The Pride of Portsmouth 2017

Emily Priest reviews Portsmouth Pride – her first Pride ever – after a new committee takes the reins and finds love, community and a little bit of bad singing. 

Portsmouth Pride returned to the city after an absence of over a decade in 2015 and this year it was taken over by a new group of volunteers. This year’s celebration was the first to be held at the Bandstand and my first Pride experience.

On Saturday 16th September, the parade was to start at 10.30am and run from South Parade Pier to the Bandstand, where free drag and burlesque acts and stalls from various companies were welcoming the public for the day.

I arrived at 10.15am to find lots of vibrant and fabulous people dressed in flags, glitter and drag. FitNFunkey were dancing in neon clothing, bringing a smile to everyone’s faces. It was good to see them again, after their recent performance at the first Portsea Carnival.The crowd was colourful, in great spirits and ready to celebrate diversity and love.

At 10.45am, we all started to walk in the parade, chatting, smiling and blowing whistles. I met a few friends and made a few more, including a man walking a dog dressed in a t-shirt which said ‘love wins’. The dog wasn’t the only one in costume: someone was dressed as David Bowie from Labyrinth, and another dressed as the rainbow, with multicoloured hair, shirt and even socks.

The weather had turned for the better, with bright sunshine competing with a warm, accepting atmosphere.

When we arrived at the bandstand FitNFunkey took to the stage, followed by a drag act covering I Need a Hero. Although this was not the best cover I’ve ever heard, the audience loved it and a dancing, screaming crowd quickly formed.

Some stalls were scattered along the waterfront wall, including Hampshire Constabulary, talking about hate crimes and handing out freebies; the NHS, giving away packs of condoms; and the local Labour Party with their new line of controversial merchandise ‘Never Kissed a Tory’.’

I grabbed a few wristbands and key rings, far too many condoms (you can never be too safe) and bought a mug from Labour, signing a few petitions as I went. Other services were present too which were great to see as a key part of Portsmouth’s Pride. There was a local adoption service, a church, Portsmouth Grammar School and a stall with plenty of petitions, raising awareness of the issues gay and trans people still face. One such issue is the discrimination of gay people when it comes to giving blood. A gay or bisexual man has a 3-month ban on giving blood after sex, unlike a straight man who can give blood whenever, regardless of his sexual activity.

The presence of so many services was the best part of Portsmouth Pride for me, and highly important. Freebies aside, we need to be aware of these services so we can help and support, no matter what our sexuality. Local trans or gay may be unaware of the local services on offer, including new students coming to Portsmouth for the first time.

I stayed at the Bandstand for a while, as the acts were running until 4pm. I saw a few singers and burlesque artists but eventually had to leave to find myself some food. There was only one food stall at Pride which was London based Over The Grill serving burgers, hotdogs and Carribean food including jerk chicken. It didn’t have many vegetarian or lighter options and was quite pricey, costing you around £6. As a food critic, I would like to see more choice next year, especially from local suppliers.

In the evening, the entertainment continued at Hampshire Boulevard, one of the event’s sponsors. I didn’t go but I heard it was a great night out with more free entertainment. For such a special occasion, the club was also open until 6am.

After Pride, I spoke to the chair of the Pride committee, Tally Aslam, to find out more about what it takes to organise an event like this one.

The previous committee that ran the last Pompey Pride were unable to continue this year, so Tally and 6 other volunteers took up the reins. They didn’t have long.

‘We had several fundraisers and raffles to raise money at both The Wedgewood Rooms and HB. We were able to raise some money but not enough. It wasn’t until June, no July, that we sat down with the council.’

Tally told me the council were ‘really supportive’ and financed everything that the committee’s funds couldn’t cover, including security.

Fortunately, even working to such a tight deadline, the committee created a great event for everyone.

But Pride is more than just a bit of fun.

‘We needed to have a Pride event, especially after the recent attacks in Portsmouth’ said Tally, referring to a vicious incident in April in North End where 7 men attacked 5 lesbians. Discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ+ community isn’t new but it’s always more shocking when it happens in your city. Tally’s goal for Pride was to ‘raise awareness through entertainment’ and in so doing, to combat this sort of discrimination and bigotry. I think the organisers succeeded.

The welcoming atmosphere and sense of community was the best thing about this year’s celebration for me by far. For Tally it was ‘the huge response on social media and the amount of young people at the event. And how many people said it was their first Pride.’

I will definitely be back next year. Pompey Pride has a lot of potential and as a free event with activities for both adults and children, it worked really well. I look forward to seeing this event grow into a larger annual event where the whole community comes together to celebrate, talk and be proud of who we are. I recommend you get involved, find out more at the Pride website.

Photography by Emily Priest.