This bank-holiday weekend should have been Birmingham Pride. The city centre would have become one big party celebrating the LGBTQ community and rejoicing in difference and diversity.
If things had been going ahead as planned, my partner and I would have met friends for breakfast at York’s Café then strolled up Pinfold Street to Victoria Square, where we would mingle with the crowds gathering beneath the unamused gaze of the Regina’s bronze statue and watch the opening ceremony.
Last year’s opening speeches had particular resonance, as they focused on the anti-LGBTQ protests that had centred on two Birmingham primary schools (See ‘Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson’ – 10th May 2020).
Andrew Moffat, a senior teacher at one of the schools and creator of the ‘No Outsiders’ programme on inclusivity and tolerance, had been invited to lead the Pride parade. He was welcomed to the stage by a roaring crowd of thousands. The roar of the lions… the head of the pride!
After speeches about streets filled with hate… it was time to bask in a city filled with love.
My friends and I headed off to find a suitable vantage point. As we shuffled along the packed side streets, I had my head turned by a handsome police officer, with dark brown eyes peeking from beneath the dome of his helmet.
“Excuse me.” I approached him, brandishing my camera, “Would you mind if I took a selfie with the hottest copper on the beat?”
“Sure,” grinned Officer Sexy, looking from left to right in an exaggerated manner. “Where is he?”
I re-joined my friends and we found ourselves a prime position on Bennetts Hill.
I love how the inspiring parade represents all tribes of the LGBTQ community in full debauchery and glory: gay parents, with children riding on their shoulders or in buggies, stroll side by side with drag queens and half-dressed stilt walkers; floats of spinning pole dancers follow representatives of the emergency services; leather clad clones march behind the military; same-sex ballroom couples are just one – quick quick slow – step behind Caribbean steel-drummers and bhangra beats; corporate companies, cashing in on the kudos, are represented alongside political parties and genuine civil rights campaigners. All are represented in the colours of the rainbow.
It always heartens me that the most enthusiastic cheers of the parade tend to be reserved for the gay refugees, an unimaginably brave multi-cultural group who have fled everything and everyone they know to escape prejudice, persecution and in some countries the threat of imprisonment or even death! Well… to be totally honest the ‘most enthusiastic cheers’ are saved for the gay refugees and the fire service. Everyone loves a fireman! Hey, we’re only human. X
One fireman always catches my eye. He is short, buff, with slick hair, a prominent side parting and a cute diastema (the noticeable gap between his two upper front teeth. Google it, I just did.), which just adds to his charms.
I once saw my favourite fireman doing community outreach in Birmingham city centre. The fire department were handing out leaflets and badges to passers-by and inviting people to pose for photos in the cabin of the fire engine.
I strolled over and shook his hand, “You were at Pride this summer, weren’t you?”
“Yes,” he replied, sounding surprised. “You remember me?”
“Of course, … I thought you were hot”
A female colleague within earshot rolled her eyes, “Oh great, that’s all we need. He’s full enough of himself as it is!”
As if to prove her right, he immediately turned to the male officers and cockily declared, “Hey fellas, this guy thinks I’m hot!”
His workmates greeted the boast with a collective ironic groan.
“Now he’s going to be even more unbearable,” one of them sighed.
Back at the Pride parade, we continued to watch the procession of queers and their allies’ march through the city centre.
As a group of burly men with ample body hair and a distinct lack of shirt buttons came into view, a lad behind me turned to his girlfriend and asked, “Why are those men wearing mouse ears?”
“They are wearing bear ears,” I interjected. “They are bears.”
“What are bears?” The girlfriend asked.
“If you are stocky, hairy and have a beard, then you are a bear.”
The lad indicated his own hairy chest and stroked his trim beard, “Would I be a bear?”
I scrutinised him for a moment then replied, “No. You are too young. You would be a cub.”
The couple beamed. This straight boy now had a whole new, hitherto unknown, gay identity and he and his girlfriend seemed delighted.
I was suddenly aware of a presence at my left shoulder. I glanced down and there was a diminutive old lady trying to squeeze through the crowd. Before I could step aside and grant her a better view, she scuttled around to the other side of me and started to elbow her way between myself and the guy stood on my right. Just as she managed to squeeze her head between us, a large pack of human pups, dressed in their rubber outfits, dog collars and masks (See ‘Puppy Love’ – 8th Feb 2020), walked, crawled (It takes some dedication to do a two hour parade on your hands and knees, even with the kneepads!) and scampered by.
I thought I would try luck with ‘call and response’, so shouted, “WHO LET THE DOGS OUT?!!”
The pack automatically responded with an enthusiastic, “WOOF…WOOF… WOOF… WOOF WOOF!”
I had become a mass pup handler!
The old lady tutted loudly and moaned, in a thick Brummie accent, “All this bother to get to Primark!!!” She then headed off, chuntering to herself, trying to find a more suitable spot to cross the road.
The stranger on my right and myself grinned gleefully at each other.
“Oh my God, that was straight out of Victoria Wood,” I laughed. “In fact, I’m not entirely sure that wasn’t Julie Walters!”
Her timing and delivery were so perfect, that I still suspect that she may have been a professional street performer.
After two colourful hours, the parade trickled to an end. It was time to head to Hurst Street and the awaiting shenanigans in and around the gay village.
To be continued…