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15 Reasons The First Isle Of Wight Pride Was A Triumph

19/07/2017 14:28

Saturday saw the first ever LGBTI Pride take place on the Isle of Wight, that diamond-shaped bit off the south coast of England. And if you weren't there, you missed a treat. Here's why.

1 Diversity

Considering the Isle of Wight is characterised as being something of a retirement home, and the 2011 census found almost 95% of the population identifying as 'White British', the diversity in evidence on Saturday was really encouraging. Thousands of young people came out, and lots of older people too. I saw more BAME people than I expected, and quite a lot of people with disabilities too. It was fantastic to see the Parade led by young people wearing trans flags, too.

There was lots of diversity on stage. Gender diversity was excellent and there were bi and trans speakers and performers alongside acts including La Voix, Horse McDonald and The Freemasons.

2 Parade

The Parade was huge - and it was probably the biggest Parade I've ever seen at an inaugural Pride. Groups included the fire service, Sainsbury's, the Labour Party and lots more. I was privileged to be in the open top bus at the front of the Parade - and as we reached the bottom of the hill, and looked back, there were people as far as the eye could see. I wasn't the only one with a tear in my eye and goosebumps on my neck.

3 High Street crowds

The Parade had assembled on a school playing field and, as we left, a few people lined the back streets at the start of the route. Again, there were young people and older people, families, people in work uniforms, and people sat drinking Prosecco. But as we reached the high street, the crowds were several people deep, and the long straight hill down to the seafront was lined with thousands of people. They were hanging from windows, sat in shop doorways, and stood at the side of the road. They danced, they cheered, they clapped.

4 Ferries and Hovercraft

Whether you use the ferry, hovercraft or catamaran, you can't get to the Isle of Wight without crossing water and it was fantastic to see the operators supporting Pride. The hovercraft - which lands on the beach right next to the Pride stage - even replaced the union flags on the side with the Isle of Wight Pride logo. Which was nice, especially as it blew sand all over us.

5 Families

It's always heart-warming to see families at Pride events. It shows just how far we've come in the last few years. There are families with two mums and some with two dads. There are trans parents. And mixed gender parents which, by the way, doesn't indicate 'straight' - one or both could be bisexual. These families were in the Parade, dancing at the stage, strolling around the community stalls, and everywhere else across the Pride event.

6 The colour-in Police car

In what is definitely the best example I've ever seen of the police engaging with their local communities, Hampshire Constabulary's lesbian and gay liaison officers (LAGLOs) took their specially sign-written Ford SUV to Isle of Wight Pride. The design on the car includes lots of landmarks from across Hampshire, and at each Pride event they go to, they invite local children to colour in the black-and-white graphic. Every time I walked past the car, it was surrounded by children enthusiastically Sharpie-ing its panels.

7 It was political

Peter Tatchell talked about the current anti-LGBTI abuses in Chechnya, and mentioned Uganda. Linda Riley talked about hate crime and the homophobic DUP propping up the government. I talked about the importance of Pride in creating a sense of community. Other speakers included trans campaigner Justine Smithies and author and poet Sally Edwards. Stonewall and Amnesty and political parties had stalls. I loved the political element to Isle of Wight Pride, and it was great to see so much grassroots political activity too.

8 It was on a beach

It wasn't just the first Isle of Wight Pride, it was - we think - the first Pride ever to take place on a beach in the UK. There was a stage, there were food traders, a couple of bars and, thoughtfully, a plastic trackway installed so that people using wheelchairs and pushchairs could get across the sand. And it was lovely golden sand, too!

9 People came from far and wide

I met up there with friends from Exeter, Oxford, Brighton, London and even as far as Scotland. My early morning train from London was busy with obvious Pride-goers, and the short ferry journey was full of people carrying rainbow flags and banners. It was fantastic to see so much support not just from the Island, nor Hampshire, but from far and wide.

10 Sponsors

Some people think Pride shouldn't have sponsors, but those people are living in an altered reality. Prides cost money to deliver; the fairy who delivers a fully functioning stage free of charge is a fairy I'd love to meet. Isle of Wight Pride's sponsors included local travel companies, a trade union, the local travel authority, and even the local gin distillery. All the sponsors should be hugely proud of what they helped the team to organise last weekend!

11 Volunteers

All Prides rely heavily on volunteers (my own Pride, Pride in London, needs almost 1,000 to put on our annual event) and Isle of Wight Pride was no different. But what was truly amazing was the extent of what they've achieved in the last six months, with just a small handful of people. And on Saturday, as I stopped to talk to one of the committee members, Yve, she was dashing off to empty rubbish bags. It was all hands on deck, and I pay a massive tribute to them all for a job very well done!

12 The whole Island was Rainbowy

From the minute I stepped off the catamaran at Ryde Harbour and walked into the town centre, there were rainbows everywhere. Bars and restaurants, florists, coffee shops, toy shops and other retailers were hanging rainbow flags, and lots of flags were visible in the windows of houses and apartments along the route. The whole town got a lot more Rainbowy - at least for one day.

13 No-one had sex with a lamppost

Thankfully. But then again that was a concern raised last December by a newspaper columnist who didn't like the idea of the Isle of Wight getting a Pride event - and my blog for HuffPost back then helped to increase support for the event. It was also something of a relief to see the new Conservative MP for the island, Bob Seely, not only tweeting his support but actually being there. His predecessor, Andrew Turner, told a group of students in April that he thought homosexuality was 'dangerous to society', and resigned within 24 hours after his comments caused understandable furore.

The homophobes, biphobes and transphobes appear to get the message that they should stay away from Isle of Wight Pride. They weren't missed.

14 T-Shirts

In a fabulous tribute to Andrew Turner's harmful comments, a number of people were wearing Isle of Wight Pride t-shirts with the message 'Dangerous to know'. Another which said 'Wight Trash' was a personal favourite, as was the man wearing a unicorn t-shirt with the words 'TOTALLY STRAIGHT'. I've seen some of the best t-shirts this Pride season at Isle of Wight Pride.

15 It was someone's first Pride

Everyone remembers their first Pride. For me it was Pride London in 1997, and what makes your first Pride special is different for everyone. Whether it's a sense of community, of safety, of just being 'okay', Pride can help people come to terms with who they are, their sexual orientation or gender identity. And given the physical barrier between the Isle of Wight and the mainland, there's a good chance that lots of people on the island had never been to a Pride before. I reckon Isle of Wight Pride was a first Pride for lots of people there.

I think Emily makes the point best, so I'll leave it to her.

So if you missed the first Isle of Wight Pride at the weekend ... see you at the second one?

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