Belfast Pride 2017 – bigger and better than ever!

Marching at Pride.

It’s now the Monday after what has been yet another fantastic Pride parade in Belfast. This is the third annual pride I’ve been to and the second in which I’ve joined the march. The weather was fantastic, a welcome break from the torrential downpours we’ve been having recently. So much for Gay Pride causing hurricane Katrina!

People lined the streets in an array of rainbow colours, all different races and religious backgrounds. It’s estimated there were thousands and I’d definitely believe it. It looked like a sea of colour and smiling faces. Everyone was so happy just dancing, hugging, and embracing each other. Parents with their kids, friends with their pals, partners together holding hands and looking into each other’s sparkling eyes, showing how thankful they are to have found each other. I just wish I could bottle up the atmosphere and give our haters a sip, if they only knew how magical these times are.

Unicorn at Pride Village.

The biggest thing that struck me this year was how many young people were there to support the parade, especially the teenagers. From Castle Court car park to the Big Fish you couldn’t take more than a few steps before bumping into a group of kids adorned in rainbow flags, glitter and face paint. It’s lovely to think that society has made big enough steps now that our younger generation can be more open with each other at a young age, that they can support each other and are willing to stand shoulder to shoulder in order to challenge views and attitudes. There seems to be movement in the right direction for young LGBTQ+ people. It’s just a pity that there is little to no queer sex education in schools.

There’s been lots of great media coverage of Pride this year. Record numbers of marchers and supporting public. I absolutely love the fact that the police and Gardai joined in, despite some opposition from politicians (I’ll not name names… we all know who they are!). I think it’s such a positive message to send out to people that the police are there to support you whoever you are and that hate crime should be reported (especially with hate crime increasing drastically since last year). Unfortunately some politicians can’t see past their own prejudices and misinterpreted view of what Pride means.
The Irish Taoiseach came to visit NI during Pride. Great to see some cross-border support and a gay man in a position of power who can really make a difference in his country. I can’t wait for the day we have the same in NI. It does annoy me a bit that a lot of the media was surrounding his visit rather than the work that so many people on the ground put in. But hey, any news is good news when it comes to LGBTQ+ people.

I thought I’d share some of the comments online I saw when reading news about Pride. Although it’s great to see how much NI has moved forward, there are clearly still some sections of society who hold strong homophobic views;

‘How long until it degrades into paedophilia and people dancing around naked on streets in front of children like in the USA. Disgusting.’

‘Perverts. Their idea of pride is going around with their weenie in front of decent people and children.’

‘A truly sick world we live in!’

‘Keep your perversion behind closed doors you freaks.’

Anti-Pride protest by a Christian group at Belfast Pride 2017.

I remember reading a comment a few years back about how there is no need for Pride anymore; ‘sure we’ve got so much equality nowadays’. People like this so often comment on how they don’t feel the need for a ‘STRAIGHT pride’ or to ‘promote their heterosexuality’. Well, it is comments like the ones above that are the reason WHY. Until we keep challenging people like this then we won’t stop!

– Chris

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UK steps forward, NI left behind… again

It’s great to see changes in gay blood donation in the UK announced by the government. However, as always NI is behind the times, this only applies to a relaxing of rules in England and Scotland. Yet another, ‘devolved matter’, that will more than likely take years to bring in in NI due to the mess of the political situation here.

After the positive steps taken in NI in June 2016 with the life-time ban been lifted on gay men donating blood  supported by overwhelming evidence, it just seems like one step forward… but a much smaller step than we should be taking. It’s annoying that this will probably be because of politicians who, ironically, strive to keep our union together and strong. I hope I’m wrong, but with direct rule looming and a stale-mate between the two big parties I’ll be surprised if anything gets resolved anytime soon. Another LGBTQ+ matter which will disappear into their in-trays to be forgotten about again.

– Chris

Should I get GAY stamped on my forehead and hand out free hugs?

