VIY’s Gemma tells us what Pride means to her

30 May 2023

What does Pride mean to you?

Pride is a time to remember our individual journey. I went to high school under section 28, the law that forbade any “promotion of homosexuality in schools” which meant there was no support for students and bullying was rife. I came out in the year 2000, the summer I left high school and though my family embraced me with open arms, society wasn’t always as accepting.

I remember when I qualified as a teacher in 2010, not being able to be fully open about my sexuality and struggling to find a school which would accept me for what I was. I used to hide myself behind a fake shield of heteronormativity in the professional sphere – despite being out, proud and accepted at home. It made me feel like I could never be myself.

In the 23 years since I have been openly out, further progress towards equality has been made, for example we can marry, we can adopt. But we are aware that these changes have only occurred because of the social action and protesting of the LGBTQ+ individuals that came before us.

Pride to an out LGBTQ+ person represents our time to reflect, to protest, to party and to remember not only the individual journey and collective advances towards acceptance that we have made, but the road where challenges and threats still lay ahead and the work yet to do.

It may seem like a massive party but what the LGBTQ+ community knows is that years of repression can only be counteracted by a large collective outpouring of self expression and freedom.

This is what makes the essence of Pride.

What does Pride mean to you and your life in Manchester as a member of the LGBTQ+ community?

Supporting the wider community is a duty to all LBGTQ+ individuals. Throughout history when people are under threat they come together and support each other from within. It’s something the LGBTQ+ community does naturally, especially in the years since the Aids/HIV crisis in the 80s. The community has faced years of attack, oppression, isolation, fear and death and has largely been left to look after itself. It’s the same now with transgender people particularly under threat and trans youth largely unsupported.

This year the loss of trans teenager Brianna Ghey shook the community further. I was proud to be a part of the community involved in planning the Manchester vigil, which saw over 2,000 people pack into Sackville Gardens in Manchester to remember her and the work we have to do to avoid this happening to young people in the future. There I spoke with parents and teenagers, who were scared for their future. This fear only highlights the inequalities still faced by many LGBTQ+ individuals.

Being a DJ is usually being the focus point for fun, bringing the party. At Pride – we do both. I am not just an agent of fun and freedom to provide dancing and laughter, but being recognisable within the community means I have a social responsibility to support others within that community.

In 2017 I won Village’s Got Talent, which was a fundraiser for the George House Trust. The prize was £500, I donated 50% of it straight back to the charity on stage. As a DJ I have worked fundraisers for: AXM Charity, George House Trust, Terrance Higgins Trust, Stonewall, The Proud Trust, and with the Village Business Owners association also fundraised over £5000 to provide safer sexual health packs in all LGBTQ+ venues.

I’ve even DJ’d a silent disco which raised money for the Russian LGBT foundation at a time when Russian LGBTQ+ people in Chechnya were being murdered and the officials said that “gay people didn’t exist there”, hence we chose a silent disco for a silent protest as LGBTQ+ Russians were being silenced!

It was a pleasure to perform alongside MIRI on the main stage at Manchester pride in 2018, as her guitarist. We performed a re-written version of the Cyndi Lauper hit – “Girls just wanna have fundamental rights.” Pride and protest go hand in hand.

Though Pride starts in June, each city has its own celebration. In Manchester where I live, Pride takes over the August bank holiday weekend. It starts on Friday and day one consists of protests, to alert us to the journey and issues of the future.

On Saturdays we have the Pride march, which is a celebration of solidarity from organisations/workplaces/community groups and a celebration of support in the present. Sunday is largely handed over to more family friendly acts, youth pride and helps us give support to the LGBTQ+ youth of the future.

Then on Monday there is the candlelit vigil, where we gather around the Alan Turing statue in the park next to Canal St, to remember those we have lost over the last year, to either discrimination, to HIV, and cherished members of our Gay Village community, our allies and our pioneers.

As they say in the film Hairspray – “I know where I am going, I know where I’ve been.” This is why we bathe ourselves in glitter, wear rainbows, drink (more than we probably should) and march in protest and solidarity.

Each one of us has a social duty to now do our part, remember those who came before us and knowing that only through visible action can we create visible change and a safer world for the LGBTQ+ people of the future.

Gem x

Visit Stonewall’s website for further information and guidance on supporting the LGBTQ+ community, particularly in the workplace, as well as their useful glossary of inclusive language terms.