Digital Pride Week: Tales of the City

Leeds Pride is a summer highlight for many people in the city. This year, the organisers had to make the difficult decision to postpone the 15th anniversary celebrations out of concern for the safety of all involved. But we felt strongly, along with colleagues across the city, that we still needed to come together, in celebration and in protest.

As part of a friendly and diverse city, the University welcomes nearly 30,000 students every year. The foundation of our global community at the University of Leeds is equality of opportunity, respect, fairness and inclusion, and we seek and celebrate diversity in our population of students and staff and alumni.

As part of our programme to mark Pride 2020, we wanted to celebrate the diverse identities of our LGBT+ community and create a space for people to share their perspectives on what Pride means to them. Enjoy.

Nisha Pokar — PhD Student, Chemistry

Pride for me is being able to go somewhere with my hands held high, without feeling the need to hide who I am. Pride for me is increasing the visibility of gay ethnic minorities, roads which otherwise remain untravelled. I feel I am somewhere I belong — where I can wear cargo trousers, snapbacks, chains, button-up shirts, ripped jeans and not feel defeminised for it.

Pride is feeling like you’re the majority, when you’ve lived your life as a minority nobody’s listening to. Pride is one step closer to happiness and one step further from internalised homophobia. Pride is breaking the habits I’ve learnt from compulsory heterosexuality and being ok with who I am from the inside. Pride is feeling the radiance of wisdom, justice and love from everyone around you, the catalyst to self-acceptance.

Pride is a community so one more light can continue to burn in a sky of a million stars.

Nisha Pokar — PhD Student, Chemistry

Monisha Issano Jackson — University of Leeds Graduate in Geography, 2019

Pride for me is about honouring, acknowledging and respecting those who led the initial movements for LGBTQ+ liberation. Specifically, it is about honouring the Black and brown trans women who were at the forefront of resistance, while celebrating the progression that has been made since their collective fight(s).

It is also vital to acknowledge that Pride celebrations exist in the Western world in the historical context of enforcing sexual and gendered oppression(s) globally through colonialism and imperialism.

As a lesbian/queer Black multiracial woman, it is important for me to always centre the most marginalised during Pride and throughout the year; particularly trans women of colour who are violently targeted on a daily basis, as well as all those who live in countries that still uphold colonial legacies which vilify and Other those who exist outside of the parameters of cis and heteronormativity.

When I think of Pride, I also am extremely happy to have been able to formally establish a QTIPOC society during my time at the University of Leeds that serves as a refuge for many students of colour. I am proud of all my intersecting identities that guide my activist, teaching and daily commitments and purpose in this life.

Monisha Issano Jackson — University of Leeds Graduate in Geography, 2019

Joni Clark — Admissions Enquiries Assistant, and University of Leeds Graduate in Sociology, 2018

Pride, for me, simply, is a response to the shame imposed on us by straight society. Pride is a protest and a party, it’s anger and joy, it’s a release. Pride is the one weekend in the year when I can walk through Leeds city centre and feel safe from queerphobia. It’s a refusal to be cowed by the morning news segments calling us a “contagion”, it’s a refusal to be “debated”, it’s a joyous and raucous celebration of survival.

Pride gives us a chance to remind ourselves of our power and legitimacy as queer people, and to remind ourselves that we are not on our own. I remember the moment trans community groups stopped the 2019 Leeds Pride march in its tracks to drown out transphobic protestors. I remember the hundreds of people who joined us in that moment, and how powerful it was in a time when transphobia is so normalised.

Pride is about more than normatively attractive white men throwing sweets at you from a Sainsbury’s float, and for me the radical history of Pride holds its greatest meaning and potential.

Joni Clark — Admissions Enquiries Assistant, and University of Leeds Graduate in Sociology, 2018

Ian Beetlestone — University of Leeds Graduate in English, 2000

I’ve been driving a London taxi since 2012, and early in the job I had the Bishop of Salisbury in the back, at the time when he’d just caused a national furore by becoming the first Church of England Bishop to publicly support gay marriage. I didn’t realise he was that Bishop until he’d got out of the cab and I googled him. He didn’t know I was gay, either, so I regretted the conversation we’d missed the opportunity of having.

