When the gay clientele of a New York bar staged a revolt against police harassment in June 1969 it sparked the awakening of the homosexual liberation movement. But 40 years on from the Stonewall rebellion, Britain's gay community is riven by a dispute over which should come first: politics or partying.
As thousands take to the streets of the British capital today for Gay Pride, which traditionally commemorates the US riots, critics hit out at Pride London for "depoliticising" the event and failing to feature its history in its literature or website.
Peter Tatchell, of the lesbian gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights group, OutRage, and a patron of Pride London, condemned this year's slogan "Come and Play" as "totally anodyne" and accused the LGBT community of "huge apathy and complacency".
He said: "I'm shocked that Pride London has hardly mentioned the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots on its website or in its magazine. Most of the content is about entertainment and partying. To ignore and downplay this important anniversary is an insult to the veterans who began our momentous fight for freedom."
Citing police statistics showing a 63% rise in homophobic hate crimes in Manchester last year and a recent report from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers showing the term gay is still the most frequently used insult in schools, he said: "Lots of people assume that we've won equality and everything is hunky dory. But the battle for LGBT equality is still far from being won. Same-sex marriage is banned and there is a ban on gay and bisexual blood donors. LGBT refugees are often sent back to renewed persecution to violently homophobic countries like Uganda and Nigeria. Police refuse to prosecute fundamentalist clerics and reggae singers who openly advocate the murder of LGBT people. The government's current equality bill gives protection against harassment on all grounds except sexual orientation."
Echoing Tatchell's call for a stronger political message, Anisa de Jong, the director of the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, said: "Gay Pride should be providing more of a political space in line with its history which is about visibility being a political statement in itself. The whole Pride issue is not just about celebrating our identity but about making a political statement about our identity and addressing injustices."
Joseph Galliano, the outgoing editor of GT magazine (formerly Gay Times), welcomed the celebratory aspects of the march but warned against the loss of its heritage.
He said: "I don't want to be po-faced about it but that celebration is standing on the shoulders of people who made great sacrifices and they should be remembered."
Paul Birrell, of Pride London, defended the decision not to feature the Stonewall riots on the website, but said it would be mentioned in the rally at Trafalgar Square after the march today.
"We decided that the Stonewall anniversary would get a lot of mainstream press interest and, short of being a commemoration event of the Stonewall riots, there's not much Pride can do. We will talk about it on stage on the day."
He stressed that London was one of the few Pride UK marches to retain a campaigning element, but admitted that its focus had changed in recent years to attract more people.
"There's no point in having a march just for already politicised LGBT group members – you would be preaching to the converted," said Birrell. "If you want to campaign, you have to have an audience, so you need to make it fun. When we took over in 2004, only 10,000 people attended, but last year we had 823,000. Our predecessor, mardi gras, was run on a more militant basis, but no one was interested. It collapsed in 2003."
Birrell said the campaign behind the march this year was to protest against the ban on gay men donating blood, but there would be "important but boring" speeches from, among others, Harriet Harmen, the deputy leader of the Labour party, on anti-discrimination issues such as the Single Equality Act.
When asked if sponsorship was a factor in deciding the march's message, Birrell replied: "To a degree. If we were heavily politicised, there's no way we would be in Oxford Street and Regents Street. The traders wouldn't want it and they have a lot of clout with the council, but when they can see it attracts people into the city, they're happy."
Soho Pride cancelled its event this year due to a lack of sponsorship, while the recently elected mayor of Doncaster, Peter Davies, has threatened to cut funding to the town's Gay Pride event as part of his pledge to fight political correctness.I can personally see this from both sides point of view although I'm siding more with the LGBT human rights group more. Clearly, the average person needs to be educated about homosexuality and how difficult it has been for them to get some of the rights they have today; I think that's an important history lesson. As well as that, the gay community should be having fun and partying it up during their Gay Pride - it is a celebration after all but they should remember what their celebrating in the first place and call attention upon it - which brings up their history again.
At the same time, like Paul Birrell has said; to have the event recognised and publicised; there has to be interest in it and so it seems (sadly) people are more interested in seeing the gay community playing up to their stereotypes than preaching about rights.
What are everyone's thoughts?