Cllr Sonia Winifred is the Cabinet Member for Equalities and Culture, and a councillor in Knight’s Hill ward.
This year marks 50 years since the Stonewall riots in New York, a turning point in LGBT+ history that is seen as one of the birthplaces of the struggle for LGBT+ rights. Since 28 June 1969, our society has taken considerable steps forward in embracing equality, diversity, and inclusion.
Over the years these steps were actioned through campaigning from the LGBT+ community and legislation opening the door of equality to LGBT+ communities. Despite the advances that have been made, there is still a great deal to do as inequalities still remain, and overcoming these is the objective of our equalities commission.
Lambeth is an open, tolerant, and welcoming borough – which meant that when considering such a valuable statement as these rainbow crossings in Lambeth to show our support for the LGBT+ community it was a straight-forward decision.
And where better than where the history of the LGBT+ community in Lambeth was born.
45 years ago, the South London Gay Community Centre opened at 78 Railton Road. Over its two years existence, the centre became a beacon for people determined to make a public statement of their LGBT+ identity. It quickly acted as a focal point bringing together LGBT+ people from many different backgrounds through social activities and political action.
From Brixton to Herne Hill, the many squats on Railton Road and Mayall Road became home to LGBT+ people seeking the company of boldly ‘out’ LGBT+ people. Railton Road also became home to the National Gay News Defence Committee. In 1978, the Anti-Nazi League crossed Dulwich Road at its junction with Railton Road on its way to the Rock Against Racism Festival in Brockwell Park, which was attended by 150,000 people.
The emblematic inverted pink triangle used at the time by gay rights campaigners (the symbol homosexual men sent to Nazi concentration camps were forced to wear) evidenced close alignment between the two struggles of LGBT+ rights campaigning and anti-fascist organising, united for social justice.
1978 is also the year that the original rainbow flag was flown for the first time, at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day parade celebrations. Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, had asked Gilbert Baker, a Vietnam Veteran, artist and drag performer, to create a symbol for the celebrations. A symbol of hope, of courage – something that didn’t have the connotations of oppression that came with the inverted pink triangle, and something the LGBT+ community could rally round – and so, the rainbow flag was born!
Now at this main entrance of Brockwell Park in Herne Hill, where anti-fascists and LGBT+ campaigners stood and fought for a better society, we come full circle and bring the rainbow flag to Lambeth.
Lambeth is home to one of the most diverse populations anywhere in the UK. We are a melting pot of different cultures, beliefs, background and experiences, and this is what makes our borough so strong. Our diversity runs at the core of our identity. This crossing is about you, me, and everyone else committed to the understanding and celebration of difference. Whilst we are different, we are one community in Lambeth – standing together for a better society. The rainbow crossing is about visibility and bringing into the open those who feel alone and need the strength of the community.
To some, the crossing may simply be some bright colours across the road where a zebra crossing used to be – but for many it is a symbol of hope. Gilbert Baker, the creator of the rainbow flag, was right when he said: “The rainbow is a part of nature, and you have to be in the right place to see it. It’s beautiful, all of the colours, even the colours you can’t see. That really fit us as a people because we are all of the colours. Our sexuality is all of the colours. We are all the genders, races, and ages.”
I believe this rainbow crossing is about hope, love, and solidarity. Our borough taking the lead in opening the first permanent rainbow road crossing in the UK sends a clear message that we are proud of our LGBT+ community and their history in Lambeth, and that we will always stand shoulder to shoulder with them.
Cllr Sonia Winifred