My Long Proud Summer

A newbie’s experience of Prides

A few years of indulging in holidays had taken its toll on my bank balance so I decided this year to stay in Manchester and make the most of the Pride events on offer in the North West.

I was particularly looking forward to this as, despite having been quite active in the bisexual community for a number of years, I had never taken part in, or even seen, a Pride march. I was surprised myself at this omission but I decided to make up for lost time! I signed up for all of the marches I could fit in and I offered my services to carry banners and hold flags. My Pride experience this summer showed me just how varied marches are and how they can generate different emotions and experiences – in no small part due to the length of time a Pride march has been up and running and the oh so important weather factor!

First up, Bury Pride in April. As it was my first Pride I was particularly nervous and this was not helped by a tricky travel plan (due to poor organisation!) Once I got there and saw friendly faces I felt much better and began to look forward to it. The circular route was small and we completed it twice. This was particularly amusing as a number of older men, frequenting a central café, seemed fairly put out by the march interrupting their regular Saturday afternoon routine. Their faces, when they realised we were circling again, said it all! I thought I had dressed for the weather, forgetting that being outside for a number of hours in April is likely to get cold. My main memory of this march was feeling proud at the end whilst also wondering how I was going to get back the feeling in my hands and feet.

Next up, a weekend double-header; Liverpool and Stockport in July. These were certainly two very different Prides, united only by bad weather! The weekend was constant rain but there was something extremely satisfying about going the distance to complete a rainy Pride. Liverpool Pride was big and busy; before it started, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed fitness instructors attempted to pep up the already bedraggled marchers before the mayor of Liverpool gave a passionate and personal speech, kissing his husband at the end which prompted the crowd to cheer. The march was enjoyable despite the rain and as a nice bonus I bumped into friends I had not seen in a number of years.

Stockport came on the Sunday and was a different kettle of fish; much smaller with fewer onlookers. It felt, however, as though we were doing something that could be important to people within that community, even if the route was so short that I did not believe it had ended and I had to go and check with an official that it was actually over!

August brought Levenshulme and Manchester, a local and a city Pride. The weather was again the only unifying factor, this time hot and sunny. Levenshulme felt very poignant as this Pride had been started after a relatively recent homophobic incident. This march was the only one which had to be completed on the pavements as the roads had not been closed. There was a real community feel, with animated conversation, photos and smiles amongst the marchers as we waited to start.

Manchester in comparison was a particularly epic affair. Before the march started participants took over a whole park and during the march the onlookers, sometimes seven or eight deep, were held back by fences, which only added to the surreal experience. It almost felt like we were famous which felt both exhilarating and scary at different times. I particularly enjoyed carrying the flag despite it being somewhat cumbersome and heavy, and my highlight was giving an impromptu flag show with the other two flag bearers which raised cheers from the crowd. At one point a lady from the group in front of us came back to say to us, in a mock annoyed tone, that our group was receiving the most cheers!

My last two Prides for this season were Bolton and Carlisle. Both were surprisingly warm and sunny days. Bolton started in a lovely park which set my mood for the day, after which we stopped traffic (the road closures did not seem to have been particularly well organised) on our march through the city centre. My fellow marchers were in good spirits and we had a good sized group which I was told was an improvement on previous years so it was nice to feel I was adding to the numbers! In contrast Carlisle’s march started on the side of a road and there was an upbeat feel, maintained by constant music – my signature memory of this march. Being near to the borders we had a bagpiper tirelessly playing throughout while drums led the march. We went into Carlisle Castle which made for a great 21st century ‘storming the castle’ feel; I doubt that people in medieval times would ever have guessed that LGBT rights and the LGBT community would be celebrated so openly by so many!

Overall I found the experience of all the marches extremely affirming and positive. Will I go again? Definitely. Will I do as many? … maybe! I was particularly moved by the numbers of young people I saw at all of the marches and the range of flags and banners they brought to show their personal identity and their support of others.

I particularly noticed the number of young people who as a group had both bisexual and pansexual flags, showing that the label an individual chooses just has to be personally significant and does not need to exclude others. I feel my summer of marches has enriched my understanding of my community, both bisexual and the wider LGBT community. As a bisexual woman I felt very welcome and included in the LGBT community at these events. And on more than one occasion I thought about the road that has brought the community to this point, and the difficulties traversed by many a Pride marcher before me.

Francesca