Content Warning: Some swearing, mentions of violence and death
Are You Proud? is a documentary that looks at queer history, visibility and, yes, Pride parades in the UK (specifically in London and Brighton). Spanning over 50+ years, it manages to take a wide ranging look at the place that LGBTQ+ occupy in society today, while recognising the fights that have taken place before the newest generations of queer people became activists and the ways in which we can be better as a community in supporting one another.
A lot is covered in the little over 90 minute feature, and it begins with the history of queerness in the UK, starting with some men who were living closeted lives as far back as the 1950s. In one speech, a gay man who knew it wasn’t possible or safe to be out at that time ended up marrying a friend, who knew he was gay. He says “I lived a complete lie” in a way that is both painful and matter of fact. Many people at that time, and since, have felt forced to live false existences, never able to be truthful and live freely. Similarly, another man describes coming to London in the 60s and finding an “underground” scene which to him felt closed off and hidden, which it was. These testimonials make it easy to see how far we have and haven’t come in terms of openness and being able to be LGBTQIA+ with honesty and in public.
This documentary is a great piece for anyone inside the queer community, but also those outside. Created without feeling the need to explain the terms used, the viewer is brought into the lives of the people rather than simply the nuances of what it means to be queer, which can often be contradictory depending on who you ask. I think it would be quite an arresting documentary to show cis, heterosexual people who perhaps aren’t aware of exactly what the fight for equality has been in the UK, and how much further it still needs to go. And likewise, there are likely queer people, of all ages but especially in younger generations, who might not have come face to face with some of these historical facts – seeing as it’s not taught in schools. For example, the Sexual Offences Act and Antony Gray (an alias used to protect his identity at the time) who’s work with the government allowed two men to have sex in private which was a bare minimum allowance for some queer people at the time.
Are You Proud? continues on to the protests from LGBTQ+ people in response to the police upping their arrests following the passing of the Act, and how The Stonewall Riots inspired and influenced movements in the UK, specifically the Gay Liberation Front, leading to protests in Highbury Fields and the first London Pride march on 1st July 1972. It was there that, as one attendee put it, “out and proud became part of our slogans”.
Importantly, this documentary doesn’t focus entirely on the past and early on we’re brought into the 2010s, taking a look at Pride today in London and Brighton. The modern Pride footage is a highlight reel of how one might want to showcase Pride in its diversity, colourfulness and celebration. Thankfully, this documentary isn’t only about the face of things and through various queer people, activists and organisations, Are You Proud? examines the commercialisation of Pride. As one man, Dan Glass, puts it: “I want to be proud to be fucked up the arse not fucked over by loads of corporations who are just trying to make a buck out of me, which is what is going on at Pride at the moment.”
It’s certainly not the way everyone would put it, and perhaps it’s reductive, but the message is clear. Commercialisation is an issue and one that serves corporations more than the LGBTQIA groups that they are purporting to support.
In this detailed and expansive documentary, it explores the history of Section 28 and how it led to the creation of Stonewall, the UK charity for LGBTQIA+ people, as well as the HIV/AIDS Crisis arriving in the UK, being witnessed in the US, through to the formation of Black Pride, in which PJ Samuels and others discuss why BAME and politically Black people need a place to talk about their experience in a celebratory atmosphere. Trans Pride and Brixton Pride, each of which aims to give space and recognition to intersectional groups with the wider queer community, with non-binary and trans people in the former and migrants in the latter.
One particularly poignant moment of Are You Proud?is when it covers the Pulse nightclub shooting on a Latinx night, of mostly Latinx LGBTQIA people, in which 49 people lost their lives. It shows the vigil, organised by Son of a Tutu, in Soho, London (which I attended) and how it felt like a coming together of the somewhat fractured parts of the queer community.
Peter Tatchell points out later in the documentary that there are moments like this all the time around the world, but we’re mostly reactive to other Western tragedies. He notes that in Honduras “37 LGBTI activists were assassinated by right-wing death squads, we never heard a peep”, that people were hunted in Iraq and we didn’t hear about that either. Similarly, Carlos Maurizio, a Latinx LGBT activist, commented that with Pulse, “they treated it as a terrorist act…disregarding the identities of these people”. Racism is a factor in the LGBTQIA community and it needs to be talked about. As does transphobia and misogyny.
Are You Proud? manages to include a diverse intersectional group of LGBTQ+ people, there is only one mention of biphobia, very little discussion on non-binary identities, although some discussion during the look at Trans Pride, and no mention of intersex or aromantic and asexual identities. The latter in particular are often ignored parts of the queer community, not least since LGBTQIA is often shorted to LGBT or LGBTQ.
At the heart of this documentary is a drive to recognise the important work done by LGBTQ+ people to get us to this point in 2019, and to inform people that there is more work to do and that we can do it together. You can feel all this in the poem read by PJ Samuels at the end.