In Me on July 30, 2011 by Miche

1991. I hear that there’s going to be a gay pride parade in Belfast. The first one ever in Northern Ireland. It’s a year or so since I left Belfast to live in Dublin (for better work opportunities, mostly, though I’ve been pleased to find that while homosexuality is technically still illegal in the republic, people are way more relaxed about it than in the black north). I’ve been on pride marches before, but not in Belfast.

I decide I want to be part of this march, so I take the train to my home town the day before. That night, there’s a fund-raising disco in the student’s union at Queen’s University. Over the course of the evening I keep meeting friends and acquaintances I haven’t seen in a year. I have the same conversation several times over:

“So, you going on the march tomorrow?”

“”Oh god no. I can’t go on the march. Somebody might see me.”

I’m crap at estimating crowd numbers, but I’d say there are a couple of hundred of us setting off on the Saturday afternoon. We’re nearly outnumbered by protesters from the Free Presbyterian church, and they certainly have more placards (and better hats).  One lone voice among the marchers cries “We were all made by the same god, you know!” but mostly we just grimly ignore them. They don’t follow us for long. Maybe they think they’ve made their point, or maybe they need to take their Leviticus placards to Marks & Spencer to protest against prawn sandwiches and cotton/polyester mix.

The press and TV cameras disappear pretty quickly too. They’ve got the shots of a couple of drag queens. Besides, the actual Queen is in Hillsborough today, so we’re not going to be the main story.

Royal Avenue. We’re just passing the Central Library, and among a family of shoppers going in the opposite direction is a girl of about 12 or 13. She sees the banners and says “GAY!?” She is consumed by laughter. Gay people don’t occur in Belfast! They’re only on the television! And now there are people walking down Royal Avenue – plain people, handsome people, old people and young people – claiming to be gay! Her uninhibited laughter is, to be honest, the only piece of gaiety I’ll see that day.

And everybody else? Well, they’re ignoring us. As I walk along, on this march that might better be called a trudge, I keep my eyes on the passers-by. Nobody meets my eye. Their glances bounce off the banners, and the Pride teeshirts some of us are wearing, and focus on the middle distance. They are willing us not to be there. They have decided not to have seen us, or at least not to be seen to have seen us.

I’m walking up the middle of the road, and I’ve never been more invisible in my life.

March over, I head back to my parents’ house to pack and go back to Dublin. But I’m keen to see how the event was reported, so I turn on the BBC Northern Ireland evening news. It’s all about yer actual Queen, of course. I know we’re going to get less than a minute out of a ten-minute bulletin. Are we just going to be an “and finally” with a shot of a drag queen and a quick soundbite from one of the organisers?

We’re not mentioned. Not at all. The people at BBC NI news and current affairs have decided that the first ever gay pride march in Belfast isn’t news.

2011: I’m going to march today. I don’t always: did last year, didn’t the year before. For one thing, they don’t need me to make up the numbers. My presence or absence won’t be noticed. I’m going today for selfish reasons, really. I’ll enjoy not being invisible. I’ll enjoy the contrast between that dismal ignored trudge of twenty years ago and the more celebratory aspect of Pride today.

There will be straight people on the march, too: some there because they want to support their gay siblings, or children, or parents; some because… well, because they just know that fair is fair, and that equality is A Good Thing. And that’s the biggest difference between 1991 and now. Straight people’s support for LGBT equality is, I think, the biggest social change I’ve seen in my adult life. It took the support of straight people to make civil partnerships possible (not enough, but that’s a subject for another time) and to pass anti-discrimination legislation. But that change in attitude on the part of teh straights happened because of the gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgendered people who decided that they would, for example, walk up Royal Avenue and Great Victoria Street and not care who saw them. Pride.

I have such a vivid picture in my mind of that girl reduced to breathless laughter at the sight of gay people on a Belfast street. She must be in her thirties now. I’ll bet she has a gay friend or two. Or six. Maybe she now knows that a brother or a cousin or an aunt is gay. She’s probably OK with it: most people are. I’ll think about her when I march today.


12 Responses to “Pride”

  1. this is beautiful miche

    happy pride

  2. Onya Mate ! Have a good one. xxx

  3. Nice one Miche, lovely post.

  4. I love this Miche. Have a truly happy Pride day on this already bright day! Love ya. Rx

  5. I’m not really a ‘joiner in’ & far to lazy to march or trudge, but I was sort of thinking that I might go to Liverpool Pride next Saturday.
    Your blog has kind of persuaded me.
    Yeah you x x

  6. A flood of memories from my first Pride- Toronto, ON with perhaps a few hundred people. These days it approaches a million and there’s a second, anti-commercialized queer arts/pride festival as well. It does, indeed, get better.

  7. Wow, my first Pride was this year in London and it was so different to yours it’s almost unbelievable. Your post has marked the progress of LGBT pride in such a simple, but effective way, thank you for reminding us how far we’ve come, and Happy Pride! :)

  8. “…I’ll bet she has a gay friend or two. Or six. Maybe she now knows that a brother or a cousin or an aunt is gay…..”
    Hmmm, I am gay but don’t make such assumptions. I am pro-equality but hate it when people play the perennial victim and bang on about any issue endlessly. It’s a good enough article (Stephen Fry likes it) but for myself I do not march, nor speak of my sexuality to anyone. It’s my business. It’s all tribalism really. People like to belong to a ‘tribe’ of like-minded souls. Of course they often also like to stand out and draw attention to themselves.
    Everyone wants everyone else to agree with them, to like them, to be like them. I fully support equality before the law and have no time for bigotry. But I’m afraid I draw the line when it comes to marriage. Civil partnerships with the same rights as married couples, yes. If priests/rabbis/imams/monks are willing, some form of ‘blessing’ certainly. But I believe marriage is, was and should always be between a man and a woman. And I feel very uncomfortable about gay couples adopting too. It seems unfair on children who will inevitably be ridiculed and chastised and who surely have little chance of receiving a fully balanced and unbiased upbringing.
    I imagine most gay people’s reaction to the bed-and-breakfast owners who refused to allow a gay couple to stay on religious grounds was one of righteous indignation. Well I happen to think such views are not unreasonable if genuinely held and that any owners should have the right refuse entry to anyone on any grounds should they so wish. Some need to calm down and not be so precious.
    There is a rising tide of intolerance within the gay community, just as there is amongst all manner of other ‘special interest’ groups. They have rightly fought for equality and acceptance but must learn that it cuts both ways and that we cannot always expect everyone else to like our sexual practices and deem them correct.
    Intolerance leads to bigotry. Of all people – given that we are often reviled and ridiculed the world over regardless of nationality, social position, race or creed – homosexuals, lesbians and transsexuals should understand this and proactively avoid it. Sometimes that means not always getting our own way and showing respect to others, even if they do not accept us.
    I don’t like to be pigeon-holed and labelled by others. Why therefore should I wish to label myself? I am simply being human first, last, always.

  9. It’s an honour to be a member of the same cultural sub-group as yourself. Very articulate and even moving.

  10. Fantastic article. If the Isle of Man could just catch up..

  11. Thanks, all – well, nearly all, for kind words and good wishes.

    @Terence: Sorry, but you’re going to have to pick one of the following options: (a) defend discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation; (b) describe yourself as “pro-equality.” Can’t have both.


  12. This should be in the Telegraph…or read aloud on Radio Ulster. Very nice piece, Miche.

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