Today I shared a video in the Let Us Eat Cake group on Facebook that came up in my newsfeed, titled, ‘What if we talked to straight couples the ridiculous way we talk to gay couples’. It reminded me of the numerous times I’ve been approached in pubs and bars in NI by complete strangers and told, ‘I love you guys. You’re so cute together. You make such a lovely couple. I have a gay best friend, you know, and he’s lovely.’ Normally, they go in for a hug, insist I add them on Facebook and keep in touch, and then they ask for a dance. Because, you know, all the gays throw moves like a ‘dancing queen’ and have the DNA trait to perform the ‘nobody puts baby in a corner’ dance ensemble from Dirty Dancing. I feel like saying, ‘Sorry, love, but I believe in personal space. I limit my friends on Facebook enough without having to wake up to posts from a complete stranger who changes their profile picture with her ten cats daily. And I couldn’t dance if you paid me, nor would I have the muscle strength to table lift a small child, never mind a fully grown woman!’ Okay, maybe I’m being a bit harsh and perhaps I’m over-reacting. But surely I’m not the only one who thinks this is odd. I feel awkward approaching a stranger to ask where the toilets are, let alone to begin delving into their sexuality and proclaiming my love for them.

This actually happened to me at a charity do, just after one of our first Let Us Eat Cake meetings. But, to be fair, she was lovely about it. And then it happened again a few weeks later with a group of ladies in a small quiet pub in Enniskillen. I know it’s not a big deal and it is nice that if I hug or kiss with my boyfriend in public then people support us. But it does make me feel like I don’t want the fuss though. Perhaps if I just stamped ‘gay but grumpy’ on my forehead it wouldn’t happen…

– Chris

Some food for thought… other than cake

I watched a programme on tele tonight called ’50 Shades of Gay’. I think it’s part of a wider BBC series on the theme of gay decriminalisation and gay history in the UK. The presenter, Rupert Everett, visited different gay people around the UK and chatted to older people about their experiences. Jeez, it opened my eyes to how gay people were treated and gay culture. I wish there were more programmes like this and more openly gay actors from the UK, more openly gay people in the entertainment industry full stop. More roles models for gay kids!

The first thing that struck me was how often he used the word ‘bent’. Not sure if this came up during our Let Us Eat Cake conversation maps, if not then it definitely has to go on there because I’ve heard this a lot in the past. When he used the word it made me uncomfortable. And thinking more about it, I thought about the definition. So I googled it. Obviously the simplest reason for using the word is because it’s the opposite of ‘straight’ in the sense of heterosexual. It was the synonyms of the adjective for bent that I found interesting.

Some of them – like ‘twisted’, ‘crooked’, ‘deformed’, ‘irregular’ etc. – have been used to insult gay people in the past to hurt them. This idea that we are not ‘fit-for-purpose’, ‘a round peg’, ‘a mistake of nature’, ‘deformed’ or ‘unnatural’… Like our parents should go back to God and ask for a new child using the Sale and Supply of Goods Act!

The second definition that popped out was the British informal use of the word to mean dishonest or corrupt, like ‘a bent cop’. With synonyms like ‘corruptible’, ‘fraudulent’, ‘criminal’, ‘lawless’, ‘villainous’ etc., this reminded me of some of the stuff we chatted about during our meetings. How language is important, how we can reclaim it, how it can be used, but how it can also be abused. I’m thinking I could use the word for my Gay Blood staged photo theme….. Would a caption like ‘Bent Blood’ be offensive??

One last thing that a gent on the programme said made me think too;

‘Is it better now that those people in society who are truly homophobic feel they can’t express themselves in public or they would come under fire… or was it better back then when they would shout and call you a faggot from across the street? At least back then you knew who to avoid’.

He makes an interesting point.

– Chris

March for Marriage Equality: the public, the people & the protesters

What a fantastic day for Northern Ireland! So much love in one place, you could almost taste it in the air. It’s was such a positive feeling being with so many people with common purpose, knowing you’re all there together united for a reason that’s good and meaningful, free from hate and filled with love. Arguably, it’s the most beneficial and wonderful feeling all us homos-apians can experience.

The streets were lined with people from all cultures, ages, backgrounds, faiths and identities, and of course some who happened to stumble across the rally and after realising its purpose happily joined in. I love those guys in particular. It’s great to welcome them and let them see what we see, let them hear what we have to say, engage with them and chat. To show them we don’t bother traveling from the other end of the country and beyond just for a sassy glittery unicorn rainbow party… although that does sound amazing 🙂

Perhaps if some of our politicians did the same, and came and engaged with us, they’d be more open to changing their minds.

