Matthew Todd's Pride

July 23, 2020 | MK Scott
Matthew Todd's Pride

In conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the first Pride parade, writer, journalist, and former editor of Attitude magazine Matthew Todd brings us Pride: The Story of the LGBTQ Equality Movement, a beautiful, exhaustively researched history of milestones in the community's fight for equality.

But this is a new kind of Pride month, one defined by pandemic-related concern and nationwide protest of systemic racism and police brutality. Todd is explicit in linking the fight for LGBTQ+ equality with any struggle to secure fairness and justice. As he says in his introduction to the book: "If we really want to honor the people who fought at the Stonewall Inn on that unusually hot June night in 1969, then we need to defend those hard-won rights and confront anything that threatens the free and stable societies protecting them. Those who wish to control others or have an interest in the status quo will tell you that protest never achieves anything. I hope this book assures you that protest can achieve a great deal, and that when people act together they have true power — and that sometimes using that power is absolutely necessary."

Pride is a unique and comprehensive account of the challenges facing the LGBTQ community, and a celebration of the rights that have been won for so many as a result of the sacrifices and passion of this mass movement.

The book includes a wealth of rare images and documents, accompanied by moving essays from key players in and witnesses to the moments that pushed the movement forward, such as personal testimonies from Judy Shepard, activist and mother of Matthew Shepard; Jake Shears; David Furnish [Elton John's husband] and many others.

I had a chance to chat with Todd via Skype from his home in London.

MK Scott: You have compiled a great collection of photos and stories in the your new book. How did this come about?

Matthew Todd: So, I wrote a book that was quite successful [in the UK] called Straight Jacket, about LGBT mental health, and at the end of that book, there are some things which I think would be helpful. And one of them is, you know, that we need to see ourselves reflected in culture more, in terms of films and TV and all that kind of stuff, which in books is happening more and more...

So with it being the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, I just thought it was an ideal time to write something about that, and there was a publishing company in the UK that had been thinking along the same lines. So that's what we did...

When I came to write it, I thought I knew everything [and that it] would be quite fast and quite easy to write. Actually, there was just so much stuff that I knew nothing about. So it's been an amazing experience, a learning experience for me as much as I would hope for the reader.

MKS: How has Pride changed over the last 50 years?

MT: Well, again, you know, it was an amazing thing that it's exploded and gone across the world. I mean, I find it incredible to think that the commemoration of [Stonewall in] the years afterwards has now been represented across the planet, even in some places in Africa, in India... When you see the rainbow flag, I think that's an incredible thing.

Certainly in America and in the UK, there's a lot of criticism now that it's lost its political roots and political edge, and that maybe it's kind of dominated by corporations. And I think that's certainly true, certainly in London... It kind of feels like a parade of, you know, corporate PR. And I think there's a growing resistance to that, that people feel that there's got to be more than that, because otherwise what does it mean?

You know, for me, when I was a kid going to Pride... — which was political in itself — the partying was powerful for me to a degree, because, you know, life had been pretty difficult growing up in the closet. [It was great] to just be able to step outside with other LGBT people in the daylight. Because any place we would meet [was until then] in bars and clubs. So just to be out with all these different types of people, this very diverse group of people who were all LGBTQ, was an incredible thing.

So I think, you know, there's nothing wrong with celebrating and having a great time. But if it doesn't connect to its political roots, I think that's a fundamental problem.

MKS: You had a chance to speak to get the stories of several people, a couple of whom I have chatted with before, including Jake Shears and also Judy Shepard.

MT: Yeah, that was amazing, I sat next to Mr. and Mrs. Shepard at the Astrid Awards a couple of years ago, which we do in London every year. And it was just a real honor and a very humbling and moving experience. They were just completely lovely. They were there to receive an award for all the campaigning work that they had done since their son's murder. So, yeah, I was telling Judy about the book. And I asked if she might consider contributing. Yeah, it was an incredible honor that she wrote something for it.

[Not to mention] all these testimonies from people that have been really important in the movement over the years, and from different worlds... There is this amazing writer called Paris Lees, who is a trans activist here [in the UK]. There's Maureen Duffy, who was one of the first British women to come out in public life, in the '60s. It's just incredible. And actually I'm really ashamed to say that I didn't even know who Duffy was until about...seven years ago, when I was running these awards and we were looking for people to give awards to. And we just found these incredible stories that I guess aren't told. You know, history is told by the mainstream, essentially, straight white men.

So there's just so much history [to be discovered]. And even this book, which spans 50 years or more, in some ways only scrapes the surface. There are so many more stories to be told out there.

MKS: Out of all the people you spoke to, who were you the most excited about?

