Have a fantastic parade. There’s a good party waiting for you!” These were the parting words of Northern Pride chairperson Peter Darrant as he saw off the scores of people taking part in this year’s Northern Pride parade on Saturday.
However, it was clear that the party had already started. As marchers paraded down Newcastle’s Northumberland Street to a soundtrack of lively samba bands, cheers and whistles, the usual crowds of Saturday shoppers were stopped in their tracks, lining the streets – smartphones at the ready – to capture the opening of the 2013 Northern Pride festival.
Passers-by paused to watch from the windows of Eldon Square shopping centre and bus passengers smiled as the traffic stood still: indeed, everyone who saw the Northern Pride Parade seemed to be captivated by the spectacle of fabulous costumes, outrageous noise and infectious energy which passed through the city centre.
As people of all ages and backgrounds came together in support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, you could be excused for feeling quite moved.
Northern Pride 2013 could not have been timed much better. In the same week that same-sex marriage was made legal in the United Kingdom, the North East’s biggest free Pride festival came to town, bringing with it a warm and friendly party atmosphere that even the less-than-desirable overcast skies couldn’t dampen.
Exhibition Park overflowed with people who had travelled from far and wide to enjoy the festival – including Bradley Homer and Michael Podanowski of Fort Lauderdale, Florida – which welcomed over 80 stallholders from various businesses and charities, a carnival of fairground rides and activities, acts such as X Factor’s Amelia Lily and Eurovision’s Katrina of Katrina and the Waves, and groups from within the LGBT community itself such as the Northern Pride Voices choir, who opened the show.
Even by the early afternoon, the Northern Pride party was in full swing. “It’s just a reason to get together with the rest of the community,” said Simon Reed, of Bedlington, one of the thousands of people who revelled in the opportunity to celebrate.
However, for many who visited the Northern Pride festival over the weekend, the event had a more poignant significance.
As well as being a celebration, Northern Pride is a representation of the progress made in recent years regarding the rights and security of the LGBT community.
As Peter Darrant told onlookers during his welcoming speech: “We celebrate the now and the achievements that have been made: civil partnership, the lowering of the age of consent, employment rights and, next year, marriage. We change the future.”
This was certainly the case for Robert O’Brien, of South Shields, who reflected: “I’ve been to the best part of the Pride festivals over the years, and it’s brilliant because it means we can be out, do what we want and be ourselves.
“I’m 51 years old and I grew up as gay, and in the sixties, seventies and eighties it wasn’t allowed.”
Pride is also seen as an opportunity to show solidarity, as many of the community, including Alexandrea Irish from County Durham, pursue the fight for equality.
According to Alexandrea: “Pride means education. It means everyone can get together and show that we’re not a minority.”
Sadly, many people on Saturday did not feel comfortable speaking to the press, so there is still clearly a battle for total equality to be won.
However, the sheer volume of people who took part in Northern Pride 2013 is surely evidence that the LGBT community is successfully paving the way to achieving full equality for everyone.
As Misty Gold, from Middlesbrough, said: “Pride means getting all people together.”
Sara Kamouni, 17, from Chester-le-Street, and Mahdi Nouar, 20, from Fenham, both aspire to work in the media. They covered Northern Pride 2013 for The Journal as part of a Newcastle City Learning Centre project.