The rainbow livery was already in the back of my mind, but it was the idea that when the Bishop of Salisbury stuck his arm out — miracle of miracles — it could have been a rainbow cab that had stopped, that spurred me on to actually do it.

I drove the cab in the London Pride parade three years running (2015, 16 and 17). They were three of the best days of my life — the roar and the joy and not only myself being visible but also to be showing a non-stereotyped, modern, open face of the London taxi trade to the world. Visibility is ultimately, to me, what Pride is about.

I knew I was in a tiny minority in the trade and it was an opportunity to say, “I’m here”. The response from public and fellow drivers alike was overwhelmingly positive. Last year my cab reached the end of the road and I’m now driving a new electric one, but I hope before too long to get it liveried up again.

The London Cabbie’s Quiz Book by Ian Beetlestone was published by Quarto on July 28, 2020.

Ian Beetlestone — University of Leeds Graduate in English, 2000

Helen Finch — Associate Professor, German

My first Pride were in Dublin in the 1990s. ‘Homosexual acts’ had only been decriminalised in 1993, and marching openly in Pride was still a brave step.

Pride was a party — with rainbows, drag and dancing, exciting sights in recession-hit Holy Catholic Ireland — but it was also a serious political protest. Civil partnerships were nowhere on the political agenda, hospitals and schools could and did discriminate, trans rights were almost non-existent.

My first Leeds Pride was in 2008. Compared to Dublin, Manchester or Berlin it was homespun and small, but a friendly way to connect with the LGBTQ+ community in my new city. I was so proud to attend the first trans pride march in 2018 — trans people are the backbone of our community.

Now we have kids and they love coming to Pride. They are excited by the rainbows and the music — best of all, they often see other families they know there, who always take part in Pride, even if they don’t identify as rainbow families. Once a year it’s really important to us to meet up with other Yorkshire LGBTQ+ people, turn Leeds rainbow-coloured, and celebrate our strength and resilience as a community!

Helen Finch — Associate Professor, German

Carly Miller — Student Education Service Officer (Student Support)

I grew up during the time of Section 28 and as a child I was never aware that who I am was something that even existed, I had no words or references for it and I spent more than a few years feeling a bit lost and broken.

But now I am able to look back and know that there were all of these amazing people fighting against Section 28, we didn’t know each other, but they were fighting for me all the same.

This is what Pride is for me, it’s a celebration of who we are, what we can achieve when we work together and to celebrate who we are and all that has been, and will be, achieved.

Carly Miller — Student Education Service Officer (Student Support)

Sue Lister — University of Leeds Graduate in English, 1967

I have travelled the world as an asexual being, never being tied down by intimate relationships and free to adventure wherever I chose. Until I met my life partner, Ann Murray, in Vancouver in 1986.

I remember Vancouver Pride, led by bare-breasted Dykes on Bikes, followed by the Mayor and an amazing array of floats from all sections of society including water polo!

But on the other side of the street was a solitary figure with a paper bag over their head which read “I’m 60 years old, when will it be safe to come out?” A stark reminder of the real life we all go back to after our day of exuberant Pride.

We returned to the UK in 1996, signed up to be partners in the 2003 pilot project and then celebrated our civil partnership in 2005.

I became a trustee of the York LGBT Forum when it began in 2006 and Ann and I helped put on a Pride Festival each year as it steadily grew from stage fun, picnics and a dog show in Rowntree Park, through the Happy Hatters Tea Party in Tower Gardens to the huge spread on the Knavesmire run by its own separate charity.

Pride is the one day in the year when here in the UK we have the social licence to feel FREE TO BE ME! In too many other countries the LGBT community does not have this freedom. We must never forget to stand in solidarity with those who are silenced, here and around the world.

Sue Lister — University of Leeds Graduate in English, 1967

Find out more about Leeds Digital Pride.

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