England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Pride 2023: Build a mass, fighting movement for LGBTQ+ liberation!

By Liat Norris, Socialist Alternative West Midlands

The Tories and the capitalist media’s determination to redirect anger from their failing system towards oppressed people has helped to foment one of the most toxic environments for LGBTQ+ people for decades. This has included the Tories’ refusal to ban ‘conversion therapy’ for transgender people, the blocking of the Scottish Gender Recognition Reform Bill which would have allowed the self-identification of trans people, and proposals to force education workers to ‘out’ trans youth to their parents.

This offensive by the government has been replicated in the capitalist media, where transphobic stories, reports and ‘discussions’ have become a regular feature. Fearmongering around trans people in sports and portraying LGBTQ+IA people as groomers has risen drastically, and with it, huge increases in hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people. There has been a huge 41% increase in homophobic hate crimes between 2021 and 2022. Transphobic hate crimes saw an even higher increase of 56%.

Even LGBTQ+ areas like Canal Street in Manchester, and the Gay Village in Birmingham, aren’t safe. Clonezone, an LGBTQ+ store in Manchester has had its windows smashed four times since the beginning of the year. In February the Birmingham LGBT Centre was graffitied with abusive messages, alongside further reports of urine being thrown from cars at people in the area and attacks on gay men by knife wielding homophobes.

The UN Independent Expert on sexual orientation and gender identity highlighted a “rampant surge in hate crimes” in the UK that can be attributed to the “toxic nature of the public debate surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity”.

LGBTQ+ people are in the crosshairs of the right’s culture war. The Tories are trying to use any opportunity they have to direct anger away from the failure of their system to provide the basics that working class people demand.

Why now?

Capitalism is a system in crisis. For the vast majority of people, all it has to offer is declining standards of living, instability and war. The strike wave we’ve seen in the UK is a sign that working class people are refusing to put up with this. These strikes also have substantial public support behind them, as workers who were applauded for providing essential services during the pandemic move into action.

The Tories see the risk that this poses: the credibility of their system is under threat. So the right wing are organising to defend their system by using divide and rule tactics. We’ve seen this happen in the US with a huge number of anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-abortion bills being proposed and passed across the country. Even on the other side of capitalism’s ‘New Cold War’, in Russia LGBTQ+ people have been criminalised, and feminist groups outlawed for “extremist ideology”. Across the world, when capitalism is in crisis it is marginalised workers who are the first in the firing line. The question facing millions of workers and young people is how do we fight back against this.

Socialists understand that, contrary to the ideas of rainbow capitalism, progress doesn’t just happen. We need to fight for it. On top of this, even the limited gains that we have won previously can quite easily be taken away again. The government’s renewed attacks against LGBTQ+ school students highlights this starkly. Companies that in the past have embraced LGBTQ+ imagery to attract the ‘pink pound’ are the first to pull back on it when things get difficult. In the US, we have seen big companies like Target, Bud Light and Starbucks back away from supporting LGBTQ+ causes because of the fear of backlash. These companies only care when they can get money from us.

Pride is a protest!

Progress needs to be fought for. It was the movements of the 60s and 70s on LGBTQ+ issues, for women’s rights and black liberation which won rights for marginalised groups. It was these struggles which changed perceptions amongst wider workers. Famously, the campaign of Lesbians and Gays support the Miners transformed homophobic attitudes of mining communities by bringing active solidarity to strikers. It was clear that both the LGBTQ+ community and striking workers had a common interest in fighting the Tory government of the time, and the system they represented.

Official Pride events have previously been an opportunity for this kind of fightback. Following on from the Stonewall Riots, Pride events took root throughout the UK. These initial Pride marches campaigned against attacks on LGBTQ+ venues, fought for HIV prevention, against the Thatcher government’s attacks on LGBTQ+ people through the vicious Section 28 legislation and in solidarity with the miners’ strikes.

For initial Pride events, there was a clear emphasis on political campaigning and collective struggle to end LGBTQ+ discrimination and in support of broader workers struggles. However, over time, these traditional Pride organisations drifted towards a need for respectability, to watering down political campaigns and towards ‘parades’ sponsored by banks and weapons companies rather than protests against oppression. This approach has shown that it is not up to scratch in the fight to defend LGBTQ+ rights in the face of the right-wing’s attacks – instead we need to reclaim Pride from profit and re-establish it as part of a fighting movement for LGBTQ+ liberation.

There have been some positive steps taken over recent years. In 2021, a number of groups across the country were set up to put pressure on official pride events to return to their roots. Reclaim Pride, a group of activists including Peter Tatchell, one of the founding members of the Gay Liberation Front, had a clear political programme targeted at London Pride. It called for opposing LGBTQ+ conversion therapy, reforming the Gender Recognition Act and showing solidarity with the mass protests around Black Lives Matter and in response to Sarah Everard’s murder.

