Why I went to Brighton Pride 2013 although I’m not proud to be gay
On Saturday 3 August 2013 I went, with the Boyfriend, to Brighton Pride.
I’m not proud to be gay, so why did I go? Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not ashamed of being gay, I just am gay. Like I have brown hair, brown eyes, or I’m right handed, I just am gay. Being gay isn’t a skill, like learning to drive, baking a good cake, or writing a good book, which you can improve, and then be proud of. It’s just part of who I am.
Mind you, I have definitely grown into being gay over the years, and this has affected what I’ve done at the various Prides I’ve attended. I’ve been going to Brighton Pride since 1998. A quick scan through my 1998 diary reveals I went to three Prides that year: London Pride, Summer Rites and Brighton Pride.
My first Brighton Pride was with some friends I’d met at a gay youth group, all three of us single, care-free and looking for some action. We put a tank of petrol into my friend’s little brown Fiesta and we felt indestructible. We slept in the car because we couldn’t afford a hotel, and hadn’t thought to organise anything else. Some of us got quite a bit of the promised action, others, not so much. At the end of the night, we were in no state to drive anywhere, having all drunk our body weight in alcohol. My diary entry for 8 August 1998 about my first Brighton Pride included, ‘Buy black + white combats and other camp old pish’ and ended with, ‘Had a really cool time.’
That year I put my photos from Brighton Pride into an album, every picture annotated with what they were of, and the dates: Dykes on Bikes, men in Speedos, my friends and I in our combat trousers. As well as my diary, I wrote a short account of the day on my little 386 laptop, with its huge 40mb of disc space. And there the account stayed, until years and many laptops later, I dusted it off and it helped me with the Brighton Pride scene in Best Friends Perfect.
Over the years, my Brighton Prides have varied from year to year, as I’ve changed what was important to me each year:
- Camping in a village 15mins from Brighton, with an increasing number of friends each year, as word got out how great it was
- Having to queue for hours in Brighton for a taxi back to the campsite, and then arguing with the taxi driver once aboard to convince him to actually leave the city limits to take us back to our canvas covered beds
- Watching a gay hairdresser friend, walking from caravan to caravan on the Saturday morning of Pride, asking if he could plug his hair strengtheners in, before he knocked on the door of the land owner’s farm house, waving his straightens, only to be told the same from the very unimpressed farmer’s wife
- Sharing a cricket field with thousands of tents, next to one where a straight man, sang all night about how he was going to ‘Brighton Gay Pride’ and he couldn’t wait to see ‘all the gays’
- Watching a group of our friends arrive in the pub at the end of the pier, as Just Can’t Get Enough, by Depeche Mode started to play; and my friend, a Scottish woman in her forties, shouted that the pub was amazing – the best place she’d ever been in, as the whole of the pub turned to look at her. This was exactly the reaction I’d predicted she would have, when we’d arrived 10 mins earlier and I’d checked out its end-of-the-pier-seen-better-days, decor.
- On the hottest day of the year, the free festival was swamped with straight people. Now, I don’t have any objection to straight people coming to Pride, if they’re friends of gay people, sympathetic, appropriate straight people. But these were just along for the ride of a free party, and they were, not only not sympathetic, they were actually homophobic. Many of them stood in groups, with their large dogs, throwing lager cans at other Pride revellers, shouting at men as they kissed nearby, or staring at women as they walked past holding hands. And not one gay person said anything to them, they just moved away, because who wants a fight on Pride? Anecdotally, I heard, that’s why Brighton Pride introduced paid for tickets for the festival, but I’ll never know. That experience really upset me, because in the whole year of straightness, a day of Pride, is when gay people can really let themselves hang out, in their swishy, muscley, whatever they want, glory, without having to apologise, or tone it down like so many of us do for the rest of the year. The behaviour of these homophobic people upset that for that special day.
- Watching as another friend, erected a huge tent, but had forgotten the outside canvas layer, so it only had the internal layer, and poles. Fortunately it didn’t rain that weekend.
