In July 1995, I went to my first Pride event. At the time, I had gone under the guise that some friends were attending and the festival was also taking place locally. On that occasion I had felt like a kid looking through the window of a sweet shop – longing for the day when I would have the courage to stand in the store and partake in the delights that were on full display.
In between Pride ’95 and Pride ’96, a lot had happened in terms of me coming home to myself. During that period I had had my first liaison with a man, my first heartbreak and had come out at work and to a few close friends. As Pride ’96 approached, I was determined to be more than the kid looking through the glass of the sweet shop. This time I wanted to be part of the celebrations. At the time Pride represented to me an opportunity to show the world that I was proud to be who I am and there was no shame attached to being gay. In terms of my personality, I can be an ‘all or nothing’ person, and that year was no exception. I decided that rather than simply being one of the people watching the parade take place, I would be a steward on the march and at the festival in Clapham Common.
As the event approached, I remember getting more and more anxious. The big question that kept on ringing through my head was ‘what are you thinking?’, ‘what if a member of your family sees you?’. At the time, I did not know any other black gay or lesbian people. I remember having this strong desire to connect with someone who might have walked down the road I was now on, someone who could tell me that I would be okay and that being a steward on the march was not the end of the world, but the beginning of authentically validating myself. This period was pre the popularisation of the internet and google (gosh, am I really that old!), yet somehow I managed to find out that there was a ‘Black Gay and Lesbian Centre’ a bus ride from where I worked. I left work early one afternoon and headed to see one of their counsellors. She was a lovely woman and shared stories of her own journey with me, letting me know that I was very brave to be going on the march as a steward. She told me that she was not out to her family and could not imagine going on the march as it would mean members of her family might she her. In that moment, I remember feeling a sense of sadness and disappointment that here I was yearning to step out with Pride and the person I was hoping to reassure me had not even embarked on that journey. I never went back to the centre after that. Reflecting on that moment now, I have come to learn that each of us walks our own path as best we can and just because that person had not come out did not mean that she had nothing to teach me, but hey I was younger then, and my idealistic self had no comprehension of the shades of grey in between the black and white of life.
On the morning of 6 July 1996, I headed off to Hyde Park. I had attended a briefing session a few days before where I had met some of the other volunteers. As I approached Hyde Park I realised that taking part in the event was not simply about celebrating me, it was also that I might get to meet that illusive Mr Right. If ever I was going to meet him I thought, today will be the day.
The march was amazing, the cheers from the crowds. It truly felt like the streets of Central London came out in celebration of everything gay. Tourists, bus drivers, shoppers, everyone seemed to be tuned in and ready to celebrate. As I remember that day now, I cannot help but beam with Pride, it was a truly amazing day. I truly did feel Pride and there was no room for any of the shame that had plagued me in my dark days.
After the march, we made our way to Clapham Common where I was one of the stewards at the entrance to the Park. I was paired with another chap called Peter. We got on really well and spent most of the time at the event together. I did try to shake my new friend lose, after all I was determined to meet my Mr Right and to me Peter was not him. Anyway, cutting a long story short, Peter and I ended up going to the after party together. He ended up coming back to mine that night – he had missed the last bus and did not have money for a cab (so, he said… and as I said, I was much younger then!). We ended up ‘dating’ for a short period.
Amazing how each moment in life provides a doorway to other moments, meeting Peter proved to be a catalyst for two significant events in my life. First, I finally came out to my mum thanks to Peter. You see, Peter had gone travelling and had left some of his stuff in my apartment. My mum had come to stay that Summer and for some reason had gone through his stuff and found his stash of gay themed magazines, which had then led her to confront me with ‘I hope you are not gay!’. Secondly, on returning from his travels Peter had lodged with a guy who was from Ghana. Peter introduced us one evening in late March 1997 and that guy has gone on to become one of my best friends; in fact my first black gay friend and my soul brother.
Pride ’96 does hold a special place in my heart. Whilst I did not meet the man of my dreams on that occasion, I did get what I had set out to find and embrace in the first place…. myself.
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