Tag Archive | Belfast Pride

Seven Years Ago Today

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.

Reflections on Belfast Pride 2012

People from Faith and Pride supporting the Belfast Pride parade – that’s me on the right. Photo by Phil O’Kane.

Yesterday was the Belfast Pride parade. I was one of a group of Christians who stood in High Street (just outside St George’s Parish Church) to support the parade. During the course of the day I met two interesting people.

The first was a woman called Pat. I was standing, waving at the parade, holding one end of the Faith and Pride banner. Pat was in the crowd standing next to me. During a quiet period I muttered something to myself about my arm being sore. Pat overheard, and she offered to hold the banner for me. Pat was about the same age as my mother, and her banner holding really helped me. If you are reading this, Pat, thank you. It was lovely standing next to you as we watched the parade.

After the parade had gone past and the crowd had largely dispersed, I was standing on High Street, chatting to some of the other Christian parade supporters. That’s when I met the second interesting person. He was wearing a shirt and tie, and looked to be in his late twenties (although I’m never any good at estimating ages). He was handing out religious leaflets — produced by Magherafelt Outreach — and he offered me one. I accepted his leaflet, and offered him one of my Faith and Pride cards in return. A discussion of what the Bible says about same-sex relationships ensued. He said that the Bible says same-sex relationships are unnatural. I asked him where it said that. He said Romans. I tried to talk to him about what Romans means, and how reading it in context leads to a very different understanding. He wasn’t prepared to discuss things with me and ended up telling me I was blaspheming. He refused even to accept a Faith and Pride card. That, to me, is the very anthesis of liberal Christianity. It is a peculiar arrogance that borders on a claim to infallibility coupled with a strange lack of confidence in the strength of one’s own beliefs.