Do we need Pride? Is it a Party or a Protest?
February is a busy month for most students. Exams are over, and lectures take over our lives once again. Anticipation for the Six Nations soars, Valentine’s plans are made, and as Student Unions and businesses celebrate LGBT+ History Month, Pride flags are flown all around the country. I often hear people asking why the flags are flying, and why do we need a history month? Everyone has different answers, remarks and opinions on this question but when everyone’s personal situations are different, then why can’t they be?
Pride’s, wherever they’re held, allow the LGBT+ community to celebrate diverse uniqueness and personal differences, but also remind us of our community’s shared history. National Student Pride combines the best of both ideas, which is most likely why students from Cardiff University have been in attendance for the past 4 years (and many more to come). Occurring in February of each year, LGBT+ History Month is the perfect time for a collaboration of minds and a celebration of the LGBT+ student community!
In its 11 year history, Student Pride has been hosted in Oxford, Manchester and Brighton; and for the past three years has resided at the University of Westminster and GAY/Heaven. Making headlines nationally each year with its star studded panels and hot topic discussions, NSP draws more and more students each year, with 2016 having been its biggest event yet. With over 1500 attendees (my sources tell me, Cardiff University was one of the largest delegations), from 126 Universities, and joined by over 55 stalls and sponsors for the daytime careers fair. It is truly a unique event.
What’s not to love? Meeting new people from all over the country, exploring London and experiencing Soho in all its wonder. But it isn’t just a party Pride never is. There’s so much to see and do at any Pride event, and NSP is no different. Over the past three years I’ve attended, the daytime panels have captured my attention and this year was no different. The passion and drive of the committee and volunteers is clear, shining through during their opening remarks, the debates and talks throughout the day.
Hosted for a second year by the adorable James Barr and drag artist ‘Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho’, things start with a bang. NSP founded 11 years ago in response to a homophobic and bigoted rant at Oxford Brooks University. This event is a reminder of homophobia and transphobia on campus, and rejects taboos and stigmas in all areas with 2016’s main focus being the difficult but vital topic of Mental Health.
This year’s first panel, ‘RUcomingOut’ was hosted by founder Wayne Dhesi, and joined by Charlie Craggs, of Nail Transphobia, BBC Radio 1 DJ Adele Roberts, Sherelle Garwood from the Stonewall Youth Programme and Jaymi Hensley of Union J.
Everyone within the community still has to overcome the difficulty of coming out to friends, family and colleagues. In light of this, the panel all seemed to agree that once you take that first step, whether it be self acceptance or confiding in those you love, you’re better for it afterwards. Celebrate coming out for the positive change it can bring!
Similarly to the main panel every year, the Mental Health Discussion was meaningful and thought provoking, and as something that can affect all of us, gay/bi/ace/straight cis/trans/intersex, this discussion is needed. This is now particularly important after funding cuts have recently closed mental health charity PACE.
Being chaired by Attitude Editor, Matthew Todd, the next hour was spent hearing from: popstar and mental health advocate, Will Young, Taz Edwards-White, Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinator at Metro, Bisi Alimi, co-founder of Kaleidoscope Trust and Jonny Benjamin of the Find Mike campaign. Hearing the statistics on mental health can be shocking, but hearing how disproportionately higher Mental Health can affect LGBT+ people is truly saddening. The panel, spoke honestly and candidly about their own experiences, and how they see themselves and their sexuality. They spoke of the need for awareness of mental health treatment, and the pressing need for it to be treated with the same respect as physical illness.
Following on from the panels of the day, there were two events to conclude. Hearing from the Warwick University Rowers and their continued work with Sports Allies is inspiring, as the group’s vision of a world where sport is a beacon of hope and diversity, with a mission to promote sport as an inclusive and supportive route to personal growth for everyone.
Pride isn’t the same without a drag queen or two, and this year’s special guest was Alaska, of Drag Race fame, judging four brave students stand up to the sass of a Queen and watching them as they “lip-sync for their lives”.
Hearing the passion and drive of LGBT+ celebrities and activists is just one of the reasons to go to National Student Pride. It’s a celebration of our identities. If you want to see what you missed for yourself you can watch the panels’ and lipsync online https://www.youtube.com/user/STUDENTPRIDE/. Or if you want to come for yourself, look for news from CU Pride, the Union’s LGBT+ society
For those of you who are still worried about the prospect of coming out, here are some words from members of the LGBT+ community:
Sherelle: “Be yourself really. That’s all you can ever be, you can’t really hide that person. Sometimes it’ll be easy, sometimes it’ll be hard; but it’s never permanent, the only thing permanent in life is change, it’ll change and get better and you’ll continue to feel more confident in yourself.”
Jaymi: “There’s nothing better than being fully content and proud of who you are as a person…a little bit of hurt for a lifetime of happiness.”
Charlie: “It’s about living authentically, you can try and not be who you are, but it’s only going to take a toll on you and that’s the worst thing you can do for yourself, you need to live and be you. You only get one life… don’t waste it” “I’ve never been happier in myself because I’m finally being me, and I’m finally being true to myself. So just take the leap of faith and do it for yourself, you deserve it.”
Adele: “Welcome to the family, because that’s how it feels, like a family.”