Damian Barr: ‘There were thousands of us and it rained. But we feel like millions. We feel like the sun’
I lost my Pride virginity on the same day Scotland did: Saturday June 17, 1995. The sun shone proudly as we paraded noisily through Edinburgh, a city that usually limits displays of emotion to a vigorous tug on a net curtain. He was 18, weeks away from 19, and didn’t know where to look first.
Finally, it was legal: the age of consent had just been lowered from 21. The fear of being arrested for doing what all my straight friends had gotten away with was very real. That summer, the parents of his boyfriend reported a boy he was dancing with at Bennett’s in Glasgow and had him jailed. Homosexuality was only decriminalized in Scotland in 1981, more than a decade after England. And Section 28 was still on the books, as one teacher told me after he plucked up the courage to ask for help. So, I cringed when I saw all the police at the rally point at the Blue Moon Cafe on Broughton Street. The uniforms were there to stop the problems; we all knew how fast they could go. But still.
I couldn’t believe the crowds; He didn’t know there were so many of us in the world, never mind Scotland. There were men holding hands and kissing IN PUBLIC. I blushed and wished I was that brave. Rows of lesbians banged drums to the beat, rattling the windows of surrounding Georgian houses. There were people whose gender I couldn’t figure out. There, and then, we were all different together. She was among strangers but among friends and she might even find a boyfriend, maybe at the after party at the Meadows. Of course, I couldn’t find most of my real friends – some things never change.
Huge handmade banners shouted about AIDS, which hit Edinburgh particularly hard. I don’t remember what I wore that day, but I know I had my red ribbon on. We all did. We marched for the people we had lost. We marched with ghosts. There were a few rainbows, but a lot more pink triangles. I was discovering this story, which is not taught in school, of how the Nazis rounded up my ancestors, along with the Jews, the Roma and everyone else they destroyed. Never forget, I was learning.
I was studying journalism at Napier University (I was the first in my family to go to college and the first to get out that I know of). I considered interviewing the people who were marching with me, but who would publish such a story? Who would read it?
I remember no floaters and no corporate sponsors, no invitation to kill your mortgage with Barclays. We set out around noon, led by the drummers, and prepare to leave the gay neighborhood. There were no crowds on Princes Street. Some shoppers stopped to look. A bus full of tourists mistook the men in kilts carrying a Pride of Scotland banner for nationalists and took photos; they didn’t realize kilts were made of leather. We crossed the George IV Bridge and headed to the Meadows, where I finally found my friends. It was all over at 9 pm But I was forever changed. And also Scotland, which continues to make up for lost time.
Official records from that first Pride say there were only thousands of us that day and grainy photos show it rained heavily. But we feel like millions. We feel like the sun.
Ella Braidwood: “Where I lived, homosexuals were used as an insult and lesbians as a fetish”
I remember feeling nervous as 200 of us lined up behind a large Pride banner in front of the Carlisle Town Hall offices. It was 2019 and he had returned home to march in Cumbria Pride, two school friends in tow. It was the antithesis of big city parades. There was no need to sign up for the march beforehand, anyone could join, and there were hardly any corporate sponsors. There were certainly no floats loaded with drag queens or waving celebrities; waterproof jackets and hiking boots were the order of the day, instead of leather and sequins. But it was never about glittering grandeur: it was the 10th anniversary of Cumbrian Pride.
I couldn’t have imagined that day, as a closeted teenager. I grew up in a town outside of Carlisle and found out I was a lesbian around the age of 14. She felt great shame because, where she lived, homosexuals were used as an insult and lesbians were fetishized or discussed as the butt of jokes. My friends supported me when I came out, but “that’s so gay” was still a phrase I heard a lot in school. I found it incredibly isolated: until I learned to drive, I couldn’t really get anywhere on my own, except for a few daily buses to Carlisle. Some people describe their high school years as the best of their lives. Well, they were my worst.
I was raised a Christian and attended church most Sundays, and that fueled my sense of shame. I was afraid of what my congregation would think of me. I knew that my mother in particular would find it difficult to accept my sexuality, at least at first. I don’t want to go into detail about my confession to her, other than to say this: That moment broke us both. I believe that homophobia harms us all, just in different ways and to varying degrees. Now, she often tells me that she’s proud of me, but actually I’m really proud of her and how she changed to hug me.
