I’m writing this sat outside my old school, waiting for something I never imagined possible two decades ago when I studied there.
In just an hour, the Bristol Pride parade will end just a two-minute walk from my former teenage classroom.
The city has changed. Where I’m sitting used to be a car park, now it bustles with harbor-side bars and restaurants.
But the cathedral tower, which looked down disapprovingly on my first boyfriend and I, is the same. It carries the only bare flagpole in the city today. All the others are dressed with the rainbow and trans flags.
We were two 15-year-olds hiding the biggest secret in the school. I was geeky, awkward, skinny and the tallest kid in class. So finding someone who liked me enough to want to date me gave me the biggest confidence boost imaginable.
It also made us secretive, isolated and afraid.
I remember walking past this very spot, talking with him about how we should keep it secret from our teachers, our parents, our friends.
We made-out in each other’s bedrooms silently, with the music turned up. Always with the risk a brother, sister or parent may walk in without knocking – the universal teenage fear, whatever their sexuality.
But it wasn’t just being caught red-handed. There are subconscious ‘tells’ to trip you up. The way you talk to each other, the looks you exchange. The very fact we spent so much time together made people suspicious.
In the UK, the age of consent for gay people was 21 at that time. We were officially criminals and genuinely believed we would be treated as such if we were found out. If people knew of our relationship, it would mean separation, expulsion and punishment.
The words ‘gay and lesbian’ were universally taboo then in UK schools – the only people who used them would be bullies. At a time when we were trying learn to be proud of who we are we were being taught to be ashamed.
I have no real idea what it’s like to be an LGBTI student in the same school today. But they can no longer ignore it entirely. It’s outside their gates. Bristol Pride is in the face of every teacher, parent and pupil.
Change, however, isn’t delivered on one day a year. Let alone the seismic change the LGBTI community in the UK has managed in the last two decades.
Too many of the companies supporting Pride events around the world do little or nothing else to support our community on the other 364 days of the year. For them, Pride is a publicity stunt. A chance to showcase credentials they fail to live up to. It’s the one-night-stand of LGBTI marketing. I say to them, if you really want a relationship, try calling again the morning after.
The same challenge should be extended to each and every one of us who take part in Pride. If we haven’t seen enough reminders of the urgency of change in 2016, we’ve not been paying attention: Orlando, the rise of hate bills against trans people and the isolation felt by people of color in the US, the intolerable delays on marriage equality in Australia, the divisive and dangerous Brexit referendum in the UK, the steady march of the far right in much of Europe.
Some suggest Pride marches in Europe or America are a ‘beacon of hope’ for those in the countries where homosexuals and trans people are most persecuted; that somehow our celebration equals their liberation. Hmmm, maybe. But it seems to me that concept could only have been dreamt up by a white westerner.
Real change means working every day. Pride is not an answer in itself but a chance to inspire that work.
Our community is remarkable. It has managed one of the fastest, most peaceful revolutions in world history. We can manage much more. So if you’ve marched at Pride, champion those same values in your workplace, in your school or online. Speak up, engage, volunteer, give a damn.
If you aren’t angry about the injustice LGBTI people around the world face now, when will you be? If you are, what are you waiting for? We’ve proved incredible change can happen. We’ve proved ordinary people like us will lead it. Delay only strengthens our opponents and hurts the people we wish to help.
Stand up every day – that’s the real message of Pride.
Tris is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Gay Star News. GSN is a media partner of Bristol Pride. See the amazing people who made Bristol Pride here.
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