On Saturday, I’ll embark on one of my more memorable assignments as the new British Ambassador to the United States: marching in my first Pride Parade, beside our bedecked double-decker bus. While Pride might be a new experience for me, it’s not for the hundreds of embassy staff who have participated over the past three years.
And while we’re pleased to say that we were the first foreign government to walk in Pride, we won’t be the last. This year, we’ll walk alongside seven other countries, representing support for equality and human rights around the world.
In many countries, and for many people, the fight for human rights isn’t over.
In the UK, it’s been a long journey from the famous homosexuality trial of Oscar Wilde in 1895. It would be decades until the fight for equality stepped into the light – from the first gay pubs at the turn of the century, to the first sex reassignment surgeries in the 1940s and 50s.
Influenced by the outcry surrounding the Stonewall Riots, British activists proudly walked in the first Pride marches during the 1970s. Just this week, we screened “Pride,” the Golden Globe-nominated British film that depicted the unusual alliance between lesbian and gay activists and striking miners in the 1980s. Since then, awareness of LGBT rights has grown immeasurably in my lifetime – from decriminalising homosexual acts, to Diana, Princess of Wales, working with HIV patients.
The fight for equality continues, but we believe the UK has a lot to be proud of today. In 2015, the UK received the highest score in Europe for LGBTI rights. We’ve had civil partnerships for over a decade, and equal marriage passed in 2014.
As a civil servant for almost 40 years, I’m proud to say that we’ve come a long way in government, too. Today, there are 35 lesbian and gay members of Parliament– the most in any parliament around the world. In 2016, MI5 was named the UK’s most LGBT-friendly employer by UK LGBT advocacy group Stonewall.
LGBT service members have been allowed to serve openly in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces since 2000. Today, the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force march in full uniform at gay Pride marches, as you’ll see on Saturday. And we have LGBT diplomats serving around the world, including here in Washington.
Of course, across the pond, Brits will be celebrating Pride, too. Pride in London will be held at the end of this month, with hundreds of thousands of Londoners lining the streets last year. Parliament will fly the rainbow flag, alongside many other government buildings in Whitehall.
And Pride celebrations will continue all summer throughout the UK, from Belfast, Ireland, to Glasgow, Scotland – even in the Channel Islands. All of these are great reasons to join the party by visiting the UK, which was voted most gay-friendly country in Europe. You can even enter to win a free trip for two this year.
We still have a long way to go. But today, we can be proud in the fact that, in the fight for equality, we are not alone. #LoveIsGREAT
Kim Darroch is the British ambassador to the United States.