What does pride mean to me?

Josh Pollard - Learning & Development Advisor ,

It's easy to look around a country like the UK and think that for the most part, the need for Pride is gone. But you don’t have to scratch the surface that deep to find the cracks in the façade. With it being Pride month, I wanted to write about what Pride means to me and why I think its still as important as ever, maybe even more so today. I’ll have a little jog down memory lane and share some of my experiences with you too. 

Growing pains, coming out & finding my own brand

I knew I was gay from as young as I can remember. Back when I was in primary school, I didn’t know the words, but I knew I wanted to be on the girls’ team for kiss chase (which I managed to pull off and created a complex system of rules to cover my tracks. I was in the closet and an evil genius!). I first knew I was properly attracted to men thanks to Chris O'Donnell in Batman and Robin. There was a moment when he is first revealed in his Robin outfit and I knew, I wanted my own Robin.

I came out around 16 in the final days of secondary school, much to the surprise of my friends and family. For the most part, I was blessed with very supportive responses to it. To be honest, I was more surprised they were surprised. But it still wasn’t easy. There were nasty comments, side eye, whispered conversations, and it definitely had a massively negative impact on my mental health which I would struggle with for many years, and to some degree, still do. The negative comments and coverage on anything relating to LGBTQIA+ issues were relentless and hit hard, especially when I was in those formative years trying to discover who I was. I couldn’t help but feel I was letting my family and friends down by simply being who I was.  

I only truly started to feel comfortable with who I was once I left home and went to the ‘big city’ of Southampton for university. Although it’s by no means a large city, for me, the possibilities and opportunities were endless. I was finally free to live my true authentic life and was actively encouraged to do so. For the first time in my life, being gay wasn’t a joke with friends, it wasn’t a handicap; it was a valued and recognised part of who I was. I was slowly feeling the self-doubt melt away, I had my first boyfriend at university and for the first time I could see that my life could be filled with everything I’d wanted. (Maybe a white picket fence, two kids and a dog wasn’t a pipe dream?)

I entered the world of work in 2012, fresh from university and ready to make a difference. I soon discovered that my gay side was as much a key part of who I am and what I brought to the table as my educated side. I found people respected my views on queer issues and through that I started to feel that I mattered. 

That being said, around this time the UK still had plenty of catching up to do.

Legacy of Section 28

For those who don’t know, Section 28 was a piece of legislation introduced by the Conservative government in 1988 to “prohibit the promotion of homosexuality” by local councils and schools. This is similar to what modern day Russia has in place, and legislation being passed in certain US states. This effectively put a complete ban on any support from local councils, schools and many other public bodies for queer people. 

I remember vividly the tombstone AIDs awareness adverts from the late 80s and early 90s, and the way in which my teacher at school refused to answer my questions on homosexuality in a sex education class. I remember the headlines in the papers and the news stories when “Queer as Folk” first aired on TV (hint: they were not nice!) and MPs on the news determined to hamper any progression on rights for the LGBTQIA+ community. At that early stage in my life I was being programmed to believe that everything about me was wrong. I couldn’t help these feelings, but I could see that the world would hate me, and I should obviously hate myself for having these feelings. After all, church was telling me they were a sin. Maybe I was better off not existing, how could I ever accept myself if no one else would accept me?

Then, little by little, things started to change. The Tories lost a landslide election to Labour in 1997 and a few years later Section 28 was repealed. In 2004, civil partnerships were introduced, and in 2009 the age of consent was equalised. The government had laid the foundations for equalising marriage rights and in 2013 it became a reality. Along with these legal changes, gay characters in TV and film slowly stopped being nothing but tragic story points, musicians came out, sports people came out and even the laws around donating blood changed. The world around me was changing, but it still had a long way to go. The sad truth is, the damage done by Section 28 and institutionalised homophobia will go on for many years and will take generations to undo, but we’re on the journey.

Why is Pride still needed?

You only need look at the comments responding to any company who changes their logo to Pride colours or read the comments on any number of news stories or twitter posts to see the true and ugly reality: that homophobia, hate crimes and the struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community are still very much alive, even in a country that would claim to be a world leader in equality. In the news recently we have seen a fatal attack on a gay bar in Oslo, Turkey suppressing Pride marches, the removal of any rainbow toys sold in Saudi Arabia, and a swathe of new anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation in the US. There’s also the increase in homophobic hate crimes in the UK and our worrying fall down the ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association) European rankings, from 1st place to 14th And the government’s U-turn on a promised conversion therapy ban, which  excludes any protection for trans people in the proposed bill.

There is some light through all this though. For every negative comment there is a positive one, and as the years pass those voices get stronger and the positive comments get more thumbs up. There are more support networks from school age upwards and there are more and more positive role models for young queer and straight people to look up to in real life and on TV shows. 

 Why Pride is important to me

Pride is a chance for reflection. We can celebrate the progress that has been made, we can mourn those lost along the way, and honour the battles they fought to get us to where we are today. It’s a reminder to people that the LGBTQIA+ community is not a political movement, it is a group of people who are simply fighting to be allowed to love who they love without fear of persecution or threat. It’s the celebration of that love and the welcoming nature of the community. It’s a shout out to the supportive biological families, the chosen families, the friends, the lovers, and allies of the community. It’s the recognition of our right to exist and the demonstration of resolve in the face of so much negativity and continued hatred. But ultimately and most importantly it is about love. I truly think that humanity’s capacity for love in all its forms makes us unique, and that love is worth celebrating.

Happy Pride!

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