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A look back at Birmingham Pride

1st June 2017

This past weekend was Birmingham Pride, and my husband asked me if he could write a guest blog post for me about Pride and what it means to him.  Below were his observations of the weekend.

I’m 42 and have no idea what music kids today listen to – indeed I had no idea who most of the performers on the main stage were. Saturday’s main stage line up I knew two out of 15 acts, and Sunday four out of 13. The DJ I saw on the main stage was a performer – not just filler between acts – this is now a thing apparently!

I hate loud bars where the music is turned up to 11. I want to have a pint and a chat with my friends. Not stand shouting at each other and randomly nodding because it doesn’t matter how hard we try we have no idea what was said. And then when we remember we aren’t telepathic and have a conversation on WhatsApp because it’s easier.

I also hate bars and places that are busy, rammed busy. The kind of busy that when you breath out someone stands in the space in front of you where your chest was a second ago.

There are some bars I like in Birmingham, my favourite gay bars are Eden for music and cabaret, and The Fountain and Wellington for old man boozers – somewhere you can sit down with a pint and packet of pork scratchings.

I rarely visit the others, and as for the Nightingale. Last time I went was nearly ten years ago, we asked them to play the Queer As Folk theme … most of the people there weren’t even teenagers when Nathan was rimming Stuart’s arse on Channel 4! And I don’t think they’d heard the theme tune ever played in public. The looks on their faces was “what the fuck is this and why are the old people dancing to it?”

For me a nightclub opened at 11pm and kicked you out at 2am – today people don’t go out until gone midnight, just when I’m putting the kettle on for a nice brew before bed.

I do love The Cabaret at Pride, every year it’s a highlight of the weekend! The performers are always amazing, guaranteed a great laugh, a good singalong and plenty of offensive jokes and abuse.

If any of my friends asked me to go to an event that was going to cost me over £30 for a ticket where it would be packed full of people. Featuring loads of acts that I don’t know, nor care about and certainly don’t want to listen to while paying hiked up drinks prices with nowhere to sit down. The answer would most definitely be no!

Not even if you paid for my ticket and a bottle of Gin would I be interested!

But for Birmingham Pride I will go, and I have gone pretty much every year I have been home for it. From when it was three days, with a village green and dog show and had Beat the Gay Goalie. And even though all the bars I will spend most of my time are outside the wristband zone I will pay my £30+ to come in.

But this is Pride.

Quite a lot to pay to watch a couple of guys put on some makeup, throw on a frock and wig and belt out some well-rehearsed show tunes and gags in the Cabaret Tent. And I don’t want to see these Ru-Paul Superstar Got The Drag Factor Talent Race queens … I much prefer the old-school traditional drag.

But for most who attend the weekend there is a lot more to see and do at Birmingham Pride. For many it is just a street party, a weekend to come in and get drunk dancing your tits off to the latest iTunes craze. And that’s great – but Pride is about so much more than that. It has history, it has a reason for its existence.

I grew up as a teenager being told I was a second-class citizen, I had to be “protected” so couldn’t legally have sex with anyone until five years after my friends, my relationship mattered for nothing – my country wouldn’t recognise my partner as my next of kin. I was told that because I was gay if I wasn’t careful I was going to die of ignorance, and my government wouldn’t let me serve it in the Armed Forces.

At least in my youth being gay was legal – so we did have that.

But do you know what I remember growing up in North Wales before the Internet or knowing any gay people, or having met a single gay person. Four old women and chocolate cheesecake.

And I remember seeing stories of Gay Pride Marches and protests, a riot named after a bar in New York years before my life in the universe began. I remember hearing about these huge events full of lesbians and gay men, enjoying themselves and saying to the establishment we won’t be shut up, we will fight for our rights and we will be visible so others who feel like us know they aren’t alone.

I remember marches against Section 28 which banned the “promotion” of Homosexuality. I remember being in High School and my English teacher saying that because of a law she hated and thought was disgraceful she wasn’t even allowed to discuss any gay topics or matters in class, but if anyone was ever bullied about being gay or worried they can talk to her. She would say this starring at the ceiling so as not to look at any pupils … and all the time I sat there thinking everyone is staring at me.

So I knew what Pride was, I knew what it was about – but it was something that couldn’t be further from my life as a closeted teenager.

The first Birmingham Pride was held in 1972, but after a few years they stopped. In the mid eighties there was a series of gay festivals in Birmingham but it wasn’t until 1996 that Birmingham got its Pride back!

Since then Pride has had its fair share of ups and downs, infighting, falling outs, bad decisions, decisions everyone who thought “why did anything think this would work”, amazing decisions, amazing events, magical moments and has been the first pride for many LGBT people. Everyone remembers their first (unless the alcohol zapped a few brain cells).

And in recent years it has been an amazing success!

For me a highlight is always the March … for me it is a March and not a parade. We aren’t putting on a performance, we aren’t putting on a carnival, we are marching to show the world we are here, we are queer, and we are proud of who we are and being a part of our mixed and varied community. And that visibility is so important, it helps people come to terms with their sexuality, it helps them realise they aren’t alone, it helps save lives!

There is also something else that Pride does that is very important – it helps support and keep our gay businesses going! It keeps our community thriving. The bars that make up the Birmingham Gay village.

Times, society and communities change and develop. You used to go out to bars and clubs pick up a shag or find someone to date, now you can pick up for your phone and dial-a-shag or tweet a girlfriend.

Lots of us fortunately still are going out, but there are less people doing that now, or spending less money in bars. They need our business not just on a Saturday night, but a Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday and every night!

Music has changed, fashion has gone back to the 80’s with perms, technology has changed but we are still a community that is brought together by who we want to have sex with and how.

And if we don’t support these venues they will close. And people will complain – just like they did when Woolworths closed. But just like Woolworths a business can’t survive on nostalgia!

Pride fills those bars for one weekend of the year, and it welcomes in visitors from all over the world to come and visit this amazing city and event. And it invites them to come back all year round because we have something to be proud of.

I think most of the events and activities of Pride are very much focussed and targeted at a small section of our community. The majority of those activities I have no interest in seeing, attending or going to.

But that doesn’t bother me.

I pay for my wristband to support the event and the community, to keep it going … not just to get in to watch some amazing performers in the Cabaret tent. But to keep Pride alive, so that when the kids today are complaining about the kids of tomorrow they can know they inspired them and made them feel safe.

Those kids will see stories of a Birmingham full of rainbows, glitter, pups, drag queens, drag kings, gay firefighters, straight police officers doing hat swaps, companies supporting their gay staff and thousands of people lining the streets cheering and supporting the community.

They will know they are not alone.

Long may it continue, and long may we have Pride in its name and in our lives.

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