- Watching the Boyfriend’s friend, mud-wresting another girl over a drunken disagreement about religion and ethics in the wettest Brighton Pride I’ve been to
- Staring, mesmerised at a man’s chest in the dance tent, so intensely, while in the background the Boyfriend just stood laughing at my shamefacedness, which would have been completely out of character in normal situations
- An exploding BBQ as someone put a lit disposable BBQ, on top of a gas BBQ, so once the gas canister reached temperature, it exploded, scattering metal across a 20 yard radius. That certainly killed the round the camp fire atmosphere that night
- Having my photo taken with Maisie Trolette – a doyenne of the Brighton gay scene. She looked at my shirt and said, ‘You can always tell the lads who still live at home, their shirts are so nicely pressed.’ To which I replied that I’d ironed it all myself.
This year, the day started very early, earlier than we normally get up in the week. We left ours at 8.15 and arrived in Brighton, well Hove actually, although I believe the ‘actually’ is silent, at 10.00am. We arrived so early that the Boyfriend’s friend from work, was still in the shower when we called from just outside her house. The car safely parked, having overcome the various complex parking restrictions which Brighton & Hove City Council sees fit to include, we drank tea in her back garden as she finished getting ready.
She explained her other friends were arriving at hers at 11.30, the Boyfriend and I were keen to catch the start of the parade, which was 11.00 near the pier, so we bade farewell and agreed to keep in radio contact via mobiles. What on earth we did before mobiles, I do not know. Well, I do actually: we arranged where to meet, stuck with it, and if anyone left, we agreed where to meet again at a specific time, and stuck with that too.
We met two of my friends, by the sea front where we watched the parade pass in all its bright colour and fan fair. Watching this, it occurred to me there are so many different ways to be gay. There are so many ways to be GLBTQ, but I’ve focussed on the G, as I’m G. There are religious gays, Tory gays, police gays, trade union gays, NHS gays, gays living with HIV, gays living with mental health issues, outdoor gays, swishy gays, muscle gays, sporty gays, singing gays…
Although Gay Pride doesn’t need to be such a political statement, as when it started in the 1970s, it’s a relatively recent change that gay police men and women are able to march in their uniforms. Before, this was deemed as a political statement, so they weren’t allowed to do so. This year, and every year I’ve seen Brighton Pride, there has been a section of out police men and women. And every time they pass, at every year’s Pride, Brighton, London, where ever, they receive a round of applause, in respect of this important and relatively recent change in their freedoms as members of the police force.
During the parade there were a number of floats of marching sections about countries where being gay is still illegal: Russia, and Uganda, among others. And that reminded me how important it is to come and support Pride celebrations because in the UK we are so lucky to be able to express ourselves with all the different ways of being gay. And that’s something we shouldn’t take for granted, not even for one moment.
Even since my first Prides in 1998, I’ve noticed attitudes to being gay change: when I started my first proper job, post university, on my first day, my manager asked me not to wear my ear rings for the first month. I have two small silver studs in my left ear (because everyone knows, right ear means right queer…) so they’re hardly like a costume from PQD. My manager said, ‘People judge you, Liam. And we don’t want them to judge you in that way, before they’ve got to know you.’ Obediently, without a single question, I went to the gents and removed my ear rings. I replaced them after my first pay day.
Do I think that would happen now? Yes, I’m sure in plenty of work places, it could happen. But I’ve not come across it since, and every single job interview I’ve gone to, I’ve kept my little silver stud earrings firmly in. Would I say something if asked to do that again at a new job? Yes, I would, without a question of a doubt.
As well as the large public sector employers: fire, police, NHS, local government, there were some private sector employers there too, showing how they support their LGBT employees, including Tesco, a number of garages, a car hire company. The cynics could say that was just a way of these companies doing some advertising for more of our pink pounds, but I disagree. I think it was a show of how far many employers have come, supporting their staff to be themselves in the workplace.
Once the parade passed the seafront, we said farewell to my friends, again, promising to keep in radio contact, and walked quickly up to Preston Circus, where the Boyfriend’s work colleague, was with her group of friends.
The group included some straight couples, with whom we bonded over cats, sharing extensive cat stories, until those around us, who didn’t have cats became very bored. There was a two men who’d come with one of their sons, from when he was married to a woman. The son was there with his girlfriend, enjoying Brighton Pride for her first time.
