The feelings that British LGBTQ folks have towards Pride are as varied and individual as the community itself. While some people choose to skip Pride events due to corporate co-opting, for others, they remain a crucial time of togetherness, celebration, and visibility that may not exist elsewhere in their lives. So what have this year's cancellations meant for those people? And what have their community leaders done to keep the message of Pride alive for them?
As someone lucky enough to have been out for 11 years, Pride doesn’t hold the same place in my heart as it once did. In fact, the commercialisation of events up and down the country has mostly put me off – and I know I’m not alone in that feeling. Yet there's no denying that for anyone who has recently come out, Pride can be a formative event.
Alex Thomas, a youth worker at LGBTQ charity Metro tells me about how huge going to their first Pride felt and admits that they feel sad for young people missing out on the chance for that celebration. Thomas introduces me to Mateo and Emily, both 17 and part of the 33% of generation Zs who don't identify as heterosexual. The pair share the same views as Thomas, explaining that, while they're happy their experiences of coming out were positive, they acknowledge that's not the case for everyone. "In your first year being openly gay, attending the big London Pride event for many is about making friends and finding your community," says Emily. "I think that’s a struggle that some people are going to have this year."
For some, Pride events remain a crucial time of togetherness, celebration, and visibility
Over the years, individual celebrations have begun sprung up alongside the main Pride events in major cities that celebrate specific communities within the LGBTQ spectrum. Sadly, however, these groups and their events have also felt the ripple effects of COVID-19.
In March 2020, it was announced that UK Black Pride (UKBP) would be indefinitely postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. At the time, UKBP Executive Director Phyllis Opoku-Gyimah (or Lady Phyll, as she is known) told Metro that the decision was "heart-wrenching" but necessary. "Our communities are full of people who have persevered, who have always found a way through, and COVID-19 is another challenge that we will get through together," she added.
Josh Rivers is the head of communications at UKBP. Speaking about this year's cancellation, he tells me: "We know how many of us need a space like UK Black Pride to celebrate who we are, and we are acutely aware of how many in our communities will be having an especially difficult time during the social upheaval that attends COVID-19."
With this in mind, UKBP have teamed up with Amnesty International, Stonewall and Para Pride for a programme of digital events called #PrideInside, which will take place between 28 June and 4 July.
However, where online spaces have been a great solution for many Pride organisers and attendees this year, for one group, logging into virtual events is not always an option.
Isabella Normark is the communications director at Opening Doors London (ODL), the biggest charity in the UK to provide support for LGBTQ people over 50. Over the years, Normark has seen how older people can become disconnected from the LGBTQ community, which is exactly why ODL set up a befriending service to pair their members experiencing loneliness and isolation with a volunteer. It's also why Pride month can be so important to older people. Many of them will have attended some of the earliest Pride demonstrations, and it will therefore hold a special place in their hearts.
ODL are working hard to ensure older people can still involved this year, "whether it's out on the streets, from a Pride bus, or digitally" Normark says. Sadly, however, she knows the latter will only apply to a small portion of their clientele. "While digital alternatives to Pride may offer new avenues of participation, not all of our members have access to this technology," she explains.
Craig Burton, the founder and acting CEO of Leeds-based charity Friends Of Dorothy (FOD), has faced similar problems with getting his members online. And he's identified another problem also. “We’ve spent three years bringing people out of social isolation and helped develop new communities for people and then, of course, the lockdown happened and we told everybody to stay at home,” he tells me.
Speaking about FOD's strategy for COVID-19, Burton says: “We have increased our telefriending, we have the local LGBT football rugby teams and quires doing shopping, errands, deliveries.” In terms of Pride this year, Burton is excited about Silver Pride, which will take place on July 25 and 26.
Isolation, of course, isn’t an issue felt only by older people but also a huge issue across all age groups that impacts negatively on people’s mental health. A 2018 survey of LGBT Health In Britain undertaken in collaboration with Stonewall and YouGov found that 52% of those surveyed had experienced depression in the previous year. Experiences of discrimination and harassment in day-to-day life, rejection from their family and friends and experiencing hate crimes and incidents caused a negative impact on their mental wellbeing.
"How much Pride means to people has really become apparent since the news it’s being postponed," says Catriona Scott, a community support officer with the mental health team at Metro. "A lot of our group members sadly haven’t had very positive experiences of coming out to their families or have faced discrimination due to their identity. The impact of this on people’s mental health is profound, and having one day a year where they feel celebrated and accepted for who they are means an incredible amount."
Scott and her team are tackling this by creating online spaces, including changing their drop-in social events to Zoom meet ups and switching the weekly newsletter she pens to focus on online events and resources.
Although Pride's cancellation has clearly been tricky for many, it's also brought out a sense of resilience and community among LGBTQ people in the UK, and has reenergised young people in new and exciting ways. Mateo and Emily are both members of Bridge, which is a shining example of how to create connections outside of Pride. The Croydon-based LGBTQ youth group provides an opportunity for young people aged 13 to 21 to support and celebrate themselves and each other. Mateo explains how proactive they’ve chosen to be in light of the crisis and widespread cancellations, enthusing about (among other things) a line of merch Bridge are hoping to make in collaboration with Croydon Pride to raise funds for the next possible Pride event. They are also to make a series of videos where they’ll speak about what it’s like to be queer in their community and remind others they’re not alone.
“We’re still here, we’re not going anywhere because Pride is cancelled. No matter where we are in the world or if we’re not able to be in the same place, we’re still here for you”
When I ask what message they hope to get across with their work at Bridge, Mateo answers: “We’re still here, we’re not going anywhere because Pride is cancelled. No matter where we are in the world or if we’re not able to be in the same place, we’re still here for you.”