Similar grassroots groups were organised around Manchester, Brighton and Liverpool Pride, holding protests where the official organisers refused to, calling out corporate domination of events and putting political issues to the forefront of the minds of those attending. Trans Pride events have also become a lightning rod for more politicised protests for the rights of LGBTQ+ people.

These groups organised in response to already existing Pride events which were focused on providing a sanitised party with sponsorship from big brands. The increasingly politicised mood of workers and young people coming out of the pandemic resulted in a recognition that there needed to be a change. In Manchester, the CEO of Pride paid themselves nearly £100k a year and spent upwards of half a million pounds on organising Ariana Grande to perform at a festival. At the same time they announced they would be stopping funding for HIV charities and ending free condom schemes. This was met with immediate revulsion by ordinary LGBTQ+ people, and a demand for a real political march which was organised with demands.

We think these campaigns can play a crucial role, if they are built further, in resisting the right’s culture war attacks. Reclaim Pride and Trans Pride groups should aim to strengthen ties with local trade union and community campaigns, to link up the fight against the cost of living crisis with opposition to the divisive culture wars, and most importantly to become organisations that struggle for LGBTQ+ issues year round. Reclaiming Pride needs to be about reclaiming a political movement for LGBTQ+ people, even beyond a once-a-year demonstration.

Crucial to this is for trade unions to take up the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights. Socialist Alternative members have a proud record of arguing within trade unions for an active defence for trans rights. In the PCS and UNISON public sector unions, a motion initiated by Socialist Alternative members was submitted to the unions’ national conferences by a number of branches in defence of trans rights and the self-determination for the people of Scotland. In the National Education Union, we have fought for education workers to challenge the Tories’ guidance on ‘outing’ trans children in schools.

We also encourage young LGBTQ+ people to organise in their schools, to plan walk-outs and occupations of schools should the Tories try to enforce their anti-trans policies. This could form part of a wider struggle of students and teachers for an end to the transphobic guidance, other reactionary policies and restrictions on learners and educators, the proper funding of education, abolishing SATS and OFSTED and fighting for an environment in schools that allows young people to prosper. 

In Scotland, we need a movement to demand that the Scottish government defy the Tory blocking of the GRR, and implement the right to self-ID immediately. Across Britain, we need fighting Pride demos, organised against the culture war as a whole, including opposition to the scapegoating of refugees, in defence of abortion rights alongside an end to attacks on LGBTQ+ people. Such a movement, with the active participation of the trade unions, would give us the strength to win real victories against this government, racked by endless crises.

Liberation through socialism

We should campaign today for any changes that would make the lives for LGBTQ+ people better. But we understand that we will only fully win the fight for LGBTQ+ liberation by fighting for a socialist society, free from capitalism’s endless inequalities and crises.

Capitalism relies on the nuclear family and gender norms to prop up its system. While the ruling class can allow some limited freedoms for LGBTQ+ people, it will always try to claw this back when they need to defend their system. We need to abolish the restrictive boxes that capitalism places us in, but particularly LGBTQ+ and other oppressed sections of workers, in which all people can be free to be themselves.

A socialist society would be able to properly fund all services which are needed and properly fund access to healthcare for LGBTQ+ people, full access to abortion without criminalisation, and guarantee proper funding for refuges for victims of domestic violence.

The education system needs to be properly funded and under the democratic control of both education workers and students, and needs to include inclusive sex and relationship education. This is crucial for LGBTQ+ young people, to better feel comfortable with themselves, to give children the language they need to properly understand and define their body and their boundaries, and to tackle the spread of sexist and LGBTQ+phobic ideas. Schools need to be taken out of the hands of often reactionary academy ‘sponsors’ and returned to the public sector.

Working class people need control over how society is run. Socialism would mean a move away from a society focused on short-term profit towards one based on solidarity, where workers can make decisions for the benefit of everybody and allow us the freedom to thrive in society.


  • Pride is a protest! No to corporate Pride events. Build a grassroots, mass movement for LGBTQ+ liberation
  • Defend trans rights at school – no to the new Tory guidance! For a trade-union led campaign for alternative guidance in schools to defend LGBTQ+ youth, and student walkouts against any anti-trans measures
  • For fully-funded inclusive sex and relationships education – reverse attacks on school funding and staffing levels and kick the market out of education.
  • For trans-inclusive healthcare, as part of a fully-funded, publicly-owned NHS.
  • End the crisis of waiting lists for gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers and mental health services.
  • Support health workers fighting to defend our health service!
  • For a socialist society free of homophobia, transphobia and all forms of oppression

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