Manchester 21 years on: still Proud?

Manchester Pride this year marked two significant occasions.  First, Pride celebrated its 21st birthday; and secondly it was the last of six festivals with Jackie Crozier at the helm.  Given these two landmarks, I decided to investigate how Pride in Manchester has evolved over the years and, in particular, how someone who had been nominated for a Homo Hero Award has helped drive the event to be more inclusive and how it will continue in the future.

Jackie was first appointed by Tim Sigworth (Chief Executive of the Albert Kennedy Trust) in 2005. He said in her interview for the job he saw in Jackie “a dynamic, passionate and talented person [who would] ensure Pride flourished”.  Initially a Coordinator for the Festival, Jackie soon became its Director, and as such pushed out the boundaries and scope of the event.
I was able to secure a few minutes of her time in a hotel lobby on the outskirts of the Village to find out a little bit more about her tenure and what legacy she was leaving.  I began by asking Jackie why she was stepping down.
Jackie: “I feel I’ve gone as far as I can with the Festival. The Fringe is bigger than ever before, the Parade now goes through the heart of the city.  I hope to go out on a high.”

As anyone who ventured outside the Village space into Manchester will have seen, the riots in the weeks before the Big Weekend had left their mark.  I wanted to know if this had affected their plans for the Parade and the Festival as a whole.
Jackie: “Since 2003 the Festival has been a gated event, with our own security and policing, so we never had any worry about the event being cancelled [as happened in 2002]. Manchester is a really resilient city [and] we turned ourselves around after a few days. As you can see, there’s so many people here today it really is a testament to Manchester.”

Pride in Manchester has had a chequered past, starting life as a fundraising event for a hospice ward in Monsall hospital for those affected by HIV, then moved on to a celebration of the Gay and Lesbian community.  In recent years, Jackie and her team have brought a wider mixture to the Festival, with focus areas including transgender, equal opportunities, religion and, in particular, the Lifestyle Expo – an area of stalls where different groups and companies can be approached for information, away from the hustle and bustle of the ‘party atmosphere’.  These are all visible places which can grab headlines, so I asked whether this would continue to include otherwise marginalised groups such as bisexuals.
Jackie: “Not everybody goes out there and says ‘I am Gay, I am Lesbian, I am Transgender, I am Bisexual’.  I don’t think it is necessary for us to label each other.  Just because there was only one float and one stall [focusing on bisexuality], I think the LGBT community as a whole is accepting and strong.”

I put Jackie’s comments to Jen Yockney, Editor of BCN and veteran of many Manchester Prides.  I found her taking a turn staffing on the BiPhoria stall inside the Expo, clutching a cup of hot chocolate to stave off the inclement weather.
Jen: “We’ve been coming to Manchester for the last seven or eight years [and] I would say that things have improved year on year in a way that five years ago we would get ‘what on earth are you doing here?’ ‘Bisexuality isn’t real’ kind of comments, along with some others I won’t repeat.”

But has this exposure done much to bring people forward and to get them to realise that they are not alone?  Perhaps to find something they can relate to, which previously wasn’t in the public eye?
Jen: “There is still that ‘thing’ where people will come up and go ‘I didn’t think there was anything specifically bisexual’, and often [they] will go on to say ‘A) isn’t it wonderful? and, B) why couldn’t I have found it sooner?’”

It isn’t just in the visibility of bisexuality that inroads have been made, the bisexual presence has also begun to make its way into the more commercial aspects of the festival, with some stall holders realising that it isn’t just the ‘Pink Pound’ that is getting spent during the event.  One such stallholder is Cindy from Freedom Friends; who has recognised the potential of the ‘Purple Pound’.
Cindy: “I try to be as inclusive as possible because it is not just Gay Pride, it is Bisexual Pride, it is Transgender Pride, it is Everyone Pride.”

Even with this sincere attempt at inclusivity, and a willing market to sell to, it isn’t always possible to provide what the customer wants.

Cindy: “’Bear’ merchandise is very easy to come by, ‘rainbow’ is the obvious, but bisexual and transgender are more difficult.   I am forever on the lookout for, [and] trying to get, something new every year but a lot of it actually comes down to making it myself.  I have customers who come back year on year, so by day three we have often run out.”

It seems strange to me that whilst everyone is moving away from the ‘B’ in ‘LGBT’ being a token gesture, for those who really try to do so there is very little resource available.  I took this back to Jen to see if she could give some more insight.
Jen: “One of the interesting things is that, even now, people think we must all be part of some big umbrella organisation.  We’re not, but [separate organisations] now get together about every nine months to talk about what ways we can support each other.  Hurrah for the Internet! This makes it possible for all the local and national groups to keep in contact and get a feel for what is going on on the ground.”

So it would seem that whilst we have come a long way forward, even in the space of the last five or six years, there is still a long way to go.  Jackie ended her interview with a comment “Manchester Pride is as strong as we are because we are strong together”.  Whilst it may be a soundbite crafted for radio, I think it is a message we can use for the bisexual community as well.

My thanks to everyone who took the time to go ‘on the record’ at Pride; I look forward to catching up with you at future Festivals.  The radio edits of the interviews are available at:

www.bicommunitynews.co.uk/pride2011

Colin Tasker
Broadcast Journalist