Durham Pride 2017 Through the Eyes of a Volunteer
Red for life.
Orange for healing.
Yellow for sunlight.
Green for nature.
Blue for harmony.
Violet for the human spirit.
In spite of its dark roots in the prosecution of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and the June Stonewall riots in New York City, today Pride festivals are known to be colourful, opulent affairs. As a celebration of LGBT culture and pride, they showcase the most flamboyant fashion, the most toned torsos, the most dazzling personas and an abundance of dramatic festivities.
Durham Pride, although not one of the major Pride events in the UK, takes place in one of the most idyllic spots in England and lacks none of the voluptuous beauty and glamour associated with these events. The parade took place on the 29th of May as we ushered in summer through a sheet of rain and grey skies. Rainbow flags, human unicorns and vivid silhouettes on stilts reflected against the imposing backdrop of Durham Cathedral. Thousands gathered for the parade, which filed down from the cathedral through the historic streets of the university town to The Sands, an open field next to the River Wear.
In between the feathers, the ruffles, the rippling muscles and pops of colour, were a handful of volunteers marshalling the parade with donation buckets and cheery voices. We were an odd assortment, united and recognisable only by our purple waistcoats. We were by far the least glamorous of all. Some of us were seasoned Pride-goers and regular volunteers, others first-timers (like myself). Our main function was to help fundraising during the day by wandering around the grounds with donation buckets, handing out bracelets to those who donated. We were told that without these donations Durham Pride UK would struggle to put on such spectacular free events.
The first reaction I got when I told family and friends that I would be volunteering at Durham Pride 2017 was one of puzzlement followed by a sarcastic, “Have you decided to come out?”. That I would spend a bank holiday at a festival initiated in support of the LGBT community, a community to whom I did not belong, seemed unfathomable to those closest to me.
But as a volunteer it became apparent that Pride stretches far beyond alternative sexuality and gender identification and all of us can learn from the values the community stands for. Shortly before the event, and in light of the recent attacks in Manchester, Mel Metcalf, the chair of the executive board, sent out a message reiterating that it was now more than ever important to “come together, channelling our unbreakable Northern Spirit, to show that love conquers hate”. So while Durham Pride’s main objective is to raise awareness and educate the public about the issues and difficulties affecting the lives of LGBT, the actual annual Pride celebration is not only reserved for those who identify with the community.
Meaning beyond Pride
The most poignant reason for my volunteering became apparent at the end of that rainy Monday. It ties in with the country of my birth and the surge in terror attacks and political debates about nationalism and immigration. I was reminded of an interview on BBC Radio 2 with actress and director, Dame Janet Suzman, who mentioned that South Africans were explicitly and sometimes brutally made aware of diversity from the day they were born. Suzman went on to explain how that visual recognition of difference, which was enforced by apartheid during her youth in Johannesburg, was a normal and daily enforced part of her existence. Laws of racial separation have been abolished since 1994, and we have been labelled the ‘rainbow’ nation since then, yet daily life in South Africa is still a continual reminder of a seemingly endless divide between racially and culturally different communities.
What I realised while walking around The Sands, spotting security and police roaming the grounds with rainbow-coloured wrist bands on their weapons, was that terrorism had taken the place of separation laws across the world to remind us and enforce a barrier between ‘us’ and ‘them’ in terms of religion, ethnicity and culture. The presence of the police, as lightened as it was by the myriad splashes of colour, was a reminder of a ever-present threat and the sense of being targeted not because of crimes committed but simply because of the fact that you were born the way you were and happened to be in the place where you were in.
Durham Pride UK is managed by a small executive board of volunteers, who assists the LGBT community and runs events that aim to promote inclusivity, love and acceptance in the Country Durham. Their annual Pride celebration helps them to continue their invaluable support in the area. Being part of this cause for a day was — as another volunteer put it — an amazing experience to be repeated again. While at face value it concerns helping the LGBT community, its real meaning stretches far beyond that, to include the need to stand up against hatred and intolerance and a need to emit light, however meagre, to break through the grim grey spectrum these sentiments cast over harmonious living in our society.