Writing a piece about why Pride is still needed is a bit odd as the organiser of a Pride event, it’s probably a given that you will always get a passionate ‘of course it is’. When you are living and breathing Pride and seeing every day the fight for our community, be that cuts to services in these times of austerity or simply yet another incident of hate crime, it’s simple: Pride is still needed because it is, but of course there is much more to it.
Occasionally when we start to announce the plans for Bristol Pride we see flippant comments such as ‘when will there be a straight Pride’ or the slightly more veiled comments where someone has ‘nothing against the gays’ but would rather we kept ourselves locked in our bedrooms. You teach yourself to ignore the comments threads of some outlets but even this is a reminder of why Pride is still needed.
Let’s face it, Pride events mean something different to everyone. For some Pride is still a protest, some who just love the cabaret or want to see the headliner, for some it’s a great weekend with your mates. Some go so they can simply support it and perhaps remember those they have lost and some who don’t go because they feel they don’t need it. Being an organiser of Pride you soon learn you can’t please everyone but the most important thing is that the event happens and for me, that it is an event true to its roots. We are a little different here in Bristol, we don’t get core funding to happen so we, like others, do rely on our festival partners to help make Pride happen in an age where even the parade costs us money to put on. Bristol Pride remains a free festival so that no one is excluded for socio-economic reasons and that we can reach out to wider communities. Last year over 30,000 people attended Bristol Pride and our week-long series of events which was amazing, but even whilst your success is being celebrated, the selfies with headliners being shared and your economic impact and outward facing professionalism lauded amongst the business sector it can be easy to forget the volunteer run organisation behind it, the people that work through the early hours of the morning for months to make Pride happen and more importantly the people it helps.
We can easily talk about the visibility the Pride gives the LGBT+ community but it is the personal impact on people’s lives that is vitally important. That impact isn’t just for members of the LGBT+ community but for everyone because the issues we face, we don’t always face alone. At every Pride event you’ll meet family members and loved ones of LGBT+ people, they might have been convinced to go or want to be supportive. Very sadly every now and again you’ll meet the ones who are there because there loved one is no longer with them, a son or daughter who was bullied and took their own life or brother or sister or father or mother.
The impact of Pride on people stretches from simply showcasing and celebrating that there are LGBT+ people in the wider community right down to our Family and Community Areas at Bristol (and other) Pride events. These spaces at Pride offer the chance to engage with service providers, sports & social groups and support groups or the chance to meet other same sex families or that mum who also has a gay son or that dad who is also gay and their son is being bullied at school because of it.
Pride means so much to me, I genuinely feel that Pride helped save my life. Sorry to my family, but I think they’d agree, I had a pretty crappy childhood, by 16 I was sleeping in school to avoid going home and by 17 I had upped and left to London. It was scary, a majority of the time unfriendly and I had to grow up quick, I was also suffering with depression. I made some friends and they took me to Brighton Pride – it was a life changing event, Pride has that power. It made me realise I was not alone, I wasn’t some kind of freak or that being gay meant having to live in fear because look at all these amazing, loud and proud people. Pride still has that power, every year we get a message from someone saying how Pride has helped them come out, realise their sexuality or has made them realise that they are not isolated and alone. This isn’t just young people, we’ve had messages from older LGBT+ people who sadly have lived a very long time hiding who they are.
Pride gives our community a voice and platform and allows us to tackle issues affecting our community all year round. We do so much here in Bristol, be that visiting schools to talk about being LGBT+ to tackle discrimination and bullying to doing the same in businesses or running workshops for line managers. We use Pride to explore issues such as same sex domestic violence or homelessness in our community. Pride allows us to campaign, such as our recent efforts for female Trans prisoners being sent to male prisons or placing hate crime markers across the city where incidents of LGBT+ hate crime has taken place.
Pride is so much more than just a party in the park, celebration yes, but we are here all year round tackling inequality and championing diversity. I write this as we mourn the tragic loss of life following the attacks in Orlando. I was in Soho when the nail bomb went off and though I had experienced homophobia before it was the first time I ever realised what hatred against our community really meant and felt like. We said never again and yet here it is, we all still have much work to do.
I long for a time when we have true equality but for now Pride is still needed, perhaps now more than ever, so this year get to your Pride events, volunteer in your community if you can, tackle those incidents of casual homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, report hate crime and let’s just try be kinder to each other.