This is why I wanted to be visible to LGBTQ+ children living in Cumbria. The parade route was quite short, about a mile long, through the center of the city and up to Carlisle Castle. Without much in the way of a sound system, the marching music consisted of bagpipes and Newcastle’s all-female drumming group, the Bangshees. The National Trust was one of the few big brands at the march.
There were no barriers along the route, so when I saw my family, I jumped out of the parade to hug them. A family friend snapped a photo: I’m smiling with mom by my side, wrapped in a rainbow flag she gave me that morning, both of us wrapped by my dad and older brother. (I also have a younger brother, who couldn’t come, but he has always been very supportive).
For me, the day was about progress and reclaiming the place where I grew up with the people I loved. I moved to London to study at university in 2012, a few days after coming out to my family. He hadn’t really looked back, aside from vacations, he avoided going home. It just reminded me how sad I had been there. She wanted to let go of that painful, still lingering discomfort from things said in the past. I think I did a lot more for LGBTQ+ youth in Carlisle that day than I ever did at the Prides I’d been to in London and Brighton. As a child, I did not see people like me.
But things have changed. On the castle grounds after the march, there were families with young children, covering themselves in glitter and face paint. It was wonderfully popular, with a marquee, a stand selling Cumberland sausages, and a playground with hula-hoops. Advertisers on the big screen included a local chip shop and a pole dancing group.
I love going home now. That Pride march helped me get over the past, the people I grew up with supported me. Last year, I framed that picture of me with my family and hung it on the living room wall. It always makes me happy when I look at it. It is one of my favorite memories.
Yas Necati: “I had wanted to do drag for a while, but something was holding me back”
I spent the weeks leading up to Pride month ordering small water pistols on eBay, hoping one of them would fit. It was preparation for my first non-poetry performance: a drag act taking on one of Turkey’s biggest pop stars, Tarkan. I was to take the stage at a new club night, a small alternative Pride community event at The Glory (East London’s notorious queer bar and performance space) called Turkish Delight. The scene was set: I’d watched hours of Tarkan videos from the ’90s and 2000s, the soundtrack was mixed up, the choreography was fixed, and I had what I thought was a great idea: pull a water pistol out of my pants halfway through. on the way. performance and splash the audience.
I had been rehearsing for a few weeks: practicing in my living room with bananas or pencils or whatever I could get my hands on, really. When I ordered the first small squirt gun on eBay, I didn’t anticipate that it wouldn’t be airtight, but rather that it would make a constant drip on my pants. It seemed that I had gotten wet.
Tried using other water guns with no success. I have tried filling the water guns with thicker liquids. But soon there was only fairy liquid, melted chocolate, or whipped cream soaking through my jeans, brushing against my thighs. This was not the comedic but sexy striptease I had in mind.
On the night of the show, it was buzzing. It was great to perform in front of an audience that had also grown up with Tarkan’s music. Tarkan himself is a very confident, cocky, beautiful and effeminate man and I felt the energy of him take over my body when he was in front of that audience. I started out in a jean jacket with a postman hat and fingerless gloves, a nod to an early Tarkan video. Who was? – and in the end I wasn’t wearing much.
People were singing their music at the top of their lungs and I was giving everything I had. When I came down from the stage, I fell into the arms of my sister, my friends and my then partner; I felt so at peace. The idea of the water gun had failed (I kept the gun, but without the water), but that was not what the event was about: it was about celebrating queer, trans and Turkish, but also it was about me.
Never before have I had a space where I could celebrate all the intersections of my identity in such a way. Mainstream Pride events in the UK have never felt like it to me. But here I was at an alternative Pride event organized by a lesbian couple from Istanbul, Tuna Erdem and Seda Ergul, and although I identify as Cypriot, not Turkish, I felt embraced and at home.
I’d been wanting to perform in drag for a while, but something was holding me back: I was mainly concerned that white audiences wouldn’t get the act they envisioned. But acting for people who knew Tarkan and his own complex relationship with his sexual orientation felt very liberating. Doing drag has helped me celebrate all parts of myself and feel pride both on and off stage.
Last month, on a walk with my sister, she said to me, “Yes, I have an idea for a drag act!” I won’t go into too much detail here (so as not to reveal it before their debut!), but the act is also very Cypriot. At the beginning of Pride month, she shared a photo of herself with her first painted beard and talked about her pride in being a lesbian and how excited she is to be in drag.
Six years later, I am so excited that my sister can develop something like this in the hope that it can find a place on the London drag circuit. Doing drag has helped me celebrate all parts of myself, and I hope I can do this for her too.