The Space Pirates on stage in Market Square
A little over a decade ago I remember despairing, disbelieving and laughing with a kind of desperate hilarity as I recounted to my friends in the UK that a member of Guernsey’s government (a publicly elected Deputy, none the less) was being quoted in the local newspaper’s front page regarding his hugely ill-informed thoughts around gay people and AIDS – a choice quote being something along the lines of ‘We all know San Francisco’s a gay town and where AIDS comes from and we don’t want to be like that’… I think most people I know would love Guernsey to be more like San Francisco in all kinds of ways, but I digress.
Given that attitude was being given any kind of official credence just a short time ago made what took place on Saturday 10th September 2016 all the more impressive. Thousands gathered to take part in Guernsey’s first ever Pride event, organised by the Liberate organisation and following in the footsteps of 2015’s first Channel Islands Pride event in Jersey.
Having lived all but my university years on this little rock in the English Channel, this was my first proper pride event (a brief visit to West Hollywood Halloween in LA last year gave a bit of a taste though) and of course being in my ‘hometown’ made it all the more special.
People gather in Candie Gardens
The event itself began in Candie Gardens, a public garden that usually affords fabulous views of all the Channel Islands making it a particularly fitting place for the beginning of this island spanning event, but with the somewhat inclement weather conditions this view wasn’t at its best.
Despite that as the time for the parade/march neared people began to congregate at the top of the gardens where the Queerly Beloved Ceilidh Band and the Samba Burros drummers were doing their best at getting the atmosphere going.
Having seen some of the costumes at West Hollywood’s Halloween event last year and photos from Pride events around the UK I wondered quite how Guernsey’s often more (small c) conservative residents would mark the day, in terms of dress.
The weather somewhat forced the hand of many (including myself) so while there were flashes of rainbows and other significantly coloured flags many were partially covered by waterproofs, though the rainbow umbrellas from HSBC helped.
There there were a few though who cared not for the rain and were resplendent in various attires, proudly pinning their colours to the mast, along with a troupe of sailors and, of course, the spectacular Magenta who led the parade through town. (For the record I struck gold in discovering Progress Wrestling have a pride t-shirt amongst their merchandise so I managed to combine both my passion for pro-wrestling with the pride side of things).
The parade in the high street (Photo by Rebecca Catlow)
As we gathered at the top of the path that leads from Candie into the centre of St Peter Port the feeling of what this event meant really began to build. Certainly there was a party atmosphere with cheering, singing and laughing aplenty, but it was seeing and being part of this mass of people all present to make the same point that really struck me as something special.
I will admit that despite some fairly deeply held beliefs around both political and social issues this was my first time attending such an event of any description. The last few years have seen a growth in what, for Guernsey, passes as political protest or meaningful marching but often they seem to appear to be a few stragglers in a vast car park preaching entirely to a converted minority or heckling largely nonplussed politicians on the steps of the States Chambers, for the most part this felt a long way from that.
As the 50 metre rainbow flag passed over us and we began the parade down the hill into Smith Street and the High Street it was clear that not only were those in the parade there to celebrate, but that this was still to make a point to those who, maybe, were less aware of what it was all about and to shout loudly that old cliché about ‘being here’… though of course things are more complex than just that.
As we weaved our way down the streets some joined the parade while others clapped and cheered on from the footpaths. There were a few disapproving faces along the pavements – maybe they were just frustrated that their Saturday afternoon’s shopping was disrupted, maybe it was something more sinister, that’s not for me to judge, but they were few and far between which was very encouraging.
Upon reaching St Peter Port’s Market Square the samba drummers kept the atmosphere up before the afternoon’s compere, Tigger Blaize, took to the stage and introduced members of Liberate, some very happy sponsors and a few other official types to make their points about what this event was all about.
From there, after Magenta and ‘Colin from the Co-Op’ (he may sound like a cartoon character but is head of the main sponsor) dished out some raffle prizes the party really began. Buffalo Huddleston and The Space Pirates of Rocquaine, two of the island’s most popular bands, both put in great performances with what felt like an extra sense of enthusiasm given the nature of the event.
They were followed by Dolly Parton Tribute act Paula Randell who was good fun as expected and then Kitty Brucknell (an X-Factor contestant so I’m told but as you might expect that doesn’t mean a lot to me). Kitty was joined on stage by a pair of male dancers who were, to my knowledge, like nothing St Peter Port has ever seen (at least in quite such a public setting) and it felt somewhat incongruous seeing a chap dancing in a pair of very small trunks emblazoned with what looked like the logo of ‘Clonezone’ in this usually familiar setting – but equally that is, kind of, part of what this was all about.
At that point I bowed out for a nice Thai meal with friends while the ‘official’ party continued, no doubt very enthusiastically, later into the evening, but it was then and after, in reflecting that the importance of this event really struck me.
Ever since it was announced that Channel Islands Pride was happening in Jersey last year I thought we should have a Guernsey counterpart. Then when that was announced there was no question in my mind that I would take part, at the very least, in the parade and of course enjoy the live music side.
That said, in the world of what Pride is championing, campaigning for and celebrating I couldn’t help but wonder, at times, if this was for me. While my Facebook profile lets my friends know certain of my preferences and I don’t go out of my way to hide anything, with a few exceptions I’ve never felt I’ve so publicly expressed this (keeping with my ongoing public presence the specifics of that I won’t detail for various reasons, mostly because its my business).
Walking through town then, being photographed by seemingly everyone with a smart phone, along with those from the ‘official’ media, did at points make me wonder what anyone who saw me there would think.
‘Dolly Parton’ on stage
From there I could only figure that it doesn’t matter what they think, for one, and that all I’m doing, whatever my particular sexual orientation or position on the gender spectrum may be (lets be honest on the last note at least a big beard is a bit of a give away) I should be ‘proud’ of it, it shouldn’t be something that I feel (as I have at times) that I should be ashamed of or have to hide.
I know that still not everyone will understand all aspects of this, but that isn’t my problem. Along with this my presence there was to celebrate with my friends and family and their particular situations (varied as they are).
This then extrapolates out that no one, whatever their orientation or identity, should have to hide or feel anything but pride in it in 2016, whether they feel like shouting it from the nearest rooftop or not.
An event like this, while some may see as a small addition to an international movement, is as important (and potentially more so) than its larger more international counterparts as its finally publicly highlighting something that has so often been hidden within Guernsey’s community that, and I speak as a Guernseyman (as seems to be an important factor when making such statements), often doesn’t want to rock the boat or stand up and be seen.
My Progress pride shirt (for reference)
On top of that while the day was undeniably a celebration and a party it makes a huge statement of a political nature and, hopefully, directly to the island’s politicians, particularly in light of the upcoming debate around equal marriage law in the island, that this is a section of the island’s community that is bigger than they may believe, that has more support than they may believe and that above all is here and that no matter what some might try to argue is made up of all kinds of people from all sides of life.
Maybe this is an obvious statement, but its one that sometimes needs to be reaffirmed and can be easily overlooked, particularly given how recently it is that those in power had no idea about the subject at all, and what better way to do that than a big celebration that is open to anyone and everyone and brought some much-needed newness, colour and vibrancy to our little town.
As my Progress t-shirt proudly said #EveryoneWelcome – This. Is. Progress – and we finally seem to be making some – though there’s still more to do.
At this point I’d like to express my appreciation for the members of Liberate for all their hard work in making this event happen, they have suggested that for it to grow they need a lot more help so if you want to volunteer then give them a shout over on their Facebook page or where ever.