Seven years ago today, my life changed forever.
Seven years and one day ago, my life was not in a good place. I was all but completely estranged from my family. I was single, and I was lonely. I had been the target of homophobia from a number of different directions, both low- and high-grade. It was wearing me down. When I encountered homophobia I was made to feel it was my fault. I always had to be defensive, and even though I was never ashamed of being gay, never ashamed that I could love, there was always fear.
Seven years ago, I was on the Belfast Pride committee, because I had decided it was better to take Arms against a Sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.
Seven years ago today was the Belfast Pride parade. Organising a parade takes a lot of work, both long- and short-term. In the preceding months, the committee had done all the long-term work. The short-term work has to be done, by its very nature, on the day of the parade. One of the shortest-term jobs is for a small team to walk maybe two minutes ahead of the parade to check for any last-minute problems.
Seven years ago today, my job was to lead that team. I lead the team along the parade route, with the parade so close behind. Along High Street. Along North Street. Then onto Royal Avenue. The thing about High Street and North Street is they aren’t very good points to watch the parade. The real crowd is on Royal Avenue.
Seven years ago today, I walked onto Royal Avenue, down the middle of the road, and the crowd started to cheer me. Well, they weren’t cheering me exactly. They were cheering what I represented. That cheer changed me.
Seven years ago today, as I walked up Royal Avenue, with the parade behind me, and the crowd cheering me, I stopped being afraid. I became me. Since that day, when I have encountered hostility I have not reacted defensively. I have lived my life as me. Unafraid. If someone wants to treat me less favourably because I am gay, then I see it as their problem, their fault, and their flaw, not in any way, shape, or form mine.
I have walked in Belfast Pride, London Pride, Foyle Pride, Dublin Pride, and Gibraltar Pride. What is Pride about? Pride is about knowing that if someone wants to treat you less favourably because you are gay, or bisexual, or lesbian, or trans, or anything that comes under the great Pride umbrella, then it is their problem, and their flaw, not in any way, shape, or form yours.
If living without fear is an amazing thing, seven years ago today something else changed. The Belfast Pride committee was quite big seven years ago. When I got back to Custom House Square, where the main after-parade party was, I got talking to one of my colleagues on the committee. I didn’t really know him before that day.
Seven years ago today I began to fall in love with him.
Seven years ago today, fear was replaced by love.