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Belfast's annual Gay Pride parade takes place today
By Deborah Dundas
06 August 2005
Topping a week of events - including a fashion show and ball - the parade is the highlight of the Pride celebrations. It's also a chance for supporters and detractors alike to voice their opinion. Twelve floats and at least 3,000 people are expected to attend - with protesters expected to gather at City Hall.
This year hasn't been without controversy. Police asked the Parades Commission to rule on the parade after concerns were raised by some Christian groups that the parade was encouraging a "sinful lifestyle". Late last week, the Parades Commission ruled that the parade can go ahead. The route runs from Writer's Square, along Royal Avenue, past and around City Hall, winding through the city centre, then back to Writer's Square where there will be a big party. Crowds begin assembling at 12:00, with the parade starting at 2:00.
DEBORAH DUNDAS speaks to two members of the Pride Committee.
Sally Young, co-chair, Belfast Pride Committee
Pride Week is a celebration; it's acceptance and I think, now, it's about feeling connected. I always wanted to be involved in Pride. Since I've been working on it I've been making new contacts and friends, and it's given me a sense of belonging. It's also given me a support network. Plus, I love to dress up and have a party!
Belfast Pride is drawing more people internationally. Last year there were people from across the UK, Ireland, Germany, the United States, Canada, and more. In the past a lot of people would have left Northern Ireland because of their sexuality. Now people don't feel as threatened.
These days, there are lots more support groups for young gay people. When I was younger - I'm 35 now, originally from Carrickfergus - there weren't those kinds of groups.
More businesses and organizations are putting floats in the parade. Last year there were six, this year there will be 12. There's an informal competition to see whose float is the best - and the loudest! Over the last three years, the parade has taken on a carnival atmosphere. In the past it was more political.
I work at the Masque Project, which is part of New Belfast, a community arts organization. One of our groups is the Pride group, but we work with all different backgrounds.
One group of young people designs fashions. We're always looking for places to hold fashion shows so they can show off their designs. Pride organized Kube (now known as Mynt) as a venue. It's a gay bar; and we let the parents and community leaders know it was a gay bar. Everyone was fine with it and had a great time. When I think about the positive community relations that developed, I think it's great.
I work with kids and young people. I find it insulting for people to say that we're perverts when what I do for a living is provide child protection. I think the attitude comes from fear and ignorance - it's prejudice.
Some people, even within the gay community, say that Pride is too stereotyped with drag queens and so on. But the gay community is multi-faceted. And people need to get involved for it to be inclusive.
If you want to join the Pride Committee, then do. Everyone has something to offer.
Stephen Bruce, fashion show co-ordinator
Acceptance is a big thing in my life. I've been "out" for six years now; I'm 21 years old, originally from Belfast. When I came out, I told a friend, and she told her mother, who told my family. Certain members of my family didn't accept it, but most did. My brother will come to the parade with his girlfriend and my niece. I also have family and friends cutting their holidays short to come out and support Pride.
It's a political statement to show people we're human beings and deserve the same rights as everyone else. Love is a human right and people shouldn't be disgraced or ashamed. A lot of straight people are supporting us; all of the big unions are coming out, Amnesty International.
I see the Pride parade as a day to celebrate who you are, to be who you want to be. We'll always get abuse - get called queer or freak - but that doesn't bother me.
Gay Pride Week really depends on volunteers. It's funded by the community; we do fundraising events. We get a bit of money from City Council and Laganside, but the work the volunteers do is what makes it.
Taking part in last year's parade, I have never been so uplifted and happy, seeing all those people out to support us, people with their kids on their shoulders, clapping. I felt accepted.
It's not about saying "we're gay and we're here". I don't want to be a screaming "poof". I want people to know we are a community, and God does love us. I wouldn't say I am a strong Christian, but people shouldn't be beaten or ejected from their homes or petrol bombed just because they're gay.
I'm not ashamed of who I am and I won't hide in a cupboard. When I first came out, one of my brother's friends found out and phoned him up at three in the morning to tell him about it. My brother said he was proud of who I am.
It annoys me that people see all gay people as drag queens. Businesses who think that if they advertise that they're handing out fake tan for free and holding a Kylie Mynogue night, we're all going to come running. They're so busy chasing the "pink pound". But I have a normal life, an office job (I'm an administrator at a ferry company), straight friends. I don't always go out to gay night clubs.
I have friends and family in the PSNI, and it's great to see them supporting the gay community. They may not be marching, but they're supporting us. If we phone in a complaint of abuse, they respond. I'd like to see those police officers who are gay joining us some day.
When I walk down the streets of Belfast now, I know there are lots of people like me walking in the same streets. There is change happening with my generation. Our parents tend to be fine with our sexuality and support us.
My mother's legacy to me was never judge someone, whether they're Catholic, Protestant, black or white. I was brought up to be me and to accept others for who they are. We need more people like that in life.