Monday, 16 August 2010

The Pride Is Nigh

A feature article, published by Venue Magazine (Issue 932, August 11, 2010) about Bristol's first major Pride event

Pride: a celebration of all that is good about the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community or, if you’re not swayed by the idea of gay people having a good time, a preliminary to the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah. Whichever side of the fence you sit, Pride is a huge fuck-off party when, for one day of the year drag queens, diesel dykes, big fat hairy poofs, skinny little disco bunnies and all manner of people covered by the rainbow flag can come together as one to commemorate the hard-won freedoms that for decades were denied us. Why call it Pride? Because Pride is the opposite of shame, which has for so many years been used to control and oppress LGBT people and, in many countries of the world, still is.

Many of the world’s major cities hold Pride events. The first took place in San Francisco in 1970 (two years after the Stonewall riots galvanised the gay community into political activism) and since then successful Pride parades, parties and celebrations have taken place regularly in cities as diverse as Sydney, Berlin, Johannesburg, New York and Jerusalem. Here in the UK dozens of towns and cities hold annual Pride events: London, Manchester, Brighton, Edinburgh, Cardiff – even Gloucester and Glastonbury. Yet for years Bristol, a city which boasts one of the largest LGBT populations in the country – has had nothing.

The last event that came close was Bristol’s final Mardi Gras in 2006, a patchy affair which grew from the aborted Queenfields/Big Cheek event of 2003. Each year since then a different group of well-meaning people has struggled, and failed, to get Pride off the ground, often hampered by the kind of mismanagement which has plagued similar events for years. Big Cheek fell apart amid concerns over venues and accusations of organisers lining their own pockets; the final Mardi Gras was to be no different, with one of the principle organisers disappearing shortly afterwards owing a lot of people a lot of money. An event planned for 2007, Pride South West, also went tits up: last year the event’s Operations Manager was found guilty at Bristol Crown Court of cashing dodgy cheques in an attempt to recoup some of the wages he claimed were owed to him. Every time the city’s gay venues have come together to try and get the ball rolling they’ve fall out with each other within weeks. The Pineapple Street Party and Old Market’s Village Pride events have come and gone, but no-one has been able to get a proper, city-wide Pride past the planning stage. So what will make this year’s event different?

Planning for Pride Bristol 2010 began last August, when a loose group of people – including Richard Whittle of Invisible Security, Stuart Hayles of Flamingos, Simon Nelson (then at THT but now part of Bristol City Council’s Equalities team), events manager Leighton de Burca and others came together in an attempt to organise a Pride event for the city. It hasn’t been easy: of the 12 people on the original committee only one, Simon Nelson, is still involved today. People have fallen by the wayside whilst others with more time and/or experience have come on board to offer their services, but that team has evolved into a tight group with one thing in common – none of them have a vested interest in making money from the event.

“The team has formed around a core that was already there,” says Pride Director Anna Rutherford. “We brought in people who knew about promotion and press and for the last few months we have been working hard to make sure that, through sponsorship and fundraising events, the money is there to make sure that Pride Bristol 2010 happens. Being independent has been massively important, as has been applying for charitable status. It gives the event transparency: we have to publish our accounts so everyone can see where the money has gone.”

It’s going to cost around £70,000 to put on and, if you had to add wages, web site development and programme production into the equation, you could easily double that. Bristol City Council, through the offices of Equalities Officer Jo McDonald, has contributed around £3,000 to the pot, but most of the rest of the money has come through sponsorship. Co-Director Daryn Carter, formerly a Diversity Champion at the BBC but now entrusted with the job of sorting out sponsors, has worked tirelessly not only to secure funding for this year’s festival but also to elicit guarantees of cash for next year’s event. Like everyone else on the team he has been working full-time for no pay to make sure that Pride Bristol is a success. “Sponsorship has been so important,” he says. “Nothing could happen without it.” Each time the group have hit a problem they’ve had to find a way around it. “When the management of Cabot Circus didn’t want to know we went to the shops instead and many of them have been really keen to get involved. We’ve also managed to sort some ‘in-kind’ donations – such as Veolia, who will deal with the waste that will be generated on the big day. That’s saved us around £4,000, and we’ve had hotels give us rooms for free, venues offering their services for free and so on. It all helps.”

“We really wanted businesses to be part of this,” Anna tells Venue, “To show that they’re supportive of the gay community. The amount of support we’ve been getting from outside of the gay scene; places like the Hippodrome, the Old Vic and the Watershed have been brilliant. It’s really important for us to be holding events outside of the recognised gay venues; we want everyone in the city to know that Pride is happening.”

It was always intended that the main event, held in Castle Park, would be free. It’s a very Bristol thing; a big outdoor party that’s free for everyone. It breaks down borders and aligns Pride with other free events which have taken place over the years including the Harbour Festival, the Balloon Fiesta and the Ashton Court Festival. “Keeping it free is something we’re really passionate about,” Anna insists. “We wanted to make sure that anyone could come along. We will be asking for donations on the day but there will be no pressure or obligation.”

“We want people who might be walking past to feel that they can come along and join in without having to pay,” adds Daryn. Anyone donated a suggested £3 will get a wristband allowing them discount on Pride events happening over the weekend.

The range of events planned for the week leading up to Pride Bristol is, like the team itself, massively diverse, with film screenings (including an outing for the Bristol-filmed and produced prison drama Release), live comedy with Rhona Cameron performing her first stand up in Bristol for more than a decade, dance at Circomedia, a raft of events for the Trans community (headed by UWE lecturer Dylan Glynn), a sports day on Clifton Downs bringing the area’s gay and gay-friendly teams together for the first time and, naturally, a march through the city on Saturday August 21 setting off at 12 noon from the fountains on St. Augustine’s Parade and stopping the traffic as the route takes marchers along Baldwin Street to Castle Park and the Pride Festival site. An integral part of Pride, this is the first time that the LGBT community has marched through the city since the mid 1990s.

The main event is preceded by two huge parties – AC Disco at Trinity Arts and a pre-Pride shindig at the Watershed – and rounds off with a men’s party, Wrapped, uniting three of Bristol’s monthly men’s club nights (Come to Daddy, Gear and Primal) again at the Trinity and Wonderland, organized by Wonky and women’s monthly night Liberty. “It’s a cheesy line,” says Daryn, “But there really is something for everybody.”

Getting that mix right hasn’t always been easy, and poor communication (often down to former members of the committee) and the difficulty of establishing Pride Bristol as a new event with no ties to the past has, on occasion, led to some issues but it’s clear, from talking to people involved in the local LGBT community, that the team have built up a tremendous amount of respect, and the backbiting and in-fighting which has marred so many similar events in the past are non-existent. “Daryn, Amy (Wilson, another core member of the team who has been working virtually full time) and Anna are three of the most driven, inspiring and organised people you could work with,” Thekla press officer Lou Trimby tells Venue. “They’re really good at motivating people and at changing people’s attitudes.” Says Daryn: “There really are no egos at all. We might be struggling to make ends meet personally, but we’re not doing this for us, we’re doing it for the community.”


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