Colin Wilson reports from central London.
Thousands of people crammed the whole length of Old Compton Street on Monday evening to send the message “London stands with Orlando”. The huge crowd included Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor. Gay and lesbian couples stood side by side with tourists. Several young women wearing hijabs took part. It was not an occasion, perhaps, for political placards – but a few home-made ones rejecting an Islamophobic response to the attack were much photographed, and no one raised any disagreement. Some of us heard what might have been an attempt to start a chant against Islam, but no one took it up.
At 7pm all those thousands of people stood for two minutes in complete, unbroken silence. At one end of the street, near the Admiral Duncan, scene of the homophobic pub bombing in 1999, there was chanting – “We’re here, we’re queer, we will not live in fear” – and a choir singing Bridge Over Troubled Water. “It sounds corny,” said a good friend and long-time LGBT activist to me, “but I had a lump in my throat.” Rainbow balloons were released into a rainy sky.
This was a subdued event. Many LGBT people I’ve talked to feel personally touched by what happened in Orlando. People are still processing death on such a scale. In the days to come political debate will follow. We’ll need to continue arguing against an Islamophobic response. With Pride London in eleven days’ time will come practical issues about security. Objections have already been raised to a flyover by the RAF’s Red Arrows Team at what many on the left feel was already become an event which is too corporate and too close to government. Legitimate concerns about security may become hard to disentangle from an increasingly state-approved and state-regulated Pride.
Political debate in that narrower sense was absent on Monday evening. But we stood together, in a crowd including our Muslim mayor and Muslim Londoners, and we sent the message that LGBT people are not going away, and we won’t let our grief be diverted into Islamophobic hatred. Those are the things that needed to be said.
Colin Barker reports from Manchester:
We attended the dusk and nighttime event, after the Manchester vigil, in nearby Sackville Gardens. Many hundreds were there to hear the Gay and Lesbian Choir, to listen to poems and speeches of love and defiance, and to light candles in the rain. A brilliant affirmation of love and solidarity.