What do you call a person who is ‘admired for their courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities’? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, you call them a hero. As Pride Heroes is the theme for Pride in London 2015, it seems a good opportunity to not only celebrate our Pride heroes, but also to explore what being a hero really means, at both a personal and community level.
When asked who your Pride heroes are, the inclination is probably to think of well-known LGBT figures who have demonstrated personal courage or achieved something ground-breaking for the LGBT community – Harvey Milk and his gay activism against a homophobic backdrop of 1970s America, Gareth Thomas paving the way for sports people to be out without fear or judgement, the founding members of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, Ben Summerskill, Founder of Stonewall, Peter Tatchell, the human rights campaigner who has endured numerous physical attacks and threats and yet remains undeterred in speaking up for equality, and many more. Then there are those figures who have achieved highly in other areas of life, and just happen to be LGB or T; such as Dusty Springfield with her incredible talent and stand against apartheid, Ellen DeGeneres hosting one of the biggest and longest running talk shows, Stephen Fry with that incredible intellect, and a host of other LGBT actors, entertainers and presenters, such as Ru Paul, Gok Wan, Jodie Foster, Ian McKellen, Sue Perkins, Claire Balding, to name but a random selection.
But heroes don’t have to be famous. Every single LGBT person living true to themselves is demonstrating courage, whether or not they experienced coming out as a struggle or a breeze, and whether or not the response of those around them was to celebrate or persecute their orientation. It takes guts and integrity to be who you are; to accept and embrace this, whether you are LGBT or not. But when you are LGBT in a world where we are still unequal and not fully normalised, then it takes a certain kind of courage. There is no one way to be L, G, B or T and so to me, people who refuse to conform to stereotypes to fit in, and who are themselves (even against judgement from within the community) are also heroes. These are the everyday heroes who, by just living their lives, are making the world see that LGBT people are as individual, diverse, flawed or great – in other words, as human, as anyone else.
Taking this a step further, I’d argue that Pride Heroes don’t even need to be L, G, B or T themselves. I’m not talking here about leaders being heroic in the form of ‘saving’ us by bestowing equal rights. I don’t think that David Cameron is heroic for passing equal marriage and neither do I think it’s heroic for any straight person to accept LGBT people. It’s not heroic because it is a basic human right that we shouldn’t have to be grateful for and if anyone feels proud of not being homophobic, I’d question why that is an achievement for them rather than an instinct. However, the straight allies who support us and celebrate us for who we are; seeing our sexual orientation as only one facet of a whole human being, these people are heroes because they are enabling us to move beyond ‘the fight’ and towards true equality – when we can just live our lives with the letters L, G, B or T being incidental, not defining. If we can live in this world, there won’t be any need for Pride heroes with a capital P. There will just be diverse humans who are proud to be themselves.