I hope one day Belfast Pride is not needed
I’m not the world’s most sociable creature. At large gatherings, be they weddings, Christenings or funerals, I hide in the corner, talk to people I know or stare at my phone. I’m not even sure if I like Christmas because it turns December into one long month of making small talk with people I haven’t seen since last December. So Belfast Pride - which attracts thousands - is usually my idea of hell.
As far back as I can remember it, Pride has always been this crazy, loud, festival-like parade. It’s like The Twelfth or St Patrick’s Day for the LGBT community; two or three months before it happens, you’ll hear folks talking about it. There’s an excitement in the air.
My memories are of a celebration akin to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, with drag queens on floats alongside half-naked men in body paint. In some ways, it epitomised a caricature of LGBT people, reflecting how we’re portrayed on popular TV shows - camp, theatrical, witty - but not how we are in real life: the same as everyone else. That was one reason why I’d avoided it for so long. It claimed to represent me but I never felt like it did.
Last year, though, I noticed a change. In the city centre to do some shopping, three close friends - ironically, all heterosexual Christians - persuaded me to watch it as a spectator for a bit. It had been a long time since I’d seen it.
It was obvious the purpose of the parade had evolved from “We’re here, we’re queer, let’s get drunk” to something much more important. There seemed to be greater numbers of community representatives - from unions, colleges, universities and political parties - marching behind banners demanding equal rights for LGBT people. Parade-goers carried signs demanding the introduction of equal civil marriage in Northern Ireland, a right denied to us but given to citizens in every other part of the United Kingdom.
At one point, I found myself standing in front of a bunch of Pride protesters, all spitting venom about what God was going to do to us. Then, there was a hand on my shoulder. My three Christian friends had huddled in behind, letting me know they were still there. For once, it felt like the bigots had no power.
A conservative friend who is supportive of LGBT rights asked me, “Do LGBT people really need Pride? Is it necessary?” One day, I hope we won’t need Pride anymore. I hope young people won’t have to deal with what this generation did and countless generations before. Until that day, though, Belfast Pride is needed. It’s not just a party for the LGBT community and their allies. It’s not about drag queens or all things camp. It’s a march for civil rights, a reminder to Stormont that there are too many of us for the equality issue to disappear quietly.
- Lyra McKee is a Belfast-based freelance journalist. The 2015 Belfast Pride parade takes place on Saturday (www.belfastpride.com)