The Heartstopper cast taking on homophobes at Pride left me in awe of LGBT youth

I’m sure I wasn’t the only LGBTQ+ Londoner going into Pride weekend in a bit of a funk.

Three years on from the last full-scale Pride event in the capital, and 50 years after the very first one in 1972, and it didn’t exactly feel celebratory.

Globally, including in countries white Westerners like to think of as ultra-progressive, it feels like LGBTQ+ rights are in a very fragile position.

In the USA, proposed anti-trans bills are hitting headlines with alarming frequency, and the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law is now in full effect in Florida. After the devastating ruling on Roe v Wade, there’s plenty of speculation that the nationwide legalisation of same-sex marriage may too be overturned.

In Norway, Oslo’s Pride celebrations were cancelled after a deadly shooting around a queer bar; and here in the UK, where hate crimes are on the rise and transphobic rhetoric is constantly in the media, even a TV ad in which Baga Chipz plugs a popular dinner product has proven controversial.

Marry all that with the coverage around FINA’s ruling on trans women in swimming, the fact a UK ban on conversion therapy is still being debated, and news that Amazon bowed to pressure to restrict LGBTQ-friendly search results in the UAE.

We’re left with an exhausting reminder that Pride is a protest as well as a party – and while we’ve never had the perfect utopia (especially for queer people whose identities intersect with other marginalised groups), things feel more fraught now than they have done for quite some time.

Maybe all of that is why footage of the young stars of Heartstopper dancing in front of bigots during Saturday’s parade in London made me burst into tears.

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For context, there are always a small number of homophobic, often religious counter-protesters at Pride parades – and even though they’re always vastly outnumbered, they’re still there, and they’re easily visible, and they’re a bloody miserable sight.

Maybe you’ll walk past them on the day and be reminded that some people think you’re a hell-bound sinner; or perhaps you’ll just encounter photos on social media, thanks to people sharing their disbelief that they’re even allowed to have a presence.

I always dread seeing them, and try to avoid it if possible – this year more than ever. Coming face-to-face with people who hate you for what’s in your DNA is such a vibe-killer.

This year, though, they ended up on my Twitter timeline thanks to video captured by journalist Scott Beasley – and rather than trying not to look at it, I’ve been watching it over and over and over again.

Draped in Pride flags, they’re dancing joyfully, without shame or inhibition, to Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody – and when they see who’s at the side of the road, their dancing becomes even more exuberant and defiant.

Joe Locke (who plays Charlie Spring in the series) even gleefully holds his middle fingers up at them, while Sebastian Croft

(Ben Hope) and Corinna Brown (Tara Jones) make sure they can see just how much fun is being had despite the unwelcome hatred.

It was such a moving sight, especially from a group of emerging stars with huge platforms who are still – lest we forget – extremely young (Locke, at 18, is still a teenager).

I’m clearly not the only person it resonated with: a video Croft posted of the moment has had almost 30,000 retweets and 150,000 likes; while journo Beasley’s has accrued over 10.8million views.

Kit Connor, who plays Nick Nelson and was with them at the time (‘videoing and screaming’), tweeted in high praise of his co-stars ‘doing something so powerful’.

And while ‘powerful’ may sound a bit OTT for celebrities essentially jumping up and down to a Whitney banger, it’s completely accurate – that video was, for me, the defining image of Pride, and an inspirational mood-setter for the rest of the day.

That, combined with clips of the original 1972 activists leading the parade half a century later, transformed my demeanour from ‘[reluctant sigh] I suppose it’s my gay duty to go along’, to ‘[cracks open pre-mixed gin can] F**K THE DINOSAURS, LET’S GO!’

That group, dancing whole-heartedly in front of people who’d gladly take most of their rights away, gave us all a welcome reminder to stick together as a community and carry on being our authentic selves despite any uptick in hate.

And while, yes, being so inspired by people who are over a decade younger than me does make me feel like a withered old fossil, it’s wonderful to think of the teen fans in Heartstopper’s target demographic being reminded to be unapologetically themselves in the face of whoever says they’re less-than.

Things remain challenging for the LGBTQ+ community, and I’m very much aware that as a white cis non-disabled man, I already have a big degree of privilege as the battle continues. I’m also aware that if current trends are anything to go by, things might become even more difficult and fraught over the months and years ahead.

But alongside the fightback, we should always find the time and the energy to stick a middle finger up at those who want to hold us down, and dance chaotically with the people that make us feel whole.

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This year marks 50 years of Pride, so it seems only fitting that goes above and beyond in our ongoing LGBTQ+ support, through a wealth of content that not only celebrates all things Pride, but also share stories, take time to reflect and raises awareness for the community this Pride Month.

And we’ve got some great names on board to help us, too. From a list of famous guest editors taking over the site for a week that includes Rob Rinder, Nicola Adams, Peter Tatchell, Kimberly Hart-Simpson, John Whaite, Anna Richardson and Dr Ranj, as well as the likes of Sir Ian McKellen and Drag Race stars The Vivienne, Lawrence Chaney and Tia Kofi offering their insights. 

During Pride Month, which runs from 1 – 30 June, will also be supporting Kyiv Pride, a Ukrainian charity forced to work harder than ever to protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community during times of conflict, and youth homelessness charity AKT. To find out more about their work, and what you can do to support them, click here.

For‘s latest Pride coverage, click here.

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