Hundreds of people celebrated East London Gay Pride on Saturday, three weeks after the original event was cancelled, because of the EDL march through Tower Hamlets.
Terry Stewart, latest East London Gay Pride’s director, said they felt the need to keep the two marches separate. The decision to avoid clashing with EDL activities follows the criticism of another pride event, East End Gay Pride, after revelations of its connections to EDL.
Last March, East End Gay Pride was scrapped after it emerged that Raymond Berry, one of the organizers had links to the EDL. Back then, claims that the League was using the march as a “smokescreen” to attack Muslims, had resulted in tension between the organisers, and Stewart, who was a coordinator of OutEast, which is part of the Rainbow Hamlets umbrella organisation for East London gay, lesbians and other groups. Back then, Stewart opposed the march, saying it had been “tainted with the EDL” and therefore it had to be scrapped. The event was indeed cancelled and Berry resigned.
The Gay Pride event had originally been planned as a response to a homophobic campaign with “gay-free zone” stickers spreading in Tower Hamlets and Hackney. An 18 year old local man Mohammed Hasnath, was fined £100 for the offence in June. Recent Met figures show a 17.4 per cent rise in homophobic crime in Tower Hamlets during the past year while the rest of London boroughs have seen a fall of 13.9 per cent.
The EDL controversy was not the only hurdle East London Gay Pride had to face since Home Secretary Theresa May had imposed 30-day ban on marches in six London boroughs.
Thanks to a loophole in the Public Disorder Act, the organizers managed to exempt Gay Pride as a “customary” event. The organisers of this weekend’s event also distanced themselves from the EDL by stating that the event was open to the wider community, regardless of sex or religion.
The Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, expressed his support for the event. Speaking in Hackney Road’s Oxford House at the end of the march he said: “I want you to be in no doubt I will fight to ensure there is respect for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender culture and rights in the same way I will for all communities.”