Brighton and Hove Pride 2015 - a look back at this historic movement
PUBLISHED: 14:46 28 July 2015
As Brighton Pride celebrates its 25th anniversary with a milestone festival on 1 and 2 August, Veronica Groocock looks back on the historic movement
Brighton Pride celebrates its 25th anniversary in August, and as a result it is widely anticipated to be the biggest Pride festival in the city to date. The theme for 2015 is Carnival of Diversity, and this year’s parade looks to be exceptionally colourful and flamboyant – a reflection of the city’s own vibrant, laid-back ambience.
To mark the occasion, the BrightonPride25 community history project is being launched, charting the history of Brighton Pride with images, film footage and main stage videos – it will be on display in Preston Park on 1 August, and on public installations throughout the city.
Brighton Pride is a not-for-profit community interest company (CIC), with all ticket revenue raised going directly to the operational and running costs of producing the Pride festival, community parade, Pride village street party and community fundraising.
But with legal recognition of same-sex partnerships, and greater acceptance of ‘alternative’ lifestyles, is there still the same need for Pride? Managing director Paul Kemp believes passionately that Pride continues to be important and relevant. Citing the bigger picture, he says: “It’s understandable that some people might think that we’ve won the fight for freedom. However, in five countries across the globe homosexuality is still punishable with the death penalty…
“Our Pride will continue to raise awareness of the plight of global LGBT+ communities who do not have the same freedoms that we enjoy in the UK, but also to engage the whole community in celebrating the unique diversity of our city”.
It is this inclusiveness that he is eager to promote. One example of this is the new Pride Family Diversity Area in Preston Park – a welcoming, no-alcohol safe space, with a children’s playground and Family Tent featuring a wide range of activities and entertainers.
Among this year’s main line-up are popular Eighties band The Human League, dance music project Hercules and Love Affair, and Hove’s own superstar DJ Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim, headlining the Wild Fruit Big Top. Regular Pride-goers will recall his stunning performance at Brighton Pride in 2012.
Other attractions include the Legends Cabaret tent, the Sheila McWattie Women’s Acoustic Performance Stage (named after a longtime and much loved Pride activist who died recently), and the usual funfair rides.
As to Kemp’s own personal memories of previous Prides, he singles out the following: “Mud slides in the park in the year (2009) when we had torrential rain…and Pride smashing our fundraising record in 2014, with more than £64K going to the Rainbow Fund”. These funds were distributed to local LGBT+ charities and organisations via the Rainbow Fund grants programme.
Unbeknown perhaps to some, Brighton’s first Gay Pride took place back in July 1973. When compared with the massive jamborees of recent years, it was a very small affair: a march from Norfolk Square down to the seafront, ending in style with a dance at the Royal Albion Hotel and, on the Sunday, a picnic on the beach. It was not until 1991 that Pride returned to Brighton, reborn with a new sense of urgency stemming from the Thatcher government’s infamous Section 28 law banning the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality.
Pride has survived to become a spectacular, internationally acclaimed phenomenon. In 2004 it was awarded charitable status. Things came to a head in 2010 when an estimated 160,000 people attended. Money worries were never far away, however, and in 2011 Pride controversially lost its ‘free’ status with the introduction of charged entry to the park.
“Our priority remains to deliver a safe and sustainable Pride weekend”, Kemp explains. “The costs to produce Pride or any large-scale festival or event are considerable, and – regrettably – with more legislation, cuts to funding and anticipated increases in costs for policing, cleaning and security in the next few years, Pride faces substantial challenges.”
Kate Wildblood, co-curator of Brighton Pride25, first moved to the city in 1991. With words or with tunes, with campaigning or curating, she admits to having played a small part – “or occasionally a loud one thanks to DJing in the Candy Bar or Wild Fruit Big Top” – in Brighton Pride.
“Pride is a vitally important part of LGBT+ life in the city. It allows us not only to celebrate but also, as we have gained equality here in the UK, to look beyond our own borders and campaign for those who are still criminalised because of who they love.” Sentiments echoed by longtime gay rights campaigner Dr Chris Farrah-Mills, 53, who grew up in the greater Brighton area and helped organise early Prides.
“I was involved in the gay movement from when I was 16…in the old days we had a fantastic community, but it was an inner world. Much of wider society hated us. People were sacked from work, evicted from housing, rejected by families and attacked on the streets for being gay. We fought tooth and nail to get the equal rights that people enjoy today.”
Pride offers “a chance for everyone to come out, to be visible, and a chance for our straight supporters to join us…I remember the thrill of everyone marching together, and holding hands with your lover when that simple act had previously resulted in threats of violence or arrest.”
Many young LGBT people today, he says, feel a sense of “dispossession” and isolation. Pride represents “their eureka moment of liberation and hope.
“As an older man, when I cast my eyes over our special day and I see the fun and laughter and pride, I know we have created a better world. But of course I spare a thought for our sisters and brothers in 41 of the 53 Commonwealth member states where homosexuality is still a crime…Pride is a beacon of hope, a light to the oppressed of the world.”
Jenny Bennett, a volunteer for more than 30 years with Brighton’s Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, will once again be riding high on their float in the march on 1 August.
She recalls one special highlight from Brighton Pride in 2004, when young gay police officers headed the Pride parade, with the Police Federation flag. “It was the first time the police had been allowed to march ‘out and proud’ at Pride – from the Royal Albion Hotel, then along the seafront. The young gentleman heading the police contingent was so smart in his gleaming uniform and he looked so proud. The crowd just roared…that brought tears to my eyes. It was a real landmark.”
Over the years, Pride has come to mean many things to many people, playing its part in changing attitudes and in promoting equality and acceptance. Underlying the festivities, however, is an awareness of the danger of becoming complacent about these hard-won goals.
Brighton Pride above all, symbolises diversity – it is not about being invisible or blending in. It is also about remembering the movement’s roots. The BrightonPride25 project celebrates all the activists, campaigners and trailblazers, says Kate Wildblood. “It’s so important that we recognise the bravery of those first Brighton Pride participants.”
And she adds: “The outfits may have changed, but the glitter, the celebrations and the campaigning remain the same: this is Pride done Brighton style, be it 1973, 1991 or 2015.”
The 2015 Pride weekend takes place on 1 and 2 August, with the Pride parade setting off from Hove Lawns at 11am on Saturday 1 August - www.brightonpride.org
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