Around 200 Christians marched as a group in the Pride procession in London yesterday (7 July) to show their support for the dignity and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Many wore T-shirts declaring "Christian and proud".
Many other Christians joined other parts of the parade. A small number of Christians stood at the side of the march with placards expressing their sorrow for Christian homophobia. Later, a Christian service for Pride participants was hosted at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church. There were also participants of other faiths at the event, including Jews and Muslims.
Meanwhile, about forty Christians opposed to same-sex relationships staged a protest against Pride.
The Pride celebrations included veterans of the first Pride march in London, forty years ago.
The organisation of the event has caused widespread controversy in recent weeks, with organisers, sponsors, the Metropolitan Police and the Mayor of London's office clashing over responsibility for a series of logistical and financial problems. In the end, the event went ahead as a march without the usual floats.
While some lamented the 'scaled down' version, others said it was an opportunity to take Pride back to its origins as a campaigning demonstration. The commercialisation of Pride has been strongly criticised in recent years.
Christians Together at Pride said the day before the march that they saw the developments "as a helpful reminder of what Pride is all about".
Christians Together at Pride is a coalition of nine groups, including the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, Accepting Evangelicals, Inclusive Church and Changing Attitude. Other Christian groups with members at the event included Quest, a network of gay and lesbian Catholics.
They pointed out that Pride originated as a protest rally, with the first participants expressing a demand to be recognised publicly as they defined themselves, not withholding their sexuality.
In a joint statement, they said, "The extravagant floats that have been cancelled this year show how that first demand, in many cases, has come to fruition as a float that costs thousands of pounds to enter in a parade does not suggest that the group providing it is struggling at the margins of society, as the first marchers were."
However, some disabled activists, while welcoming the rejection of commercialism, said that the lack of vehicles made it harder for them to participate.
Human rights activist Peter Tatchell, who participated in London's first Pride parade in 1972, united with other campaigners yesterday to call for the legalisation of same-sex relationships around the world.
“Nearly eighty countries still criminalise homosexuality," he explained, "With penalties ranging from a few years imprisonment to life imprisonment - and even execution in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran".
He added, “More than half the countries that outlaw same-sex relations belong to the Commonwealth, despite the Commonwealth’s professed commitment to human rights, equality and individual freedom."
Marriage was also a prominent theme in yesterday's march. Many participants called for speedy legislation to give legal recognition to same-sex marriage. The UK government has promised civil ceremonies for same-sex marriage in England and Wales by 2015, but is opposed to requests by religious groups who want to be able to carry out same-sex weddings in a religious context. The Scottish government is due to publish its proposals on the issue later this month.
Campaigners highlighted a range of other concerns on the march. The group Queer Resistance spoke out against the UK government's cuts agenda.
LGCM report that the numbers of Christians marching at Pride have nearly doubled over the past two years. They said that the presence of the group in the parade is an important challenge to those who still use Christianity and selective biblical quotations as grounds for homophobia and transphobia.
Rev Sharon Ferguson, Chief Executive of LGCM said, "With the wonderful changes we have seen in the past few years to equality legislation in the UK, it is easy to become complacent and believe that there is no longer a need for campaigning".
But she added, "Many LGBT Christians still struggle for acceptance within both their religious and LGBT communities and we hope the presence of Christians Together at Pride will send a very positive message".
Those protesting against Pride included members of the right-wing fundamentalist group Christian Voice. The group's director Stephen Green yesterday criticised groups involved in Pride for "trying to present homosexuals as normal people".