(All photo provided by Features Editor, Lewis Sloan)
Lewis Sloan, Features Editor.
On Saturday 5th August, hundreds of people filled Custom House Square to take part in the 2017 Belfast Pride Parade. Thousands more took to the streets to watch as the city lit up with rainbow flags, glitter and colourful costumes.
It is 1 PM. We have lined up in the ‘Green Zone’ at Custom House Square and the buzz is infectious. It is my first Pride parade and there’s talk of the threat of rain. So far, the clouds have held out. Speakers above pump early-2000’s hits as people finish last minute touches to their face paint and apply even more glitter to their hair.
“Even Nando’s are marching with us!” I hear a girl exclaim excitedly to my right. I look around and see a group of enthusiastic Nando’s staff holding large signs with the company’s logo. The traditional red and black has been swapped for the colours of the rainbow today. This company have joined the likes of other big names like Asda and Sainsbury’s in their support for their local parade.
The girl’s excitement at the level of support the parade is experiencing from these corporations seems justified. An older man wrapped in a rainbow flag from head to toe in front of me explains to his friend how this year marks “the first time the PSNI are marching in their uniform!” Indeed, the police vans are at the ready, the sides reading “Policing with Pride – Hate Crime is Unacceptable – To Stop It, Report It.”
Earlier today, the openly gay Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar visited QUB and spoke of “equality before the law.” Another first this year is the Pride flag that has been erected at the entrance of Stormont, to mark the week of festivities. There is certainly a feeling in the crowd that this year marks a year of change.
A loud siren sounds and a huge cheer erupts throughout the square to let us know that the march is beginning. The increased acceptance and inclusivity of the LGBTQ+ community in the wider population becomes even clearer as we move down High Street and through the city.
The most striking thing about the crowd is the amount of families here. Countless Mothers, Fathers and Children (some still in their prams) wave their rainbow flags and beam with smiles as we pass. Elderly ladies smile and one man has even brought his dog, decked out with a rainbow bow tie and watching local drag queens wave majestically at their admirers. (Picture featured above.)
The activities of Pride don’t stop at the parade. The Rainbow Project, Northern Ireland’s biggest LGBTQ+ Charity, has organised a week of events including an ‘Introduction to Self-defence’ class for LGBTQ+ people. GenderJam, a charity aimed at offering support to Trans and non-binary people offered specific sexual clinics also.
After the parade, the celebrations really begin. The music gets louder and a concert in Custom House Square offers performances from local drag queens such as, Cherrie On Top and Quire, an LGBTQ+ choir. Various venues around the city are hosting their own Pride events. Aether and Echo offer free entry to their all day block party, complete with a marquee decked with rainbow bunting and fairy lights. It’s 4pm, and the crowd is diverse. Groups of older men are laughing, having a pint. Students are filling the dancefloors already.
McHughes Bar and Lavery’s hang their colourful flags outside to make their support clear. As the night goes on, clubs open their doors to party-goers all over the city. The queue to Boombox is alight with fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race star Bianco Del Rio who is visiting tonight. Kremlin (which reached full capacity before 11PM) and Mandela Hall join in the festivities, ensuring everyone who wishes to end their celebrations in a night club can do so.
It’s hard not to feel excited and moved at the sight of the vast amount of support shown in the city today. My friends and I discuss the positive affect such validation and acceptance would have had on the mental health of our 14 year old selves. Many of us had grown up in small towns where the only mention of the word ‘gay’ was usually spoken as a whisper or a slur.
It is important however, to remember that despite the inclusivity shown here today, it does not reflect the everyday lives of every LGBTQ+ person living in NI. The chants we are repeating in unison at the parade remind us why an event like this is necessary. “Not the church, not the state, equal marriage we won’t wait!” shout hundreds of voices in unison. A pause, and then another begins: “Eh, eh! Oh, oh! Transphobia has got to go!”
These words reflect the powerful desire for change today but they also remind us that Northern Ireland remains the only place in the United Kingdom where marriage equality is illegal. While huge leaps have been made in attitudes towards gay and lesbian people in our community, a vast amount of work still needs to be done to battle the unique ignorance and injustice that trans people (particularly those of colour) face here.
As we march here today in a sea of rainbows, it is important to enjoy the party. It is important to enjoy the fruits of change that LGBTQ+ people have struggled toward for decades. It is essential that we celebrate the strength within the Queer community and also the support of allies who came out to show it. However, it is equally essential to not lose sight of the work toward equality that still needs to be done.