June 2021 is a rather momentous month for the Isle of Man, as on the 12th of the month, we finally celebrated our first LGBTQIA+ Pride with our very first full scale festival, a small parade and all of the things you’d associate with a Pride festival anywhere else. It’s been a long time coming, and for a first time, was an immense success! I’ve been to a few Prides in other places that, despite running for a few years, hadn’t reached the size and slickness of ours, so I’d say we did incredibly well. And I’m not just saying that as someone who was one of the many who helped bring it about wanting to give themselves a pat on the back. That’s based on the feedback I’ve heard both at the event and since – and also my personal feelings as someone who’s waited a very long time to see Pride on the Isle of Man.

The enthusiasm for the event and just how much it’s been embraced by the wider community has just been staggering. The number of volunteers and people who wanted to be involved, the messages of support and the happiness around the run up to the event and especially on the day itself was beautiful. For so many people to come together to celebrate love, diversity and acceptance was huge and the atmosphere on the day was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It was just a feeling of pure joy.

The parade featuring the 50m long rainbow flag on loan from Guernsey

Of course, the enthusiasm wasn’t quite universal. It never is when human rights are considered, for some reason. There’s always a small contingent of the population, who never seem to have had to fight for equality in any way, who feel somehow qualified to comment on a community demanding to be treated with decency and respect (almost as if equality for another community somehow diminishes their own rights). There were the usual comments asking when ‘Straight Pride’ is and the predictable ‘I don’t care what they do as long as it’s not in my face’ or the ‘I don’t understand why they need to make such a show of it’ and these will often happen. They, thankfully, are often in a minority now and the narrow minded views are quickly challenged, not just by the LGBTQIA+ community, but the wider community as a whole. Ironically, they actually underline the reason Pride is still so necessary. Just around a week before Pride, there was a hideous attack of a homophobic nature on the island and there had also been the media disaster that was a well known Douglas nightspot engaging in a campaign of discrimination on their social media business page which went on for about three weeks in the run up to Pride and made both local and national press, as well as featuring in the rainbow press too! Great strides may have been made on the island with regard to legal recognition and protections, but there are still lingering attitudes that are very much unchanged. Fortunately, as I said, they seem very much in the minority.

My response to many of the comments asking about ‘Straight Pride’ is that instead of wondering why there isn’t one, perhaps it would be worth reflecting, with extreme gratitude, on why there has never needed to be one. It has never been illegal anywhere in the world to be straight, for example. There aren’t countries around the world that can legally arrest, harass, persecute or even execute straight people simply for being straight. Straight people cannot be denied rights, fired or evicted simply for being straight. Straight people have never had to campaign for the right to marry or be legally recognised and have never been told that being straight is a mental illness.  Straight people have never been beaten or murdered simply for being straight. The list goes on and on. Put simply, straight people have never had to fear being straight. These are the reasons we still have Pride.

Then there’s the ‘I don’t care what they do as long as it’s not in my face’  or ‘I don’t know why they need to make such a show of it’ brigade. The crazy thing is, by saying these things, these individuals actually think they’re being accepting. Let’s pick this apart, however.  When they use the term ‘they’ to describe another community, that one word is there to highlight the difference. The ‘as long as it’s not in my face’ part is equally as problematic, as it implies that our love is somehow offensive and that when they say something like that, they’re conveniently ignoring the overt displays of heteronormative affection we’re bombarded with each day. Firstly, in the media, we’ve always seen straight couplings there and, while there is much better LGBTQIA+ representation out there, it’s still seen as ‘controversial’ or ‘brave’ instead of just being considered normal. Now imagine hugging your husband or wife in a public place, a quick peck on the cheek to say hello or goodbye or even simply holding hands in public. Fairly normal, right? Now imagine being told you couldn’t do that. Imagine being told that you could be arrested for it or even chased, beaten up or worse for doing something as simple as that. Straight people have never felt the pressure to hide their straightness or have to ‘come out’ as straight. There’s even the use of ‘gay’ as a synonym for ‘bad’ – I still remember hearing ‘that’s so gay’ as a disparaging remark in the playground, before anyone really knew what it meant, but it had found itself being used in a negative way, which further reinforces the fear and unease that someone growing up and coming to terms with their own identity might feel. For many of us, even on the beautiful and very accepting Isle of Man, much of this is still a reality. This is another reason we still have Pride.