What made my day was actually before the rally began. I was busy handing out Love Equality badges and chatting to Raymond and Ciaran, and a woman approached us with her little boy. She was so happy to be given badges and proudly pinned one to her jacket and one on her little lad. He must have been about four or five years old. She chatted away with us for few minutes about her disbelief that equal marriage wasn’t legal, and said many of the same things we say all the time. But the whole time I couldn’t help just look at this little kid, and think I hope things are better for him when he’s my age. And what a wonderful mother who’ll raise him, to be accepting of others and to be accepted himself. And even if this mum is just one in a million – although all mums are the best and are 1 in a gazillion! – there’s hope for the next generation.

I’m sure there may have been a few people there whose passion for marriage equality, and through no fault of their own, felt different today. With their views having been ignored for many years and their own history and experiences as a LGBTQ+ citizen being unfortunately darker than mine. I did see some more – how can I say it – ‘politically directed with colorful language’ banners, indicating that some were taking the opportunity to voice their frustrations. Weirdly, their banner slogans seem more memorable to me, perhaps that’s the point. I’d say I have a lot to thank some of the older marchers for, they were, in some ways, the pioneers and the reason I’ve had an easier time of being gay than they have had.

Who can blame them? Imagine feeling you’re being ignored, with your opinions and voices unheard, being made to feel like a ‘lesser’ version of others in society, being barraged with abuse for simply being who you are. It is no wonder that after so much time being stepped on, called names, picked on, bullied, frowned upon, and being treated unequally, that eventually, just maybe, they might defend themselves, fight back and shout louder. If that seems ‘in your face’ to those who oppose LGBTQ+ people protesting in the streets at today’s march and during Pride, then stuff them!

The Marriage Equality rally today ended with some great speeches that were really inspiring. All the messages were positive. I’m sure they’ll be online. I hope the world sees!

– Chris

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Worlds apart but at home – the power of the Rainbow

Choosing where to go on holiday is hard enough, with costs, accommodation and airlines, but it’s even harder when you have to consider if the host country will accept, or at best, ‘tolerate’ who you are. (I hate the word tolerate. It’s awful to think that someone needs to consciously hold back and behave differently due to their own prejudices, and then feel all proud of themselves for being modern liberal people. Anyways… I digress.)

After searching with Ray, we eventually found a place in Gran Canaria and off we set for ten days in the sun. They have a Gay Tourist Map, which is always a welcome sign. On our first day we headed into a well-known gay area for a cold pint and to explore. As soon as we stepped into the area we could see the beautiful colours of rainbow flag streamers above a bar and I got an immediate feeling of ease. Murals and signage, for drag shows and gay clubs, were all around too. ‘This is fantastic!’, I thought. I felt safe and comfortable like being in the house at home.

It’s weird how powerful a flag can be, how those colors immediately make me feel I can relax and enjoy company with similar people. I’m really glad Raymond is going to be using the theme of flags, demarcation and identity for his staged photo for Let Us Eat Cake because it is so relevant. It’s interesting to think about whether this has more significance for people from NI, where flags and symbolic expressions of identity have such deep-rooted importance for people from all backgrounds in the community.

The streets and bars in the evening where full of same sex couples. They could openly hold hands, kiss, be affectionate and no one batted an eyelid… except me. Gay public displays of affection always immediately attract my attention, probably because it doesn’t happen much in NI through the fear of abuse or being accused of flaunting themselves in public.

It’s just so lovely to see people in love. People who may be at the beginning what could be a lifetime of devotion and adventure. People who may have had to travel across the world to be themselves and to be open.

There were plenty of straight people there too. Everyone loves a cheap cocktail with an umbrella, sparklers and a questionable amount of spirits! There was such a positive and ‘normal’ atmosphere with people going about their everyday business. Wish it was like this at home.

Everyone of them with their own histories and backgrounds. I like to dream and imagine the LGBTQ+ people have loving and accepting families and have had an easy life away from discrimination, but then in reality I’d guess quite a lot of them have had some form of negatively past experiences due their sexuality. Each with their own unique stories.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to think that in future we could travel the whole world and be open all the time? Wouldn’t it be lovely if we didn’t need Gay Maps to find out where it’s ‘okay to be gay’? Where we could show our commitment to our partners, or seek new love and meet people if we are single, without having to target a country where we know people of our ‘type’ would likely be. I’d love to think someday even I wouldn’t notice I’m surrounded by LGBTQ+ people. I would love to not have to be self-conscious and aware when I hold my partner’s hand at home, for us to be romantic and celebrate as a couple, to not look like two male friends until we feel we’re able to ‘announce’ we’re together.

