Ricky Markham: Why doesn’t the Capital take pride in gay festival?

Pride marchers make their way down the Royal Mile in a riot of colour. PIcture: Scott Taylor
Pride marchers make their way down the Royal Mile in a riot of colour. PIcture: Scott Taylor
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The starting pistol has sounded and cities the length and breadth of the UK are gearing up for a gay old time. In case you didn’t know, Pride season is upon us.

I’m a gay man living in Edinburgh. I’ve travelled and experienced gay culture the world over, from Perth in Australia to Long Beach in sunny ­California and Sitges on Spain’s Catalan coast. People from all corners of the globe come out to revel under the banner of the rainbow flag.

In saying that, I recently had a ­telephone conversation with a ­colleague that made me stop and think. “Are you going to Pride next week?” he asked. He was calling from London, while I was sitting at my desk in the Capital. “Of course, I’m going to Pride, but it’s not next week – it’s in July,” I answered.

I’d made the assumption he was talking about London Pride, with its massive crowds, live music and an impressive parade. London gears up for Pride like Edinburgh gears up for the Festival Fringe. Rainbow flags line every avenue and hang across Regent Street. Shops, bars and restaurants are decked from top to bottom, paying homage to an event that regularly attracts more than one million spectators. Subconsciously I’d told myself “London Pride is everything”, when our fair Capital has a Pride festival of its own.

I’ll be marching in the parade tomorrow as chair of the equalities and diversity committee for Aegis the Union, but my assumption made me think. In the world’s leading festival city, why don’t we flock to Pride like the Londoners do? Edinburgh and London are both cosmopolitan, ­educated and liberal cities. Whilst Londoners might opt for jellied eels and mushy peas rather than salt ‘n’ sauce, we’re probably more alike than we’d care to admit.

Pride events are driven by people and rooted in the spirit of celebrating and showing pride in our differences, a dare to the status quo to be acknowledged in the eyes of society and the law.

London was trailblazing when, in 1972, a motley crew of 700 people took part in the UK’s first ever Gay Pride – a group of unquestionably brave individuals believing wholeheartedly their place in society was no less valid than their heterosexual counterparts. I say brave because homosexuality was illegal at the time. Gay men were ­vilified, arrested and imprisoned. Perseverance has since paid off and today’s society is unrecognisable compared to just 46 years ago.

Edinburgh wasn’t at the forefront of the revolution. The Capital watched from a distance and took note. We fell into line with the reality that equality and respect was the new status quo, that diversity was no longer a fringe idea, but part of everyday life. In ­Edinburgh there’s a sense that Pride is just for gay people, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I believe the reason we don’t flock to Pride in Edinburgh is because we’re a little blasé about the whole thing. Having asked a few people at random about whether they had been and who they thought went, the answers were universally “no” and “gay people”.

I don’t claim it was the most scientific of methods. However, I took from it a sense of what I had suspected. The average person not associated with the LGBT community does not feel obliged or inclined to take part. Edinburgh Pride is well attended, but there’s plenty of room for the uninitiated to come along and experience a party atmosphere quite unlike any other event on the city’s calendar.

Are you going to Pride? I hope the answer is yes. I hope you’ll find a spot on the parade route to cheer with your family and friends, to have a fun day out and to be proud you’re part of something that brings people together and celebrates all the little things that make us different, make us unique and make us who we are.

Ricky Markham is the chair of the equalities and diversity committee for Aegis.