Celebrating Pride in Brighton

Kings Brighton student Yoshi Ortiz Leal reports back on one of Brighton’s biggest — and most colourful — celebrations, the annual Pride parade and festival weekend in August.

The origins of Pride

Pride began 50 years ago. It did not begin as a party — it was an uprising, known as the Stonewall Riots, in New York in 1969. It was a scream from the shadows, considered the turning point for LGBT rights. It is unknown who were those responsible for leading the revolution, who threw the first brick or if it was a brick at all, but certain that rocks were thrown and the core story remains the same.

Maybe it wasn't Stormé DeLarverie who threw the first punch, but still there was one woman resisting arrest. Two trans women were potentially involved, Sylvia Rivera who allegedly took part in the riots at age 17, and Marsha P. Johnson who was said to be one of the main instigators. Yet that night wasn't the only thing attributed to their name. They were also part of the long, arduous battle for equality.

Brighton Pride parade

Before Pride weekend, stores have set aside a small section for the event, selling clothes with a rainbow or two, usually having the words 'Love is Love' or 'Proud' written across the chest. It is rather strange.

Walking down the streets you can find the rainbow everywhere. It hangs from the lampposts and decorates every store window. It can be found across the walls, across cheeks, above the lips, tucked away in hearts. The rainbow surrounds us in so many different shapes — from butterflies in the shape of a heart to long streaks across the side of a building.

And once again all one can think is how strange it is to have everything be so normal. How amazing. There's always a smile across my lips as I make my way through. It's impossible not to notice how those used to it walk on, as if it were nothing else but another day out in town.

The streets of Brighton are full on the day of the parade. Too many faces and too many bodies in too many colours. The mere idea of it is rather overwhelming and even exhilarating.

Extravagant costumes are popular. Men in rainbow suits, wearing a rainbow cape. People on skates with butterfly wings, rainbow wings or carrying rainbow umbrellas. A personal favourite of mine was a man, who wore a simple shirt and dark khakis shorts, with a crown of red flowers around his head. Why was this man — rather tame compared to others — my favourite? Because of the flowers he had braided throughout his beard, the same as those on the top of his head!

Flowers were a common theme of the parade. Hanging around necks, printed on shirts and hats. Glitter was just as, if not more, popular. It was odd to see anyone without jewels pressed against their forehead, or glitter along their cheekbones.

My lips smiled when my eyes saw men not conforming to clothing that was considered masculine. Wherever I looked there were groups of people expressing themselves, and dancing with strangers as if they were long lost friends reunited. All around me was a crowd singing along to songs everyone seemed to know by heart. It was insane. For some it was maybe too strange. For others, it was possibly a tiring yearly event. For me, at least, it was a moment to blend within the crowd, unafraid of standing alone in my own skin.

Pride festival

The Pride festival at Preston Park was responsible for providing different experiences. The main attractions were live music and entertainment, with food stalls, bars and more. One could either wandered around, or attempt to take part in as much as possible.

The provided festival map showed more than I could see. Curiosity came and there was no need to ask myself what to do — off I went, on a journey to explore a world I had never known.

My first stop became my favourite of the entire festival. The Legends Cabaret Tent presented me with drag queens, who stood on stage and sang songs the crowd could sing along with them. Their names escape my tongue, which I'm ashamed off, but their act will forever remain in my memory. Particularly that of the second act, who spoke about the time they once visited the Stonewall Inn in New York, where the riots began.

There they had met a man who had been working there during the night of the first riot. According to him, the main reason there were so many people at the Stonewall Inn that night was because of Judy Garland's death. The performer reminded us all that the first Pride was a riot, one fought by people who believed they had nothing to lose and which was an act that received recognition on its own. They then proceeded to sing a rendition of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' that was rather beautiful.

The Diva Dance Tent was the second place I went to. It was like walking into a nightclub, during daylight, inside a circus tent! A perfect place to dance, whether alone or in a group.

Among the performers on the main stage, I saw Bjorn Again, Clean Bandit, special guest Emeli Sandé, and headliner Kylie. Bjorn Again was enjoyable, with recognisable lyrics that many sang to.

Before Kylie went on stage in the evening, a video was played on all the big screens. A video presenting the hardships the LGBT community has had on the path to equality. Homosexuality being illegal in 73 countries. Few believe that in 8 countries it is punishable by death. The crowd grew quiet and few whispered. The words 'But there is hope' flashed across. Then came the names of countries in which same-sex marriage had been legalized. An uproar of cheering and whistling was quick to follow. The path to equality may still be a long one, but it is not one they walk alone.

During Kylie's performance, a woman spoke to me. She asked me for my age and then claimed I was a baby who had a whole life ahead of her. I laughed and agreed. She spoke about her own age and the process of realising she didn’t conform to 'normal'. She seemed to regret how long it took for her to figure out what she wanted out of life, but was glad to have found it. There was something she told me that I feel many have to hear: "Life's too short so don't care, be yourself. Who cares if you don't conform. Just be yourself."

Pride festival: day two

The following day, a strange shadow lurked over the city. It was quieter, and on my way to the park I noticed the lack of flags and oddly dressed people. My anonymity had somehow vanished overnight to be replaced with a day in which few, if any, were out on the street. Had they all gone to the street party? I wasn’t sure, and I preferred going to the park rather than check.

On the bus I saw women with small splashes of rainbow across their bodies, or on a single item of clothing. It was subtle rather than loud.

I made my way into the park with the same ease as the day before. A friend of mine awaited at the BIMM music college stage, but I chose to wander around first. I saw families walking around. The festival had somehow become a fair.

I watched a few shows at the Cabaret Tent before leaving and strolling around the Community Village. At the edge there was a large building which gave free makeovers. I formed a line behind two others to remove the bright red from my nails. It seemed more appropriate to turn them a neon orange! My next stop was to have glitter placed on my face, not for the same cost as my nails, but a cost I found worth paying.

I found my friend at the BIMM tent lying down amongst others. The live music was gentle to the ear and my favourite band was PACE.

My favourite part of the day was when Grace Jones appeared on stage. A woman in her early 70s who doesn't seem to be that age, especially considering she moved around energetically, dancing, kicking, piggyback riding on a security’s neck so that she could say hello to her fans. Each time she went to change costume, she would keep talking, having the crowd laugh or sing a melody while we waited for her to come out once more. Her energy and character seemed better suited to the previous day, nonetheless, her music I could dance to and her performance will be one to forever remember. I can't wait to say, 'I have seen this woman live'.

I made my way forward for the next performer Jessie J. Beautiful and talented, her music was fun and her movements animated. Flames sprouted from the stage as well as confetti that engulfed us all, and the lights added to her performance, moving to the rhythm. The crowd knew every song she sang, every word engraved into their heart.

Be kind to each other

Pride was fun. It was an entertaining and a strange experience I wouldn't have had anywhere else. I take with me as many memories as my mind, and my camera, can hold. I leave with the promise of perhaps returning.

It is important to remember that, no matter the parties and the garbage and the drinking, the first Pride was a riot. While here you party, somewhere out there someone hides behind a door, afraid of getting out. For now, all one can do is — as said by my favourite drag queen — be kind to each other. And if you can't, say nothing.

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