Pride QA: Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London
Ken, tell us about your first Pride.
The very first lesbian and gay march I did, it was in the late 1970s and Tom Robinson was the lead speaker at Trafalgar Square.
It was the first time I spoke on the plinth at Trafalgar Square. It was miserable grey day, late winter, early autumn. A grim, grim day.
I was the GLC member for Norwood in 1973 and by sheer coincidence the gay liberation front squatted in my constituency in 1973.
Just as I got elected. They were great fun, completely mad in retrospect.
They made Peter Tatchell look conservative.
And that traumatised the local political establishment because they thought this was a diversion from the real issue of class struggle, comrade.
The gay liberation front had a horse, and the candidate rode on the horse through the streets and then on polling day he was carried around in a coffin, to represent the death of democracy.
I remember a lot of the hard Left thought it was an outrageous undermining of class struggle.
He came to the count in the coffin. So it was good fun, it was a good start.
A lot of people have been critical of your public support for gay rights because you had the homophobic Mayor of Moscow at a press conference in front of the world’s press a few months ago, and you chose not to say anything to him. What’s your response to that?
Well, I mean, when you’ve got the mayors of Paris and Berlin, who are gay, you really can’t outdo them.
And I thought they handled it very well.
The most important thing about that press conference was that everyone saw it and what they saw was Mayors of two of the greatest cities in Europe, openly gay, and here’s the Mayor of Moscow doing this appalling number.
And he’s under huge pressure, I’m not saying this is an area you’d like to go down voluntarily, but you’ve got the grand Patriarch of the Eastern orthodox church and the Grand Mufti of Moscow, the Chief Rabbi in Moscow.
The only three things these religions agree on is that “perverts” shouldn’t march through the streets of Moscow.
So you have sympathy for his position?
No, no. I don’t have any sympathy for his position.
But he’s under huge pressure from the religions and what I noticed was, I mean the Tories put down a motion to say you must promise never to meet the mayor of Moscow here again, but overlooked the fact that the Israeli parliament voted by 2 to 1 to ban gay marches.
You’ve got London, Berlin, and Copenhagen and Amsterdam, and San Francisco, New York, but these little gay friendly jewels are floating in a great effluence of homophobia, and the vast majority of gay people in the world are still risking if not their lives, a savage beating.
We’ve had this huge influx of Poles into London over the last 15 years, and then you see the Polish government and these homophobic twins who run it, and you think, perhaps all the Poles who come here are fleeing them.
If you were gay or lesbian in Poland, where would you want to be? You’d want to come to London.
Surely the bravest thing to do is stay in your own country and change things there?
Yeah. For lesbian and gay campaigners here, fifteen years ago, I mean, you were putting your jobs on the line.
One of the first things I got involved in was a schools inspector in the ILEA back in the early 70s who came out as openly gay and immediately people said, this man can’t be allowed into schools.
He’s clearly going to abuse the children, and that was one of the first cases I took up.
Anyway, I’ve gone on a great diversion and forgotten you’re original question.
I think you’ve answered it. Would you accept an invitation to Moscow Pride next year?
As long as it doesn’t clash with my election. When is it?
There may be a small problem, I’ve got to fight off the hordes of reactionaries and get re-elected. But listen, I’d be happy too. When I’m in Moscow… this came up.
You’re talking about what happened this year.
Last year in Moscow, and the whole issue came up again, and I was able to say, ‘no, no, you’ve got to accept that lesbians and gays have equal rights, and they should have a march.’
So we’ve done all this, it just didn’t get mentioned until this year when it became a much bigger issue.
London Pride is obviously a big event that you fund. But it’s a very inward-looking event.
What I mean by that is, St Patrick’s Day isn’t an Irish only event. Do you think Pride needs to do more to become a true community event?
I don’t know. I mean, last year as we marched through London, yes, every gay and lesbian from London is really there aren’t they, but the majority of people lining that route are tourists, either from the rest of Britain or the rest of the world, and I suspect, not to the same degree.
Londoners all pile into St Patrick’s Day because the Irish know how to party, they enjoy it more, and there’s a strong element of that as well with Pride, and that will build up year by year.
We’ll market this, I mean Visit London markets it actively and it’s a great day out for people.
Do you think it could do more to include the whole of the London community?
I’m not going to be in the position of how telling Pride how it should organise itself, we’re here to support it.
And that’s a debate which has to happen within the lesbian and gay community. I think we’re doing quite well actually in London.
Though obviously more women and more black people need more representation at Pride.
Well, I mean exactly the same argument is made about the environmental movement. Why aren’t there more black people in it.
The same was said of the peace movement twenty years ago, why aren’t there more black people?
If you’re black and you haven’t got a job and you’ve got bad housing and you’re subject to massive racism, other issues get pushed back. But we will get there.
I was speaking to Ben Summerskill of Stonewall earlier about homophobic bullying and he was saying they are now going to distribute the DVD, which you were very kindly involved in, across the country.
Has your impression of homophobic bullying at school been affected by the fact you now have kids?
Mine are only 3 and 4, they don’t know there’s sex yet, let alone homophobia.
Bullying in schools is just horrendous at all levels, and there’s a lot, my broad view, which we’ve really got to push, as proper anti-bullying.
Because it’s not just about being lesbian and gay, it’s about everything else.
The scale of violence… when I was at school there was an awful lot of bullying, but people would kick or punch you, now they produce a bloody knife.
It’s scary. I remember when I was a kid I was so glad to leave school and go to work.
I just hated it. Because I was very scrawny and slightly unusual, I was always getting beaten up as well.
Kids are horrendous. They’re not fully human till they’re well into their twenties.
Something you’re going to pushing is the campaign against bullying.
The campaign against bullying, which immediately overlaps the fight against homophobia. Because the suicide rate of kids is appalling.
I grew up in a world where we were innocent, I didn’t know sex existed until we were 11.
It’s just got … the pressure of kids, exams, have you got the money to afford the latest things that everyone else has.
Add to that the fact that you’re a different sexual orientation, and it’s a nightmare.