Britain now holds the record for having the most Pride events in Europe. At the last count we've got way over 100, possibly approaching 120, and this weekend brand new Prides take place in Bideford in Devon and in Eastbourne in East Sussex. Over the course of the year, millions of people across the UK will visit a Pride. And that's something to celebrate.
We've come a long way since 1972 when a few dozen brave activists got together in London and Birmingham for the first Prides in the UK. Pride in London now regularly attracts more than a million extra people onto the streets, and new Prides are popping up to huge success; last weekend thousands of people flocked to the first Isle of Wight Pride.
In 1992, a group of Pride organisers got together in London to form an alliance of European Prides, called the European Pride Organisers Association, and decided that one Pride each year should be designated 'EuroPride'. London was the first - and footage has recently emerged of that historic event - and in the 25 years since, EuroPride has visited a different city each year, from Riga to Rome, Amsterdam to Oslo, and Marseille to Manchester. Four cities - Bergen, Brussels, Hamburg and Thessaloniki - are currently bidding for EuroPride 2020.
And a few years after the invention of EuroPride, the international Pride community, through InterPride, created WorldPride, the first of which was held in Rome in 2000. Just a few weeks ago, we celebrated WorldPride in Madrid, following in the footsteps of previous hosts Rome, Jerusalem, London and Toronto.
So when Pride organisers in the UK set up the UK Pride Organisers Network (UKPON) last year, my fellow Co-Chair Andy Train suggested we should designate one Pride in the UK every year to be 'UK Pride'. That Pride would then become the focal point for Prides in that year, and other Prides should be encouraged to visit and support the event. By unanimous vote of members of the Network, Pride in Hull was selected as the first. The results so far have been impressive, and we'll see more as UK Pride at Pride in Hull gets underway this weekend.
If you were at Pride in London, you'll have struggled to miss the Humberside Fire Service fire engine in the Parade, emblazoned with the Pride in Hull and UK Pride branding. Hull's status as UK Pride has been covered across the LGBTI media, and even in mainstream news too, including the BBC and ITV. At a reception at Downing Street for LGBTI activists on Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May mentioned UK Pride and wished the event well.
In Hull this weekend you'll see what's likely to be their biggest Parade ever, with representatives of local, regional and national charities, NGOs, political groups, companies and corporate supporters. There's a pop up shop, arts events, and a stage show on Saturday that includes Marc Almond, Seann Miley Moore, and 80s and 90s legends including B*Witched and Sonia. There's then a whole week of events leading up to a major concert the following weekend.
But it's more than just a party. We're privileged in the UK to be able to celebrate LGBTI equality, although there is clearly more to do, such as on marriage equality in Northern Ireland and trans equality across the UK. But look to Europe, and there is much to do. Istanbul Pride last month was banned. In Kyiv, Pride-goers were assaulted. In Chechnya, gay and bi men are being rounded up and killed. You don't have to look much beyond Europe's borders to find countries where homosexuality is illegal, and even punishable by death.
That context is critical. As we 'celebrate' the fiftieth anniversary of the starting gun being fired for equality in the UK, across the world, there are more than 70 countries where LGBTI people are persecuted, prosecuted and worse. Human rights activists from organisations like Amnesty, ILGA Europe and Human Rights Watch are working tirelessly to highlight these abuses, and some of their campaigning will be very visible in Hull this weekend. But the importance of Pride in demonstrating that things can get better can never be underestimated.
There will be people in Uganda, in Uzbekistan, in Moldova, in Ukraine, maybe even in Chechnya, watching news reports and YouTube films of Pride events in the western world, feeling buoyed by what they see. Thinking that one day they will be as free as we are to celebrate who they are, who they want to be, and who they love. With freedom and equality.
And so UK Pride is important because it shows that Pride isn't always concentrated on the 'big' events like London, Manchester or Brighton, as important as they are, but that there are - literally - hundreds of other Pride events, organised by grassroots activists in smaller towns and cities across the UK, and across other countries throughout the world.
We don't yet know which Prides will bid to host UK Pride in 2018. But we do know that the increased focus that UK Pride status will give them will mean that they are shining a light for LGBTI equality across the UK, Europe, and the world. Join us in Hull this weekend for the start of something very, very special!
Pride events also take place this weekend in Bideford, Chesterfield, Eastbourne, and Newcastle upon Tyne, and it's also TransPride in Brighton. For full listings of all UK Pride events, visit the UK Pride Organisers Network website.