Pride History

Editorial:  I am reposting this article from the QUB website, as it provides back ground to Belfast Pride which we have been remiss in writing up ourselves:


Pride History
Gay Pride’s origins can be traced to riots at the Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village, New York City on June 27th 1969. Homosexual clientele and people of colour who frequented the bar, resisted assaults and corruption of police, resulting in three nights of rioting which is regarded as the conception of the modern gay rights movement. The Gay Liberation Front commemorated the first anniversary of the riots with a march from Greenwich Village to Central Park, while gay activists held a march in Los Angeles. Other cities and towns followed suit and the trend spread worldwide, with marches being held annually as a means to inspire a growing gay activist movement.  Various titles for the marches such as gay freedom day and gay liberation day were abandoned in the 1980’s, due to a shift by less radical members of the gay movement and the parades are now commonly known as Gay Pride.

P. A. Mag Lochlainn, the President of Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association, explained how dander, a Northern Ireland euphemism for walk was “deliberately chosen for the Belfast parade as a break from the monotonous marches hitherto seen in this city.” The dander marks the finale of Belfast Pride Festival which comprises a week of social events, exhibitions, talks and cinema. It would be a different experience for me this year by acting as a participant observer, filming the parade, taking photographs and conducting interviews for this website. It was my fourth attendance at Belfast Pride and I had already been present at Dublin and London Pride that summer. So what is it about Pride that has me and hundreds of thousands of people all over the world, parading through city and town centres, many in costume, waving rainbow flags to the sound of pop music?  As I stood in Writers Square waiting to interview P.A I remembered what he had stated in a prior interview. “Visibility is life, invisibility is death.”

P. A. Mag Lochlainn has sat on the Belfast Pride committee since its formation in 1991 and explained how a delegation from the Belfast gay community had attended London Pride for several years before deciding to host the first Belfast Pride festival.  He told me, “the motivation to stage Belfast Pride has always been to increase the visibility of our local LGBT community in order to claim our rightful place in the life of this city and community.  Just as “Silence equals Death”, we felt that freedom requires Visibility.   Our enemies used to be able to maximise homophobia, i.e. Baroness O Cathain alleging in the House of Lords that “every political party” in Northern Ireland was against LGBT rights, when in point of fact the DUP was the only political party doing so.   Pride proved these bigots were lying, and encouraged our local LGBT groups to trust in the good sense of the wider community.”

He remembered the first event was hard to organise and had little if any funding, but with the help of the Socialist Workers Party at Queen’s, a week of community and educational events took place. The first parade saw just fifty or so marchers leaving from the University of Ulster in the Cathedral Quarter of Belfast city centre. They carried a low budget banner and wore t-shirts and lapel buttons saying Gay Pride Belfast 1991. The ‘A’ in gay was represented by a pink triangle, a symbol of homosexuality. Not many spectators watched the parade as people on the streets did not understand what it was, or what is was about. P.A. explains how he has always encouraged non-threatening or provocative engagement with onlookers in order to win hearts and minds. “If you get a smile back from the crowd,” he informs me “then you’ve won.”

They marched to Botanic Gardens amid opposition from churches and paramilitary threats of ambush at Sandy Row, due to a Junior Orange Order March scheduled at the same time.  In an amusing twist to the tale P.A. recollects how the police had asked for the parade to be postponed but could not give the reason why. It turned out that the marchers would not be the only queens in town that day as HM Queen Elizabeth II would also be in Belfast, ”she was not specially invited,” jokes P.A. The heightened security helped alleviate fears of violence and held church demonstrators in check. On its completion “the marchers felt wonderful and there was a sense of disbelief we had done it,” says P.A. That first small march seemed a far cry from the 2008 parade which I now filmed making its noisy and colourful way towards me from Royal Avenue. A mass of spectators converged at city hall cheering and clapping while Christians demonstrated with banners calling for homosexuals to repent their sins. Then Tina Legs Tantrum, the local celebrity drag queen drew up, atop a float dressed in silver sequence frock and white wig, waving a rainbow flag to the jubilation of the crowd.  For a moment my anthropological research ceased as I became swept away in the atmosphere. “At streets parades, those instances that result in feelings of belonging rely upon moments were actions, performances, emotions come together in a particular rhythm to create a sense of being special, or social camaraderie (Duffy Watt & Gibson, 2007: 7). Hence, I argue that this as a fundamental reason for the success and continuance of Pride.

Research from Thomas Fegan – BELFAST GAY PRIDE PARADE 2008

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