When I came out as bisexual as a teenager, I thought the sound of the LGBTQ+ community was incredible. One big group of people just like me, who I was sure I’d be able to make friends with – who didn’t like the sound of that? It sounded almost too good to be true.
Now that I’m a little older, I realise that the LGBTQ+ community isn’t the monolith I imagined it to be. LGBTQ+ people are just that – people! We have different interests, different backgrounds, and often very different lives. Turns out I actually had much better luck making friends based on my interests, rather than simply the fact that we’re LGBTQ+ alone.
Having said all that, I’ve often still longed for that feeling of community that I imagined as a closeted teenager. It all felt out of reach until I went to Manchester Pride this summer. And it was wonderful.
I started the day by watching the Pride parade, simply because the huge crowds and loud music made it easier to find than the entrance to the Gay Village, and I have a less than stellar sense of direction. Once I had found it, however, I was enchanted.
This might have been my third Pride, but I was as captivated by the bright, bold, musical procession of floats, cars, busses, brass bands, running clubs, swimming groups, charities, youth groups, and so many others as I was the first time I ever went to a Pride march.
People of any and every identity marched proudly, cheered on by LGBTQ+ people and allies alike, standing behind the barriers. I was quickly swept up in the shouting and singing, exchanging grins with people I’d never met until that moment.
Next stop was the Gay Village Street Party, which I’d never attended before. I figured the best thing to do was settle myself at one of the stages and enjoy the show – in this case, the Enby Show. The Enby Show, as I soon learned, was a cabaret show of non-binary performances, with plenty of audience participation. The host had us cheer for them, for ourselves, for non-binary and binary trans people, for the fact we were all there together. And there were plenty of sing-alongs.
The first was Jason Kwan’s new song, Ritual, which was epic for three reasons. First off, a real pop singer on the Pride stage? I was excited. Secondly, I’d never heard Jason’s music before, and now I have a new discography to binge. And thirdly, there is nothing in the whole world like an entire crowd singing along to the same song.
The finale was to a slightly modified version of We Are Family – naturally, ‘I got all my siblings with me’ fit the theme a little better than the original. You’re free to roll your eyes here, because it is a little on the nose, but at that moment I really did feel part of one, big LGBTQ+ family.
When the show finished, I made my way into the Street Party proper. It seemed that every pub and shop in the Village had a drag queen performing at the front, leading the crowd in songs and dances. It didn’t take long to find a crowd dancing to a mixture of ABBA and musicals, full of people as enthusiastic about Hairspray and Footloose songs as me.
Writing this, I realise I don’t know any of their names, but for that hour we were best friends, teaching each other new moves, explaining our flags, and laughing together at the – incredibly brave – fools who tried (and accomplished!) the Dirty Dancing lift in the middle of the street.
Pride was amazing fun, and almost exactly what I used to imagine when I was a kid. It maybe sounds like a musical and to be honest, it kind of felt like I was in one – just for a day.
Now Pride may be over but life isn’t going back to being a closeted teenager. I know I have my LGBTQ+ community behind me through Just Like Us, the LGBTQ+ young people’s charity. I’m an ambassador and through my time volunteering, I’ve met tons of other LGBTQ+ people, made friends and even spoken in schools to let closeted LGBTQ+ kids – like I used to be – see that there are people like them out in the world.
So if you’re looking for a sense of community, but Pride season is over, definitely consider volunteering with Just Like Us. You won’t regret it.