing loudly.
What do you wish more people would rise up against?
I have a long list!
- racism and xenophobia
- homophobia in all its guises
- climate change deniers
- lying politicians… I could go on.
It seems to me that a lot of our ills boil down to a fear of difference. Rising hate crime rates are proof positive that equality laws do not make for an equal, inclusive society. It’s been encouraging to see how ‘ordinary people’ are becoming more politicised, wanting to make their voices heard, but I am fearful of the current trend for political leaders to run roughshod over the checks and balances that have helped to keep them accountable in the past. More than anything, they want to divide us, because that is how they maintain their power base. Our response needs to be to work harder than ever to build unity.
Who is doing the most to lift up the LGBT+ community?
As the saying goes, it takes a village.
There are so many grassroots activists who are making a genuine difference to the LGBT+ community, most of them unsung heroes. I could point to women like Sarah Garrett, founder of SPM Group, the British LGBT and Investing in Ethnicity Awards; Linda Riley, publisher of Diva Magazine, trans activist and vital voice for LBT+ women everywhere; Pippa Dale, who set up the LBT Women international network. Men like Matthew Hodson and Greg Owen who are doing tremendous work to address the stigma surrounding HIV. ‘Elders’ like Lisa Power and Michael Cashman, founders of Stonewall, who continue to inspire and agitate for equality. Phyll Opoku-Gyimah who is a legendary figure in the community, founder of UK Black Pride and Executive Director of Kaleidoscope Trust which advocates for LGBT+ rights worldwide. Susie Green and the team at Mermaids who are fighting for young trans people, in the face of absolute vitriol and a biased, hostile media. The list goes on and on.
I couldn’t answer this question without paying tribute to the amazing team of Pride in London volunteers who give so much year-round to organise the UK’s biggest Pride festival, as well as those all around the UK who work so hard to raise the visibility of our LGBT+ communities.
We need to recognise the importance of allies, too. Public figures like Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan who has been strong and unequivocal in his support for us or TV presenter Lorraine Kelly, who has helped to raise awareness of trans issues with Jake and Hannah Graf. Business leaders who are changing the work environment to make it more inclusive. But also—crucially—all those family members, friends, colleagues, anyone who stands up against bigotry. I don’t think we can overestimate the importance of these everyday acts of solidarity.
How can we all step up and support the Pride movement?
Pride started as a protest and in my opinion that is what it remains, although I get why a lot of people now also see it as a celebration. I think a lot of people also see it as one day in the year, or as a ‘season’ in the summer. But the fight for equality, respect and celebration of difference is a year-round battle.
Basically, anytime you voice support, call out homophobia or transphobia in your everyday, that’s stepping up. Not everyone has the resources to be able to donate or volunteer their time and energy to causes, but for those who do, there’s buckets of opportunity—whether as a part of a Pride team, or for one of the many brilliant charities which are helping LGBT+ people. Your workplace may have an LGBT+ network you could get involved in (or you could start one!).
Chances are you know, or are related to someone who’s LGBT+, so ask them how you can ‘step up and support’. Last year at Pride, on my way to the start of the parade, I got talking to two parents who had showed up to support their child who had recently come out as trans. It wasn’t an easy thing for them, but their presence spoke volumes. I will never forget that brief chat.
Finally, to be a real ally, I think it’s important to learn about the cause you are supporting. Pride is much, much more than rainbows, glitter and feather boas. The more I learn about the struggles we still face—from within the community as well as from outside it—the more convinced I am of the need for a strong, unified and proud voice. I am lucky enough to play a very small part in our movement, but there is always room for more of us!