Anti-trans protesters hijacked the front of Manchester's annual Pride parade, leaving many trans people feeling unsafe.
The parade kicked off along Deansgate at noon on Saturday with a futuristic "Deep Space" theme as part of the British city's four-day Manchester Pride celebrations, which included a music festival featuring headliners Ariana Grande and Years & Years. All 10 queens from the upcoming RuPaul's Drag Race U.K. marched along the route, the Manchester Evening News reports.
Also in attendance were about 10-14 self-identified "lesbians and allies" protesting "transactivism" and "gender ideology" who claimed to be affiliated with Get the L Out, an anti-trans group that similarly crashed London's annual Pride parade in 2018.
Many marchers, including representatives from trans organizations like Sparkle and Mermaids U.K., had no idea that the transphobic marchers had inserted themselves at the front of the parade carrying banners displaying messages like "LESBIANS DON'T HAVE PENISES" and "GENDER IDEOLOGY HARMS LESBIANS." "Gender ideology" is a favorite phrase among fascists worldwide who seek to demonize LGBTQ+ people and women, from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro to Poland's ruling Law and Justice party.
The group also handed out leaflets containing similarly harmful messaging, PinkNewsreports.
Tara Hewitt, a trans woman and co-founder of the Trans Equality Legal Initiative who attended Manchester's Pride parade with her trans partner, told the U.K. LGBTQ+ publication that the group's presence made the couple feel concerned for their safety.
"We were both upset to see... a small group of angry anti-trans extremists with banners opposing trans inclusion and calling for trans people to be removed from [the LGBTQ+ community]," Hewitt said. "They were being allowed to lead the parade and being calmly escorted by both the police and [Manchester] Pride security along the road in front of the tens of thousands of people lining the streets for the parade."
"Would we be confronted for nothing more than being two openly trans women in a relationship?" she thought to herself. "Could we use a toilet if we needed without fear of abuse?"
Pro-trans charities Sparkle and Mermaids U.K. have condemned the protesters in an open letter to PinkNews, along with condemning Manchester Pride and the Greater Manchester Police for allowing the group to spread their hateful, transphobic message when other anti-LGBTQ+ groups are prevented from doing so.
"I am utterly devastated that this group was not challenged and excused by Manchester Pride and Greater Manchester Police," Jay Crawford of Sparkle told PinkNews. "If we exclude Christian protestors, then we must also exclude other [anti-LGBTQ+] factions, too."
"I think it is fair to say that, even in 2019, we have a long way to go for true inclusion of those who are trans, non-binary and gender variant," he added.
Speaking to PinkNews, Hewitt estimated that "tens of thousands" of people attended Manchester Pride's parade this year, though a confirmed attendance count is not yet available. Last year's Manchester Pride festival drew just over 10,000 attendees.