CHESTER PRIDE: Celebrating Diversity Or Cashing In?

With Chester Pride set to take place on August 10 at Castle Square. Jordan Adams has an in-depth look at the event, which has grown year-on-year since its 2013 launch in the city.

The sound of pop music blares through a large speaker and hordes of people chatting can be heard from a distance, filling your eardrums, whilst the smell of fresh food floats through the air and into your nostrils.

A colourful parade moves through the city like a tireless marching band – before moving into a small area called Castle Square densely populated by market stalls. There is a raised stage at one end where various pop, rock, soul and drag acts entertain the diverse audience.

What is all of this you might ask? This is Chester Pride.

Since the first event in 2013, the number of people attending has risen each year and 2018’s event saw it peak at around 15,000. So, the seventh Chester Pride on 10thAugust has a pretty large target to surpass.

Many people in the LGBT+ community use Pride to express their sexualities and identities, with Chester’s own community having its fair share of interesting individuals.

Two attendees of last year’s event, Jack Baker, 21, from Broughton, and Cameron Holloway, 19, travelled from Llandovery in South Wales to be there.

“There was a guy who was just walking around in lingerie,” said Jack. He turns to Cameron and asks: “Do you not remember it? We were walking back towards the court area and there was just a guy wearing a pink bra and underwear.” He turns back and quips to me: “That was the highlight.”

PROUD SUPPORT: The University of Chester is a strong advocate of Chester Pride

Jack says he would like to come back to Chester Pride and is also interested in seeing what Manchester Pride is like.

The likes of these lingerie-wearing characters indicate there has been progression since the Stonewall riots, but the historical significance of Pride is something Cameron thinks is watered down by non-LGBT+ people attending.

He said: “I find it really pissy when straight people go: ‘Oh, yeah this is great’ but then as soon as they see a drag queen or someone who’s different from society’s normalized stereotype bullshit, they’re like: ‘Ew, what the fuck is that?’

“It pisses me off that they come to Pride like that because they don’t actually know what it’s like to walk a mile in our shoes.

“In my eyes, it should be a community event of people who have been outcasted by society.”

While Cameron’s point may go to one extreme end of the argument, Jack is on the fence when it comes to this debate.

He said: “I’m happy with non-LGBT+ people attending Pride.

“However, I have a problem with Pride more to do with it being organized as a commercial event, rather than as a way for LGBT+ people to express themselves.

“I think some non-LGBT+ people that attend are treating it as a gig or a concert to go to.”

Sandra Hopkins, Senior Lecturer at University of Chester in the Centre for Work Related Studies, is a regular Pride attender and one of several staff who help the University run its stall in the Health and Well-Being zone at Chester Pride to show support for the LGBT+ community.

She said: “For me Chester Pride has kept a good community, positive feel. It’s not commercialised, it’s family friendly and has one of the biggest health and well-being zones (and I’ve been to quite a few) of UK Prides.

“It’s been nominated for a National Diversity Award. I love how it engages local acts and performers and gives them a space as well as some of the celebrity names to draw people in for the party event.”

Multiple people hold rainbow coloured umbrellas, showing their support for Pride. But, does Jack have a point that Pride is being run as a “commercial event”?

Ms. Hopkins strongly supports the work being done across Chester Pride and believes it does a great job in covering many bases, such as quiet spaces, local acts and families.

She agrees with Jack’s sentiment that Pride must be recognised for its historical significance but argues that, though some events are very commercialised, Chester is not.

She said: “For many young people, Pride is a party and an event where we celebrate our diversity. Pride also used to be a protest and participating in one was a brave move.

“When I consider the different atmospheres between Manchester Pride (which is a very commercial event), Chester Pride (a community event and welcomed by the city) and Bolton Pride (a community event but which is still developing) – it’s important not to forget the history and why it’s there.”

To many LGBT+ people Pride is a special day where they can be themselves in public, something which may not be achievable on a regular basis.

It must be said LGBT+ people need this type of acceptance every single day as it is only fair to them as a community who have been silenced for too long.

Ms. Hopkins said: “Some of us recall when it was illegal to mention homosexuality or bisexuality in an education setting and could have cost people their jobs and careers.”

Richard Euston, Co-Vice-Chair at Chester Pride, said the aim was, in tandem with Cheshire West and Chester Council, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, and the Cheshire Constabulary, to provide a safe space for LGBT+ people to express themselves without fear of any hate crimes being committed against them.

He said: “There is something special about being at a Pride event, being surrounded by this large LGBT+ family, and ‘straight’ allies as well, and feeling that sense of solidarity and community.

“Every year we get feedback from a huge number of people simply thanking us for the opportunity we gave them to express themselves, to not feel alone, and to know they are supported and loved as part of this LGBT+ community.

“It may seem a simple thing, that it’s just an excuse to have a bit of a party, and enjoy some free entertainment, but Pride events mean a lot to the LGBT+ community.

“They create a safe space for us to celebrate being ourselves, and they are important because they make us visible, and visibility leads to normalisation, and normalisation leads to acceptance.”

*Images by James O’Hanlon via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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