MT: Oh, you know, I [can't really] pick anybody out, but it was just an incredible kind of cathartic and moving experience for me. I mean just to meet Judy Shepard, that was incredible... Maureen Duffy was absolutely amazing. And also Reverend Troy Perry, who founded the Metropolitan Community Church. I was in tears doing that interview. We transcribed it for the book. Just to have a conversation with him, was really, really important.

You know, it can still be difficult for people to come out now, of course. It's very difficult, and it's an individual journey that we all go on. And I absolutely think...it's still a brave thing to do. But to think about people like [Perry] — who came out and was setting up this church, and helping people, you know, decades ago — it's just, it's, I mean... even now talking about it, the hairs on the back of my head are standing up. It's overwhelming, really, the bravery...

In the past, there's been this narrative that gay men in particular are weak. And if people could just hear these stories, like Reverend Perry's, [they'll see that it] couldn't be further from the truth. The bravery that these people [demonstrated] is just incredible. It's really incredible.

MKS: Was there a story from someone that actually surprised you?

MT: Yeah, actually it was really interesting to hear from Jake [Shears] about his experience of music and David Bowie and Dee-Lite, because... I think we have a very specific relationship with pop culture.

Certainly in my experience: I saw Madonna when I was 16 in 1990, and it was absolutely one of the most life-changing moments in my life... She was the first person at that time, at the end of the '80s — which had been this terrible decade where AIDS had exploded into the world and was killing people ... and the homophobia that came with that, and the prejudice and the hatred. I was a teenager, and I did not hear anything positive about any gay people at all from anyone. And then suddenly to see Madonna sticking her finger up to, you know, mainstream culture and prejudice and hatred, and saying, you know, it's to be who you are, it's OK to be gay. That was just a thunderbolt for me. And it really, really, really changed my entire life, actually.

So I was really, really touched to hear about Jake and his experience with music and what meant something to him. And I think it's a very touching thing, the way that we connect so much to popular culture growing up. I think it's lifesaving for us, actually.

MKS: On a different subject, in light of the current Black Lives Matter marches, do you think that there'll be a time when we can go back to what Pride was originally was, which was a march, with less commercialism?

MT: I really hope so. I mean I wasn't in New York last year for the anniversary of Stonewall, but I noted with interest that the alternative march, the less corporate march that happened. And I noticed the huge numbers of people that went to that, and I think that's really exciting and heartening.

Anyone who follows me on social media knows that I'm really obsessed with what's happening with the environment and climate change. And [there's something] I really learned from the book. For me, the [Stonewall] narrative was that Judy Garland died, all the people at Stonewall were very upset, and they were regularly raided, and that night, they were so upset that they fought back. And actually, yes, I'm sure some people were upset, and Judy was a huge, huge icon. But [one has] to understand the context of all the changes that were happening in the '60s, you know, the mass protests against the Vietnam War, the feminist protests, civil rights for black people. I think it was a real moment where people were realizing that change had to happen. And that just asking for it [politely] doesn't always work; you have to protest, you have to go out there.

And I think that Black Lives Matter is a really inspiring moment where we realize that, you know, there are terrible things happening and they're not being fixed, and they need to be fixed, and we need to be part of a movement that makes that change happen.

And I think that's very true with the environment. You know, I've been a gay writer, a journalist, and something of an activist for most of my life. But if we don't sort out the environment, then, we're all going to go down with the ship. There's no point being able to get married if there's not...clean water and air. Climate change and what is happening to the planet keeps me up at night. You know, it really causes me to worry a huge, huge amount.

So I think I really hope that this movement of Black Lives Matter inspires people to understand that, you know, actually you do have the power to change things. And if we come together, we can stand up against people that are in charge of the world who are basically screwing the whole thing up. And I think that's a really urgent message.

MKS: It's interesting that, on the 50th anniversary of the first Pride march, circumstances have caused a huge change in what was planned for this year. There were going to be virtual Prides and so forth, but now all of a sudden you hear from LA, OK, we're going to combine Pride with Black Lives Matter. And they're going to march just like they did back in 1970.

MT: That's incredible. The whole history of Pride in London has always been one of problems funding it. And they always go round and round and round about how much corporate funding there should or shouldn't be.

But I remember there was one time nine or ten years ago when funding collapsed at the last minute, and they said, OK, so we're just going to have a march. And everyone was upset and acting like it was this devastating blow. And actually, to me, that was one of the best ones, because it was literally the entire community just coming together and marching, and being political in the sense that people were just there.

And now it feels like, well, you have to have a license, you have to be qualified, and there's a limit to the numbers of people that can [be in] the march. And when it was just literally everybody just marching; that felt so much more powerful to me.

So, yeah, I think people do need to reconnect. I think Western culture has been acting like everything's taken over nicely, and clearly that's not the case. So I think that's the change that's needed. I think, yes, if this coronavirus can reset some of that, then maybe that's a positive that can come out of such a terrible disaster.