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What on earth has being LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or queer) got to do with walking? Well, both nothing and everything.

This Pride month, we won’t be gathering together to walk down the streets of our towns and cities en masse, waving our rainbow flags and admiring the colourful diversity of our communities.

And because we won’t, Kate Joester - our Project Coordinator for Living Streets Scotland - has been thinking and reading about why we do it in the first place.

Kate Joester
couple walking

Why we walk in Pride marches

Walking down the street feeling safe and comfortable is a very basic right. When you are identified by others as LGBT – which for some people is “always” and for others just when they’re holding a partner’s hand – safety is never guaranteed.

Personally, my risk assessment for holding a partner’s hand in the street accepts that sexual harassment is likely to happen, and focuses on whether it’s dark, there are few people around, whether it’s “not a gay-friendly area”, and if there’s a higher risk of physical violence.

I'm not alone in these concerns and they're not without reason. One third of people in same-sex relationships don’t feel comfortable holding hands in the street, whilst one fifth of LGBT people experience violence or discrimination every year.

For young LGBT people, the walk to school, instead of being a way of building independence and peer relationships, can be a site of bullying. And for some people, their legal right simply to walk down the street at all is a recent and hard-won thing.

Recently on Twitter, some transgender women shared photos of their “walking papers” – letters from psychiatrists saying that they had an official diagnosis of gender dysphoria. The explicit aim of these letters was to be shown to police, who otherwise sometimes arrested people wearing “the wrong sex’s” clothes for breach of the peace or soliciting. The most recent “walking papers” date from the beginning of this century. 

Being seen and not being seen

Our community is a diverse one and for some LGBTQ people, particularly trans people and people of colour, the experience of walking while LGBTQ can be much more difficult.

Another reason we walk in Pride marches is because much of the time, we are not seen. We are not presumed to be present as we walk to school, as young people or as parents of schoolchildren. We are not presumed to be present as we walk round the shops, when we’re out walking in the hills, as we push our children’s buggies or wheel ourselves in wheelchairs.

Our communities are often widely distributed and not very visible. The chance to see ourselves, to nod at another person in the street and know they are making the same daily calculations as us, is very valuable.

Pride march
rainbow crossing

Health, wellbeing and activity

LGBTQ communities are particularly vulnerable to poor health. We are more likely to smoke and to drink to excess, to have certain types of cancer, to have poor cardiovascular health and we are much, much more likely to have poor mental health. We are also less likely to meet minimum physical activity guidelines. 

These are all problems that the opportunity to enjoy walking for transport and health can address. This makes it even more important that our public spaces feel safe and welcoming, and that initiatives to promote walking feel like they are aimed at us. We need to know that we are seen and taken account of and that our voices have been heard in everything from street design to promotional campaigns.

What can we do?

When we look at streets, we must always look at them from the perspectives of all their users. When we think about what walking means for an LGBTQ person, we must think about both safety and the perception of safety. We must think about how public spaces can advertise that they are for everyone and value different communities.

When we think about the walk to school, we must think about young people who are vulnerable to homophobic and transphobic bullying, and how we can make walking to school a healthy and happy experience for them. 

When we promote walking, we must think about diversity in our imagery and language so that LGBTQ people know they are included.

Streets are for everyone. When Pride marches return in 2021, perhaps the streets they move through will be places LGBTQ people will still feel welcome the morning after, and every other day.

More from our blog

#WalkingFromHome: the wheelchair user

Caroline is a wheelchair user. She reflects on how lockdown has made streets even more inaccessible to so many.

#WalkingFromHome: Walking to school safely

Tools and guidance to help make the walk to school safe and enjoyable during these unprecedented times.

#WalkingFromHome: Renfrewshire schools

Our Project Coordinator, Fiona spoke to families in Renfrewshire about staying safe and active in lockdown.