I took a walk the other morning with my partner. The memories of a night celebrating Manchester Pride still a little too strong, and my hangover even stronger - we figured the fresh air would do us good.
As we walked across this beautiful reservoir just north of Manchester, surrounded by wild horses, sheep and the odd Conservative Brexit-voting, country-dwelling dog walker, I'm of course doing what most millennials do when amongst nature: holding his hand and flicking through Twitter with the other. Images from the night before flood the feeds - happy faces, young and old - coming together to celebrate Pride.
Then one post stops me dead in my tracks. It shows a friend who was beaten last night - in Canal Street - right in the centre of Pride - for, as he wrote, holding his boyfriend's hand. He was hit by someone homophobic enough to have gained access to the celebrations last night, only to start trouble. My heart drops. Who would truly do such a thing?
My mind flicks to the night before where I too was holding hands with my partner, walking amongst the crowd - the memories of the recent Manchester attack still a little too vivid in my mind - I'd be lying if I said I was completely at ease, but I never expected violence.
The route of this violence and any homophobia lies in intolerance, which in turns breeds from a lack of visibility, or societal erosion of what is visible to what is hidden.
Manchester Pride this year, like Brighton and like London, consisted geographically of a cordoned-off section of the city only accessible to those who had bought a wristband to get in. This, along with making sure celebrations were safe and constrained largely to the streets, which were only accessible to LGBT people and allies, in fact, arguably went against the very spirit of Pride as a means to protest with public visibility.
Whilst safe spaces have provided communities for those who are subjugated or discriminated against to live out their true self, including self-discovery of what it really means to be yourself, they have also kept that beautiful truth hidden from mainstream, often straight, heteronormative, baby booming populations that, my god, need to see more diversity and challenging of the "norm."
I put my phone away as we continued our walk, trying to get the images of my friend's beaten face out of my head. Passing the next dog walker and his wife holding hands, I noticed like the many we had crossed paths before with, they instinctively nodded to politely acknowledge us. I also became aware that Joe and I had dropped hands a couple minutes back when we had seen this older gentleman and his wife, dressed head to foot in tweed approaching us with their two golden retrievers.
They followed the polite nod with a strong, firm and friendly, "Good Morning" but I'm sure they were a little taken a-back with my quick, sharp and equally friendly response of "Happy Pride" as I grabbed Joe's hand back and smiled as we made our way past them.
I was of course being intentionally confrontational because of what I'd just seen on Twitter - however what I said shouldn't have been disruptive. But they were visibly confused and shocked.
In a country where gay marriage has been legal now for over three years and homosexuality legalised for over 50, both us and them still felt uneasy with my unconventional response and it wasn't comfortable.
It's sad but I'm sure it will continue to feel more like a protest than true affection or freedom when LGBT people are their true-self without the bubble of a safe space.