Pride march charts the long walk to equality
The annual gay festival is an expression of self-acceptance hard won over many years
THE VIBRANT colours of the rainbow brought Dublin to life last Saturday as an estimated 30,000 people, an increase from last year’s 26,000, took part in the annual Gay Pride parade.
Undoubtedly, Pride is the highlight of the year for the gay community here and all over the world. It’s an annual festival that celebrates Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) life and its rich diversity in an explosion of colour, music, glitter, sequins and, yes, even feather boas. Dublin Pride is the largest such celebration in Ireland and has grown from a one-day event into a 10-day festival.
The first Pride parade took place in New York in 1969 to commemorate the Stonewall riots, a pivotal moment for the LGBTQ movement, which for the first time realised it needed to stand up for its human rights.
So what began as a political demonstration has evolved into a flamboyant tongue-in-cheek festival that features popular catchphrases such as “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it”, “Gay by birth, fabulous by choice” and the very political “What do we want? Equal rights! When do we want it? Now!”
Many are under the impression that Pride is just an outrageous celebration based on the glamorous drag queens, handsome drag kings, people clad in leather chaps and lamé hot-pants but don’t be mistaken, because at its core is the aim to inspire social activism.
As the movement began to gain traction in the US, LGBTQ communities from around the world staged their own Prides in an effort to become visible and achieve equal rights. Ireland’s first Pride was in March 1983 but it had a troubled beginning. Prior to it, a march was held from Dublin city centre to Fairview Park protesting the levels of violence against gay men and women in Ireland.
In particular, the march was a reaction to the controversial judgment in the Declan Flynn case, in which suspended sentences on charges of manslaughter were given to members of a gang found guilty of killing the 31-year old gay man; and to subsequent celebrations by members of the local community following their release.
For many, including myself, marching in the Pride parade holds huge significance even though I have marched it for the last 12 years. It’s a celebration of my personal triumph in my journey to self-acceptance.
Allow me to share with you my “coming out” story and perhaps then you will understand just how much Pride really means to the members of my community.
For as long as I remember I always knew I didn’t fit in. My mother was a model for Vogue Italia and was the epitome of chic and femininity. She became a successful fashion designer and always hoped I would follow in her footsteps.
From the start I struggled to fit her image of the perfect daughter. Then in my teenage years my parents became staunch Jehovah’s Witnesses. I tried desperately to please them by studying the Bible, preaching and even getting baptised. But, just like Janis Ian, I learned the truth at 17. In one amazing moment I saw the light: it came in the form of a gorgeous Italian Jehovah’s Witness girl and I have never looked back since.
Unsurprisingly, my parents took it badly: my mother called me unnatural and my father went so far as to say I was a failure and I should kill myself. My mother then threw me out of the family home. With no education, money or family support, at the age of 17 I became homeless.
The next few years were incredibly hard and I survived by staying with friends and lovers. I worked in radio and television, my dream career, but soon discovered my sexuality would hold me back. Life in Sri Lanka was very unkind to me so I decided to emigrate. It’s only when I arrived in Ireland in June 2000 at the age of 25 that I started piecing my life back together as I finally had the freedom to be who I am.
Just like me, many LGBTQ people are marginalised and isolated from their family and community through the “coming out” process. For many this often results in leaving school early, losing their family support, working in low-paid jobs, which then leads to lack of self-esteem and personal wellbeing.
However, I believe we have turned the corner as all the years of marching, campaigning and advocacy are finally making a difference. As a community we are growing in confidence and becoming more visible. The fight for equality is not over, though, as we still await civil marriage for same-sex couples in Ireland.
This year’s Dublin Pride’s theme, “Show your true colours”, is an open invitation to all who took part in the festival both from the LGBTQ community and greater society to embrace their true identity. This would be the first step towards living life wholeheartedly and to one’s true potential – now, there’s something to be proud of.
Dil Wickremasinghe is a community worker with Outhouse, an LGBT community resource centre, a broadcaster with Newstalk and a stand-up comedian. dwickremasinghe.ie