Just a day after a heated row over homophobia between Labour and the Conservatives, almost one million people gathered in London today to celebrate gay Pride.
Although rain threatened to overshadow the day, it was confined to a light shower just before marchers set off from Baker Street.
The day began with a reception at Downing Street, during which prime minister Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah met Pride organisers and the pink press.
Mrs Brown then joined the parade as it made its way from Baker Street to Whitehall via Oxford Street. Waving a pink Union flag, she appeared happy to talk to gay campaigners and shouts of ‘Go Sarah!’ were heard from marchers.
At around 3pm, thousands gathered in Trafalgar Square to hear speeches from various politicians and gay rights campaigners.
London mayor Boris Johnson, who led last year’s march in a pink cowboy hat, could not attend due to his son’s birthday. Instead, he addresses marchers via videolink.
Deputy leader of the Labour Party and Minister for Equality Harriet Harman was booed and heckled during her speech, in which she cited the Equality Bill as an important piece of legislation.
Mrs Harman, who is also Leader of the House of Commons added: “I want to say how proud I am of my ministerial colleagues. Angela Eagle and the two hottest men in government, Ben Bradshaw and Chris Byrant.
Foreign Office minister Chris Bryant began his speech by proclaiming he was proud to say he was gay, adding: “There’s a lot more to do. It’s great about India but there are lots of others, Iran, Jamaica, where people still die.”
He criticised the current ban on gay men donating blood, saying: “It’s right we should change the law on giving blood.”
He also defended Harman over the boos she received, saying she always supported gays in her constituency.
Jeremy Hunt, the shadow culture secretary, spoke for the Conservative Party. His gay colleagues Alan Duncan and Nick Herbert were unable to attend the parade.
Hunt had bottles of beer thrown at him by members of the crowd.
He urged gays to get involved with the Conservative Party, saying the party would have more gay members than ever after the next election.
In response to the row this week, in which Labour MPs accused the Tories of deep-seated homophobia, he said: “It is has taken us too long but we have arrived.”
Hunt told PinkNews.co.uk: “You know things have changed when the Conservative Party supports gay rights and comes to events like this.”
At the end of Hunt’s speech, gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell grabbed his arm as he left the stage to tell him that the issue was not about numbers of gay MPs. Instead, Tatchell said, what mattered was having MPs who would vote for gay issues.
Liberal Democrat MP and energy spokesman Simon Hughes also referred to countries lagging behind on gay rights.
He said: “We have to set the standards. If we do this, all of the prejudiced countries which do not have gay rights will change too. India changed this week.”
Tatchell repeated his calls for gay marriage, saying that although gays are “on the verge of freedom”, there is still work to be done.
“Although we have civil partnerships, they are not equality,” he said. “Same-sex civil marriage is equality and that is what we want.”
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