Feature image via rogerebert.com
We may have finally struggled out of 2016’s clutches, but I’m sure I’m not the only one with half a brain still in the holidays. My girlfriend and I split Christmas between our hometowns for the first time this year, and even with both our families being as loving and supportive as you could ask for, I was feeling decidedly run down by Boxing Day (aka ‘The Day After Christmas Day’, aka ‘Why Do We Call It Boxing Day, Anyway?’, aka ‘Yes, I Know I Made This Exact Joke In My Bake Off Article Last Month, But I Can’t Trust That All Y’All Know What Our Weird Made Up Holidays Are Called’). Like a lot of queer folk, my memories of home are heavy with the weight of years of isolation in the closet. That loneliness lay on me even heavier this year, as the year drawing to a close inevitably meant not just looking back at the global shitshow that was 2016, but forward to the global shitshow that 2017 is likely to be. More personally, moving to London this past summer had meant leaving the incredible queer community I’d built up since I first left home and starting anew 300 miles away. And now my friends, both old and new, were scattered across the country for Christmas, many of them feeling just as alone as I was.
Luckily, a scheduler at the BBC had decided to send us a gift.
If you’ve never spent the festive season in the UK, you might not be aware of the extent to which TV plays a part in proceedings. More or less every show on telly will air a Christmas special, either on the day itself or the week surrounding it, and the schedules fill up with movies of all description; the ordeal of keeping track of what’s on means the TV listings magazine Radio Times publishes a double-sized issue, and poring over it with a highlighter is a Christmas tradition for families up and down the land. And so it was with highlighter in hand that I noticed that Pride was on the schedule on Boxing Day night. Of course, I highlighted the fuck out of it.
Have you seen Pride? If you haven’t, you really ought to. I bet you’ll like it. It’s based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), a group set up in 1984 by queer activists in London to show solidarity with coal miners, then on strike across the UK following the threat of widespread pit closures. In the face of hostility from both the LGBTQ and mining communities, as well as the general public, LGSM forms an unlikely alliance with a Welsh mining town. The film follows the burgeoning friendship of the two groups as they come together to take a stand against the prejudice and cruelty of Thatcher’s Britain.
My family has roots in a northern ex-mining town still struggling in the aftermath of the pit closures; when Pride came out, I went to see it with a friend from South Wales, whose community had similarly been decimated by Thatcher’s cuts. We bawled through the entire thing, and when we left we found another group of pals red-eyed and sniveling in the corridor. Half a year later, the day after the Tories won the 2015 general election, my girlfriend and I gathered together our scared and exhausted friends and we cried through it again in our living room. That’s not to say Pride is one of those gay films you end up watching on Netflix at 1AM where everyone spends the entire 90 minutes fighting and then dies. It features a dance sequence, and Welsh housewives giggling about dildos and every middle-aged leftie’s favourite film critic, Mark Kermode, described it as “irresistibly uplifting”!
In fact, Pride is as heart-warming as it is a rousing call for radical resistance and solidarity between oppressed groups. The main characters, miners and queers alike, are all struggling against the police and state, and supporting each other in that struggle. It’s a message that’s only become more important over the last couple of years, as vocal parts of the left have responded to right-wing victories by driving a wedge between the ‘white working class’ and ‘minorities’ (as if the two are mutually exclusive, and can only win victories on the back of the other) and discouraging visible protest. Perhaps that’s why the movie has been so embraced by the British LGBTQ community. Since Pride‘s release in 2014, LGSM t-shirts have become ubiquitous at queer events (if you want your own, I bought mine from the radical booksellers, Housmans), the movie has been on heavy rotation among LGBTQ socieites and community groups and its anthem, “Solidarity Forever”, is an increasingly common refrain at Pride marches across the country.
Amidst the wave of publicity following the release of the movie, a number of the original members of LGSM came together to reform the group. The new LGSM currently works to document and archive material relating to the 1984-5 strike, and its legacy of radical activism is continued by groups like Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants. Pride is nowhere near perfect – the film is dominated by gay men, and the main cast is overwhelmingly cis and white. But its story of solidarity and community in the face of adversity is exactly what we need as we step fearfully into 2017.
It’s a shame, then, that Pride remains little-known among the worldwide LGBTQ community. It’s understandable: outside the UK, it only received a limited cinema release in France and the US, and its queer subject matter has hamstrung its distribution on home video; when Pride was released in the States, the MPAA gave it an R rating and the DVD cover was altered to remove any references to homosexuality – including photoshopping out a banner reading “Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners” from the promotional image on the back cover. And the miners’ strike may have reached mythological status here, but if it’s known elsewhere, it’s only really through similar movies like Billy Elliot or Brassed Off. Whether you’re familiar with the context or not, though, if you’re looking for a film to hold your hand amidst the struggle of existing in the world we live in now, you owe it to yourself to check out Pride.
But back to Boxing Day. As Pride started that evening, my social media filled with happy messages from friends watching along. After the movie had finished, LGSM gained over 1500 new followers and have been inundated with supportive messages. In the middle of the toughest time of the year for a lot of the queer community, Pride let us forget the separation of distance, or the closet or unsupportive families. Instead, for a couple of hours, we could come together – in solidarity.