This group left for the festival, and on the way back to the seafront, we bumped into an ex of mine, who we see quite regularly, as he lives in Brighton. We’d loosely arranged to meet during the day, the beauty of mobiles, but randomly bumping into each other, made that happen sooner than we’d expected. We caught up, work, homes, life, agreed to meet when he’s in London. He also told me he’d read the sample chapter of Best Friends Perfect, on my website, and said how much he’d liked it. Which, considering he’s a massive sci-fi fan, was a big surprise. This friend then asked if we wanted to join him and his group at the festival.
After the great paid for festival debacle of 2011, this year we decided not to attend. In 2011, at the last minute we were persuaded to buy tickets and, joined this same ex, the Boyfriend and I quickly found ourselves in Preston Park, surrounded by sweaty crowds, queuing up for everything from toilets, drinks, dance tents, food and everything in between. After 30 minutes, I announced I’d had enough of the crowds (I’m not good in crowds) and we left.
So this year, I told him we were having fish and chips on the beach instead.
We were determined not to be swayed at the last minute, not even with the promise of Alison Moyet’s singing, or Paloma Faith’s DJing. Nope, we resisted and rejoined our parade watching friends, this time on the beach where we enjoyed fish and chips, and a lovely relaxing chat, pebbles in our feet with the crashing waves breaking 50 yards away. I must have a certain sort of face, because on three occasions, laying on the beach, we were approached by people offered to sell us all sorts of substances, and I’m not talking beer and lemonade.
As day became evening, we said goodbye on the beach, the friends caught the train back to London, and we made our way to Churchill Square, the shopping centre in Brighton. I’m a big High Street fan, and wasn’t disappointed. In a washing line based error, earlier in the week, I lost one of my ear rings, so was keen to replace them. I should have probably looked in the Laines, and bought something terribly bijoux and individual. We did walk via the Laines, and actually passed Ole Ole, the tapas restaurant we went to at UK Meet 2012. I even went into a few of the jewellers in the Laines, but I’m sorry, I just couldn’t bear to part with the best part of £500 for some sparkly earrings. Even I’m not that precious! Churchill Square did me fine.
We stopped at Montezuma’s, my favourite chocolate shop, stocking up on the usual range of sweet treats. I asked the cashier if he’d had a busy day. He replied it had been quiet, ‘People don’t come to Brighton Pride to shop, they come to Brighton Pride to drink. And other things too. And after they’ve been doing all that, they certainly don’t want any chocolate.’ He smiled, handing me the paper bag, full of chocolates.
I replied that I was driving home that evening, so chocolate was a good way to end the day.
See what I mean about how different my Brighton Prides have been over the years?
We stopped for a hot chocolate and a quick social media catch up, having had no time during the day to fit it in. Shocked, I was! I was so busy, just having fun, being sociable, I’d had no time to tell everyone how much fun I was having, and be sociable on the internet. This rectified, we walked back to Hove, and a pleasant car journey, with a mixture of Radio 2 and some Annie Lennox (I love a bit of Annie, and every time I mention her, the Boyfriend’s mother mentions how they both went to Aberdeen School for Girls).
Although this year there’s no photo album, no typed account which no one gets to see for 15 years and I’ve written a blog post and mobile phone posted pictures, on the internet – all impossible and unheard of concepts in 1998, it was still a day of celebration. It was still a day of pride in all the different ways of being gay, and how that’s changed for me too.
I’d still end the day with the same reflection, ‘Had a really cool time.’ Only my definition of what cool was, didn’t include combat trousers, drinking alcohol all day, hanging out with my new group of gay friends, or getting some action, instead it was about different groups of friends, chocolate, relaxing on the beach, Radio 2 and Nashville on the sofa with the Boyfriend.
So, however you are gay, be thankful that the UK not only allows, but also supports you to do that. And if that’s not a reason to go to Pride, I don’t know what is.
Thanks for reading, Liam Livings xx
Liam Livings helped organise UK Meet 2013, with his fellow Spice Organisers, JL Merrow Posh Organiser, Jo Myles Scary Organiser, Charlie Cochrane Sporty Organiser & Clare London Ginger Organiser, so that makes Liam Livings Baby Organiser.
He can be found on his website www.liamlivings.com
His first book, Best Friends Perfect, set in the late nineties, is sampled on his website. His current WIPs include: a second novel, And Then That Happened; short stories about Christmas; some modern fairy tales.
He would love to hear from readers about his writing in all its forms, so do get in touch with him.