We walked home in the evening holding hands and it was lovely. One of the best parts of the holiday, in fact. It’s something so simple, but we wouldn’t do this at home… unless we’ve had some Dutch-courage!

– Chris

In this day and age

Themes discussed – rights, offensiveness, reach of the project, target audience

Today we discussed the idea of what the title means and how it could be perceived by the public. Some people thought that due to the recent news and appeal about Asher’s Bakery that some may be put off from the exhibition. This got the group chatting about the over-arching meaning of the title and how even though some may be offended, or believe that we are ‘pushing’ a gay / LGBTQ+ agenda, it’s great that it catches attention and will hopefully provide us with the opportunity to engage and challenge perceptions. We discussed how there is a perception in society that young LGBTQ+ people have an easy time and live in a more accepting society. However, this is not always the case and there has been a recent shift in society towards the ‘right’. It is important that we take a stand and have our voices heard, challenge views openly, debate important human rights issues and inequality, and work towards ending the view that we have to ‘seek permission’ for the things most people take for granted. It was noted that even to this day many LGBTQ+ people still feel ‘lesser’, and how this is something both politics and religion have played a hand in.

Ciaran chatted about his experiences and what he wants for the future, to be a dad. He was surprised that people have asked him / told him that he can’t have children. This is something I want also and made me think if I had to choose either the ability to married or to have children which would I choose… Then I thought how ridiculous is my way of thinking, these are two things that everyone should have access to!

The morning discussion has enthused my passion for doing something which, could at least in some way, add a brick to the pavement for the way forward for LGBTQ+ people. Even if our project just gets people thinking or discussing some of the issues, and more positively the good things / role models LGBTQ+ people are going then it is well worth my whilst. I do as always, and am increasingly conscious of, think that I can’t let myself get caught up in a runaway tangent of anger when I think how annoying it is, in this day and age, that there is still a need for our voices to be heard and to increase our visibility.

– Chris

Queer, History – in your face!

Our thoughts about the word ‘queer’: It was interesting to hear how different people viewed and used the word. For me it always had negative connotations and had been used in the past as an insult when I’d showed a sensitive and open side to my personality. Queer was used to imply weakness, softness, girly characteristics in men, and strangeness. It was great to learn from the others how the word has been reclaimed and used for so much good for the LGBTQ+ community.

LGBTQ+ history: We each shared out thoughts on LBGTQ+ history, the good and the bad, people in power who had been vocal about their opinions on homosexuality, and the insults that have been used to describe gay people. ‘Repulsive’, ‘immoral’, ‘sinners’, ‘more likely to abuse children’, were only some of the views which have been expressed publicly and plastered over the media. It was interesting to think about how free speech can be dangerous in the wrong hands, how those who talk so much about their entitlement to free speech and other things, yet strive to withhold entitlements such as that for same sex couples to have a civil marriage. These points seemed to focus around politicians, particularly unionists – which I would classify myself as.

We visited the Ulster Museum to see an exhibit on LGBTQ+ people during The Troubles. It was great to see how some people bumped the trend and didn’t flee to more liberal countries across the water. Even more interesting was how religious divisions seemed less prominent within those communities who stayed. Being gay or lesbian actually brought people together, sexuality topping religion and encouraging acceptance. Perhaps there is a correlation between those who have suffered suppression and societal separatism or conflict along with being attacked for being gay, and those people being more accepting themselves. Therefore, it’s an interesting concept that we’re viewed by some as ‘monsters’, yet are kinder and more accepting of others, celebrate diversity and difference, and do more for society, particularly in terms of pioneering investing in mental health and sexual health.

We discussed how some LGBTQ+ opposers say the LGBTQ+ are too ‘loud’ and ‘in your face’. Which raises the question as to how we, as a minority, have our voices heard on issues we think important. There is an important need for a LGBTQ+ politician that’s actually in a position of power. Why are there no openly gay leaders? Are political parties scared to put forward a leader in case they are too charismatic, too fabulous, change things too much? Maybe they will ‘turn’ everyone gay, or force them to live homosexual ‘lifestyles’?

– Chris