Photo of the ‘Long Walk To Pride’ parade by Steve Babb

Then there’s the ‘doing that in public’ or ‘in front of children’ arguments, which are barely even worth bringing up, as these comments seem to imply that the person making them can’t separate sex and sexuality in their head and seem to think that Pride is some sort of hedonistic orgy, which it isn’t. There might be some events around the world that are more on the explicit side, such as Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco, but these aren’t the same thing at all. Don’t equate a celebration of equality with a tacky ‘bonk-a-thon’, it’s not about sex, it’s about our existence being treated with respect. Most Prides are quite family friendly and teaching children to embrace diversity and acceptance is rather important. Imagine growing up knowing that who you are is OK and you don’t have to be afraid? Imagine how much easier growing up might be without that pressure. Then imagine the freedom you might have had to reach your potential if you’d grown up free of those shackles. Remember, no one is born knowing how to hate or discriminate. Homosexuality, bisexuality and gender fluidity exist in hundreds of species, but it’s important to note that homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and similar forms of discrimination only exist in one species. Humans.

While Pride is, quite rightly, a celebration of the achievements that have been made, there is also an element of reflection and contemplation too. While we celebrate, we also remember those who’ve been lost along the way and the struggles many have gone through and still continue to.  There may be an atmosphere of joy, but what it’s taken to get to where we are cannot be forgotten and nor should it be. In fact, the parade and the party have their own purpose. The first Prides were protests. A community of people coming together who had simply had enough of being mistreated and weren’t going to take it anymore. June is Pride Month in tribute to the Stonewall Riots that took place in 1969, beginning on June 28th, in New York’s Greenwich Village and became the birthplace of the modern LGBTQIA+ equality movement and, in tribute to that, we take to the streets. Now, in a much more friendly way, but there are still rights and freedoms to be won. Make no mistake, although the mood at Isle of Pride was jovial, it’s still a protest. The very act of coming together in such joy is an act of defiance in itself.  It’s a demonstration that love wins. That we exist. That we are valid. That everyone is. And it’s a beacon of hope to anyone who might feel alone or isolated and lets them know they’re not alone and that there’s a whole community around when they need us. It may be a party, but it’s a party with purpose.

Things have got much better, particularly on our wonderful island. In fact, considering how recently homosexuality was legalised, we’ve moved quicker than a lot of places by comparison, now being ahead of the curve in some rights and freedoms. Times are changing, and it really is remarkable. The first Isle of Pride festival was hailed as a huge success, one which can be built upon year after year. One particular aspect that has been widely praised was the family friendly nature of the festival, with a family tent, craft activities and even story time with drag queens. A safe, fun event for the whole family, with smiles everywhere. It took me a good few days to process all the feelings after Pride, as it was a very emotional day, but when I did, there was one emotion that it all came down to. Love. It was in the air all day and night, painted on the faces in the crowd and those all around and it’s what my heart is bursting with for all those who came together to make it happen.

Vida on stage photo taken by Steve Babb

As a Drag Queen based on the Isle of Man, I’m lucky enough, as a singing queen, to fall into the category of a live music act in addition to being a drag queen, which allows me to perform at venues and events that wouldn’t normally consider a drag queen. I’m very lucky to straddle the two worlds and hugely grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given, but it still sometimes stuns me that I get the gigs I do! Years ago, I wouldn’t have pictured a drag queen being in half the venues I’ve worked in and it’s really great to see how well it’s received. As the first working Manx queen, even when I started performing in Guys & Dolls and honed my craft there, I thought for a long time that it might be one of the only places on the island that I’d ever get to perform, but after leaving my little sandbox for various reasons some four years ago, doors suddenly opened and I found myself blessed with gigs at weddings (straight and LGBTQIA+), hotels, bars, clubs and theatres with many offers to collaborate with other performers, most notably the local Burlesque group, now named Queens & Tassels IOM. Over time, I stopped being the only queen on the island and now there’s a thriving collection of queens and, more recently, kings too! As our art form gains a greater understanding and more exposure in the mainstream, it’s only natural that it will bring more of us to the island’s entertainment scene. And if you’re wondering if we’re in competition, the answer is a firm ‘no’. Each of us is so different in what we do that we recognise we’re not competing with each other, so why work against each other? We get far more out of it by raising each other up and working together. Sounds cheesy, but it’s true.

Pride will be needed as long as anyone has to grow up feeling alone, isolated or uncomfortable with their identity. Pride is a celebration of love, diversity, acceptance and freedom. Of loving yourself for who you are and loving others for who they are. Many of our rights have been won at home, but not all. Further afield, there are still those living in fear. Some even living in fear on our own doorstep – if not from laws that don’t afford equality, then from the attitudes and actions of the people around them. This must change. And, again, only proves why Pride is still necessary.  It’s human nature to fear what we don’t understand, which is why one of the functions of Pride is to educate and raise awareness. Understanding is a big part of equality. A world where differences are celebrated instead of being feared or misunderstood is a better world for all of us. The fight to achieve and maintain equality isn’t the fight of a chosen few, it’s the responsibility of each and every one of us.

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