The monumental success of Durham Pride 2015 was the closest thing to a carnival that a Caribbean-born and raised gal such as I could ever hope to experience across the proverbial pond. Mother Nature made her presence known by kick-starting the day’s proceedings with the onset of brief showers, compelling organisers to delay the parade by an hour or so. The rain, however, often tends to be followed by a magnificent rainbow. This certainly was the case when a plethora of rainbow-painted faces, banners, flags, and the like were to be seen progressing from Palace Green. The procession was led by two colourfully-bedecked stilt-walkers while a police escort and live instrumental accompaniment enhanced the fun of the atmosphere.
The parade made its way along Saddler and Silver Street before settling into the dozen or so stalls erected in ‘Rainbow Square’ (Millennium Square) for this epic occasion. It was there that members, supporters, and passers-by curious of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community were greeted by friendly volunteers and sponsors. The ensuing twelve hours involved fun, ‘fabulosity’ and the dissemination of free information on all things LGBT. Legal representatives, wedding planners, adoption agencies, housing advisors, mental health counsellors, and promoters of safe sex were but a few among those accounted for throughout the day. They all eagerly responded to queries while distributing pamphlets and goodies to patrons who, in return, donated generously to the cause.
The sultry vocals of Lorraine Crosby and other live acts ensured that patrons of nearby eateries such as Nando’s, the Slug and Lettuce, and Ebony were well entertained until the day met its climactic end inside The Loveshack. It was there that Miss Tess Tickle and The Dragettes, among others, rendered what can only be described as top quality performances before an appreciative crowd, while deejays carried the positive vibes into the wee hours of the morning.
I must admit, had I anticipated that during my postgraduate studies at one of the finest Universities in all of England I would have had the opportunity to witness history in the making, I might have complained much less during the processing of my Student Visa. Durham Pride 2015 has held true to the ethos of Durham University. The involvement of various colleges, such as Hatfield and St Cuthbert, has further endorsed an atmosphere which already welcomes students of diverse, cultural backgrounds. Students of varying backgrounds have, as a result of Durham Pride 2015, gained a cultural perspective which might not have been otherwise accessible. Students who saw fit to engage in the day’s activities merited in a manner which will leave an indelible mark on their scope of life which will surely be reflected in their social skills as global citizens.
Locals were similarly proud to make a contribution, however large or small, to the promotion of social tolerance in what is already a culturally friendly zone.
For me, an international student who was born and raised in the West Indies, Durham Pride 2015 was the chance to witness, firsthand, the unfolding of positive interaction between the LGBT community and the general public. I watched a group of persons who have been socially persecuted for centuries walk the streets without being shunned, ridiculed, or condemned. As the descendant of a former British colony, the lingering doubts I held concerning the possibility of a similar event gracing the streets of my country were appeased, if only slightly.
Unfortunately, many of the archaic traditions which have contributed the homophobic atmosphere in my homeland and the wider Caribbean region have been fastidiously retained. The intense fear and social intolerance of the LGBT community therefore continue to hold many socially hostage. Many have, as a result, been forced to turn their attention to daily survival while abandoning the luxury of pursuing dreams in fear of social, familial, and professional rejection.
Durham Pride 2015 has set a bar in England to be met only by Durham Pride 2016. It has made a mark on the eager minds of the local student populace which hopefully will be reflected in their respective homelands. It is also hoped that as students pursue professional endeavours as future world leaders, efforts are made to discover creative ways of enhancing greater tolerance for the LGBT community on a global scale. Those students who won’t be returning to Durham in any capacity at the end of this academic year are returning to their respective communities not just as graduates, but as sensitised ambassadors for the LGBT community. The knowledge gained as a result of studying in Durham, including that resultant of Durham Pride 2015, may be adapted towards effectuating social transformation across the globe.
The organisers of Durham Pride 2015 must be applauded for a job well done. We are only left with the sole regret of waiting for an entire year in anticipation of an even bigger and better Durham Pride 2016!
Photograph: Kate Wilkinson