On Saturday 20th August, the fourth Warwickshire Pride festival will take place at the Pump Room Gardens in Leamington Spa.
For a small town in a rural county, it’s a massive achievement that the festival happens each year. With many LGBT people living in villages and not necessarily having access to other LGBT people or services, Warwickshire Pride is an important event in the calendar as it provides the types of opportunities that are non-existent for much of the year.
Warwickshire Pride is a colourful celebration of LGBT life and culture, but also aims to channel the spirit of the Pride movement in its original form. There is a lot of campaigning and interesting talks on the day that cover a variety of important topics. There is also an opportunity for Warwickshire’s LGBT community to access services that they may not ordinarily feel able to, with organisations such as Terrence Higgins Trust, Mind, and a plethora of other voluntary sector groups in attendance. If LGBT people need help with housing, substance abuse, mental health issues, sexual health concerns or anything else, they can access support at Warwickshire Pride.
Unfortunately, in Warwickshire hate crimes against LGBT people are relatively common. In fact, due to a perceived rise in hate crimes against LGBT people in Warwickshire over the past two years, I launched the Leamington Spa Equality Rally in 2015 and lobbied the Police in order to gain more support for the community. Sadly, smaller towns and villages can have quite narrow minded views of the world, and they’re not necessarily the most LGBT friendly places to be. This is another reason why Warwickshire Pride taking place is so important; because it provides a safe and welcoming environment where LGBT people can be themselves.
Although it’s important that Pride events in smaller, regional, rural locations take place, it is also a huge struggle to continue to put them on. At Warwickshire Pride we have minimal sponsorship, not a great amount of funding, and it’s a seriously hard task every single year to get enough money together to make the event happen. I keep being told that gaining sponsorship is the way forward. Believe me, I’ve tried. Every year I contact a large amount of companies in an attempt to build a relationship with them and obtain some form of sponsorship. Sadly, I rarely receive a response. When I do, it’s to say that they don’t sponsor events.
This has been the case with one of Britain’s largest supermarkets in each of the past four years. Despite them proudly sponsoring Pride In London this year, I am told by that supermarket that they do not sponsor events. I can only come to the conclusion that they want to tick a box and be seen to support the LGBT community, but when it comes down to showing some support at a grassroots level, they’re not interested.
Luckily, I have an LGBT friend who works as a community champion at my local branch. He has kindly agreed to supply water for the volunteers at Warwickshire Pride, but that’s as far as it goes.
It’s not just this one supermarket. Another well-known retailer have also said that they don’t sponsor events, yet I’ve seen them support larger Pride festivals in the past.
A world-famous locally based underwear specialist also said they don’t sponsor events. One week after telling me that, it was announced that they were sponsoring another local event that’s probably seen as being more family friendly.
The lies genuinely bother me. Sometimes I’d rather companies were honest and said that they don’t want to support a small event or they don’t want to support an LGBT event. I’d respect them slightly more for that.
The media can be a nightmare too; even the LGBT press, with THEGAYUK being a fine exception to the rule. Locally, an event like Leamington’s carnival gains huge local press coverage and front page stories whenever they like. Yet, when I contact the press or send press releases, they’re not always covered. When they are, it’s always about mid-way through the paper where many people may not see the article. With the LGBT media, it seems to be about making money out of Prides rather than genuinely supporting them. For example, a very well-known gay magazine got in touch because they wanted to support Warwickshire Pride, but when it came down to the details, they actually wanted hundreds of pounds to send out one post on Facebook that promoted Warwickshire Pride. Similarly, a regional LGBT magazine said that they could sponsor Warwickshire Pride. However, it involved us paying them £500 for the privilege. In the end, I reluctantly agreed to it because I’m aware of the need to promote the festival and the magazine reaches Warwickshire Pride’s primary target audience.
All of the above has at times made me feel disillusioned with it all.
If I’m being truly honest, I sometimes wonder why I bother organising Warwickshire Pride when it’s always a struggle and there is such a lack of support compared to that which other Prides receive. But then I remind myself of the thousands of people who attend each year and how important it is to the local LGBT community that they have a Pride event. It’s the only thing that keeps me going.
The point of this article isn’t about having a moan about how hard it is and saying “poor me” or “poor Warwickshire Pride”. It’s more about highlighting the challenges of putting on a Pride event in a smaller, regional, rural location, and having a bit of a call to arms. I’d like to encourage everyone to support smaller Pride events.
They’re the ones that make a huge difference to the lives of their local LGBT communities. Without them, there would be nothing for LGBT people in those areas. It’s fantastic that Prides such as London, Brighton, Birmingham and Manchester take place, and it’s great to see them do so well. But please don’t forget about the small, grassroots Prides. They need your support now more than ever.
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