We spoke to Shauna McDonagh about her perspectives on Pride, her personal experiences of discrimination and about a changing, more inclusive society.
What are your thoughts on the ongoing campaigning work of the LGBTQ+ community – are there parallels with the Black Lives Matter movement?
The first thing I’d say here is that the LGBTQ+ community would not be where it is today without black trans women. They got up and fought for their rights in the 70s; this was how Pride got started.
The sad part is that even though they were responsible for helping get those rights, people of colour and trans people were then excluded from Pride. Pride became white middle class.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement today is a call to arms; it’s made me think again about the origins of Pride and the fight for change. In the beginning, the LGBTQ+ community had nothing. We were supported by a group of black trans women who were themselves seriously discriminated against.
I think the BLM movement is everyone’s responsibility, but maybe more so the LGBTQ+ community. We owe it to BLM campaigners to help make change happen; we can make sure everyone has same human right regardless of sex, gender, religion, colour of our skin or sexual orientation. We should all be treated the same.
It’s quite a big task to get people on the same page. To know what we can and can’t do. But the fact that we now have Pride tells me nothing is impossible.
Every big change in the world has happened through riots and protests: children in factories, climate change, equal pay, LGBTQ+ rights – the list goes on and will continue to grow.
What’s been the impact of Pride being cancelled this year?
I understand why it’s cancelled, but it hurts at the same time. To me, Pride is the ability to be 100% yourself. You have one day when you’re with people of the same mindset. You see people who you haven’t seen in years. You make friends.
You can celebrate and be yourself without fear of discrimination, for one day. It’s a huge safety net. To be able to have that one day to be proud of who you are.
Every year it renews your fight for everything that’s still going on. If you had a bad year with discrimination it makes you realise there isn’t anything wrong with you. People love and support you regardless.
Pride is important for all those reasons but also because there’s so much more to do. In the US, there are talks about laws being passed which will push back gender equality or trans rights. There are also ongoing debates about trans rights in this country. Conversion therapy is still legal in the UK. We march because of stuff like that.
Have you experienced discrimination because of your sexuality?
Yes. Only last weekend I was walking with my partner, holding her hand. A gentleman and – I assume – his two sons were walking towards us. As he got closer, he looked my partner up and down, then me up and down and stared at us holding hands.
I didn’t quite know where it was going. Do I drop the hand? No, I’m in the middle of nowhere.
As he walked past, he said something to his sons, and they both started to stare. I stopped walking and talking and turned around. All three were staring back at us with a look of disgust.
You get the looks, the comments under the breath, the stares. I’ve been shouted at in the street. That’s the low level discrimination which isn’t necessarily seen or spoken about.
At a previous workplace I had to file a grievance against someone in the management team for homophobic comments they made.
But you also have it internalised. When I was growing up it was very much not spoken about. We weren’t taught about what being gay meant, what you might have to face. When you start to realise who you are and start to face it, the levels of shame are ridiculous. You ask: could I live a different life? Could I do it? I thought: screw the world, no.
What I find sad is that there are young people today who have an opinion passed down and passed down. They need the facts. It is nature, not nurture. That’s the hardest thing. Trying to get people to understand that I didn’t choose this.
Has society changed for the better? Are things better or easier now?
It depends on what part of the community you’re from. If you’re a white gay man or a white gay female who can pass as being straight, it’s okay.
If you are a person of colour or trans or can’t pass as being straight then I don’t think society has gone far enough to accept you.
What’s interesting is that the generation coming up doesn’t care. It has no labels. Just be happy – that’s it. That’s the biggest thing the rest of society can take on.
Young people are so fluid with everything, and it’s so refreshing. For people my age who didn’t have it especially hard or easy; wondering how to make it better when it’s not terrible. (while knowing in the cold light of day that it is terrible), this new generation gives us a lot of hope.
I think it’ll cause tidal waves in society. It will shock a lot of people.
It’s allies pushing the change, as well as the LGBTQ+ community. We’re all now asking: what does it matter who we live with, who we end up in bed with? If it’s not hurting me or other people, it doesn’t matter. I think older generations will find this hard to accept.
What would you say to people who want to help – new allies to the cause or younger LGBTQ+ people who want to push for change?
I’d say read about it. There are loads of books I’d recommend: All Boys Aren’t Blue, by George M Johnson, The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo Or On Earth we’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong.
Films or documentaries worth watching might be Moonlight, Tangerine, The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson or Before Stonewall: The Making of a Gay and Lesbian Community.
Attend Pride in whatever form this year and maybe in person next year. Sign petitions that push for change.
If people don’t understand or don’t have the knowledge, I get why. I get it. I get why you wouldn’t know stuff. But most people who’ve been through discrimination, maybe about their gender, their sexuality or their colour would be happy to have a conversation and talk about the world they live in.
It might be different to your world. That’s okay. Your world and their world are not wrong. Just different.