Thursday 13 September 2012

Pride in Nottingham

The Pride season will be ending soon. I’ve attended all of the Nottingham Pride events (hardly surprising, I live in Nottingham now), and I remember the first one which was held on this very day 15 years ago.

I often feel very proud of being part of the lgbt community in Nottingham because the whole Pride experience in the UK was co-founded by someone from the city.

Let’s start at the beginning. The Stonewall Riots of June 1969 led to the formation of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in New York shortly afterwards. They held a march on the first anniversary of the riots. Two British men were there and together they were inspired to form a GLF group in the UK. One man was Aubrey Walter, the other was a 19-year-old sociology student from Nottingham called Bob Mellors.

The first UK GLF meeting attracted 9 people and from them grew an organisation that earned a place in history as one of the pioneers of protest, even though, as a national group, is existed for less than 3 years.

After a small scale attempt at a protest march the GLF decided to hold a high-profile march in London with the deliberate aim of showing they were determined to fight prejudice and discrimination. Following the example of the American GLF, the UK group arranged the first gay pride march on the anniversary of Stonewall in 1972.

Since then London has gone on to become one of the biggest in the world, even hosting the 3rd World Pride this year. Even though many annual Pride marches and celebrations soon began to fill the cities and major towns it wasn’t until 1997 that Bob Mellor’s home city decided to hold one of its own.

The main impetus for the event came from the GAi (Gay AIDS Initiative) Project, a sexual healthcare service. One of its main health workers, Tim Franks, was a major mover in the organisation of the event, and it was probably Tim who came up with the event’s name – Pink Lace.

This was an inspired name. Nottingham was known worldwide as a major producer of lace, and Pink Lace gave an extra sexual connotation that seemed appropriate for a healthcare charity like the GAi Project. And it sounded good!

The location for Pink Lace was a street in Hockley, the nearest Nottingham has to a “gay village”, outside the GAi Project’s office. The police closed off the street, and they were keen to be a part of the event. When Pink Lace was first announced earlier in 1997 the local police authority carried out a survey among the gay community into homophobic abuse. From their findings came a campaign called “Blow The Whistle”, aimed at encouraging gay men to report abuse.

The street had several charity, community and commercial stalls along one side, and there was a temporary stage outside the Broadway Cinema (in whose café bar I usually write the first draft of the entries to this blog, including this one).

I travelled down for the day from my then home in north Nottinghamshire. I remember the day being a bit overcast, but there was an optimistic atmosphere – and a bit of apprehension about the reaction from the “general public”. The stage had many local performers, and many of the local lgbt venues held special events that night.

In 1998 Pink Lace went bigger and better and moved to Nottingham Castle (with a new logo to match, left). Tim Franks remained as Chairman of the organising committee and was filmed for several weeks beforehand and during the event by Channel 4 television for a 6-part series called “Making Out”. This second Pink Lace also saw the first star performers – Tom Robinson and Sam Fox.

These were the years I began working at Nottingham Castle, and I didn’t need to come out to my new work colleagues because it all became obvious when they saw me celebrating at Pink Lace 3 weeks after I joined the staff in 1999.

There is still general agreement in Nottingham that these were special events in a unique setting. Unfortunately, increasing attendance figures meant that larger premises had to be found.

In 2000 internal differences in the Pink Lace committee led to a split (Tim had left the committee after Pink Lace 1999), and plans were made for 2 Pride events in Nottingham. What would have been Pink Lace 2000 at Nottingham Castle was cancelled, but a rival 2-day Nottingham Pride was held by the River Trent. But that’s a whole different story.

I am indebted to my colleague at Nottinghamshire’s Rainbow Heritage, David Edgley, for the photo above of the first Pink Lace 15 years ago today.

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