‘It felt like home’: LGBT+ people share stories of their first Pride

This year marks five decades since the UK’s first ever Pride event in 1972, then called the UK Gay Pride Rally.  

In that time, Pride has meant so many different things, to so many different people.

Here, Metro.co.uk hears from five members of the LGBTQ+ community about their first ever Pride experience and how it impacted them.  

Max, 30, Hastings

‘My first Pride after I transitioned socially was London Trans Pride, in July 2021. I finally felt at home.’ 

The experience was amazing. It was incredibly powerful and was the start of me accepting my identity (Pictures: Supplied)

When I was 16, I got the train to Exeter with one of my friends, to go to the local Pride in the town hall. 

I wasn’t out at that point, not even to myself. I felt terrified, as this was my first time being around openly queer people.

The event was tiny – there were a few stands, a charity, some performers and some face painting, and I got a Pride flag painted on my face.

I grew up in South Devon, which is very middle class, straight and white. It wasn’t homophobic, but there was no represenation and a lot of negativity surrounding being queer. This Pride was the first time I saw it as something that could be celebrated and not hidden.

The experience was amazing. It was incredibly powerful and was the start of me accepting my identity. 

But I remember wiping my Pride flag off my face on the way home, so my parents wouldn’t see it. 

When I went to university in Cardiff a couple of years later, I decide to be open about being queer. I wasn’t confident but I started dating women, joined the LGBTQ+ society and slowly, it became something I was proud of. 

But it wasn’t until February 2020, aged 28, that I came out as trans. I started wearing a binder and using they/them pronouns. After I took those small steps, it all fell into place. I started testosterone in November of that year and had top surgery the following October.

My first Pride as Max (after I transitioned socially) was London Trans Pride, in July 2021. 

It was a really interesting event as size and message wise, it’s where London Pride was 20 years ago. It’s small, it’s not sponsored, it’s about political change, it has a campaign march – it’s completely different to that big rainbow celebration and more about activism. There’s a very different vibe – and very rightly so, because of the way that trans people are treated.

I was nine months into my testosterone treatment when I went. It was another level of Pride. To be able to go to that – and the fact that it even exists – was a huge deal. 

It felt a bit like a validation for me – because I had medically transitioned in lockdown, I hadn’t been around lots of trans people, and there’s something special about being around people who inherently understand your experiences. 

It felt like home. And it wasn’t only an acceptance of who I was, it was a celebration! Not something you get a lot of as a trans person…

Just this week, I got a copy of the latest issue of DIVA magazine, which my girlfriend and I are featured in. I remember buying one of those magazines as a young teenager and hiding it under my bed. 

Now I’m in it! I want to go back and give myself a hug and tell myself that everything is going to be OK.

Follow Max on Instagram @theyrequeer

Bryan, 71, London via Brooklyn

‘I was there for the Stonewall riots and the first ever New York Pride in 1970. To see it grow into something as big as it is has been incredible’

Bryan Murphy on stage and in drag

It felt scary to me to see the police like that, fighting against my community. But this was the point we all knew something had to change (Picture: Bryan Murphy)

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, but have lived on and off in the UK since the 90s. I now live in Wimbledon. 

I was there for the Stonewall riots in NYC, in June 1969. My friend and I were near Christopher Street, the location of The Stonewall Inn, the gay bar that was raided by the police. 

We heard a commotion and so headed up towards the bar, where there was a crowd and riots happening. If I see a big group, I go the other way, but my friend went towards it and ended up on the front page of the newspapers the next day for his involvement. 

It went on for a few days – the police had been raiding the bars for a long time. But the community decided to fight back and on this particular night they’d just said ‘no, we’re not putting up with it any more.’ 

Allegedly, the first one to throw a punch was a well known lesbian in the comunity, Stormy. Then the drag queens got involved and it started to get rough. 

It felt scary to me to see the police like that, fighting against my community. But this was the point we all knew something had to change – we couldn’t and wouldn’t put up with the harassment any longer.  

My first Pride was the year after, the first ever New York Pride, in the summer of 1970. We came together and said we’re not going to accept this. We chanted the message, ‘we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.’ Change was happening and it was so exciting. 

You had some people on one side of the street, in favour of the march, and some people on the other, against it. But you also had parents walking with their gay children to support them, and non-gay people bringing their young kids to support the parade, which was nice to see. 

I’m a performer – I sing and I used to perform a drag act. I’ve been on stage at various Prides over the years. Standing in front of a crowd of a few thousand, after seeing what it was born out of, was just amazing to me. 

I met my husband in 1993 and in 94, we went to our first London Pride together. It was wonderful to watch – and to know that it had started with just a few people and had now got so big.

I’m a firm believer that a 16-year-old kid who isn’t sure of their sexuality can be helped by seeing other people similar to them, and thinking ‘I can be like this too.’ 

Never forget that tomorrow isn’t a promise, so live your life and be you.  

Helen, 44, Hay-on-Wye

‘I came out as bisexual in my 40s and this year, I co-founded the first-ever Pride in my town’ 

I know from experience that growing up LGBTQ+ in a rural area is really difficult because you don’t know where to find other people like you (Picture: Helen Campbell/Billie Charity)

The first Pride I ever went to was in Manchester, when I was in my 20s – I only had one friend who I went to LGBTQ+events with, so it was just the two of us. 

It was amazing but it was also very overwhelming! I was gripping my friend’s hand and going through the streets wide eyed. But it was so friendly and welcoming and I loved it. People were using costumes to express themselves, and there were lots of things I’d never seen before. It was such a fascinating and eye-opening experience.

However, as much as I enjoyed it, I almost felt like a tourist, rather than part of the world. I didn’t want to be an outsider but, at that point, I didn’t know how to fully embrace my queer identity. I was shy, curious, and just starting to question my sexuality. 

There are so many reasons we have Pride, and to me, one of those reasons is for people who are unsure or questioning – like I was then – to go and feel accepted and at home. 

I’ve identified as bisexual (I don’t even know if bisexual is the right term, I don’t want to close off any options!) since my twenties but never explored this aspect of my identity until my 40s. 

Perhaps because I was married to a man I was with for a decade, maybe because I grew up in the 80s, and the conversations were different then around sexuality – or a mixture of the two (or more) factors – I didn’t really lean in to my queer identity until I split with my husband in 2019. 

I then had another ‘first’ last year, when I went to Hereford Pride. This was my first Pride as an out queer person; I went with a woman I was dating at the time and it was so joyful. I felt truly myself and empowered. I was part of it and included, not just a tourist. It was my journey, and it had taken me 20 years to get there. 

I’m now back in Wales and, as I was looking for community and connection in this new chapter of my life, I noticed there were no go-to spaces or events for LGBTQ+ people in Hay-on-Wye, where I live. So, I teamed up with a friend and, after plenty of research and consultation, together we co-founded the first-ever Hay Pride, which takes place on Sunday 12 June 2022.

I know from experience that growing up LGBTQ+ in a rural area is really difficult because you don’t know where to find other people like you. We hope to provide that safe space and sense of community in our event – and all of the other things we’re organising around it – where everyone feels welcome, accepted and represented.

This journey has been a slow burner for me but I’ve surprised myself. I’m proof that you can grow, change and learn new things about yourself at any age!

Help us raise £10k for Kyiv Pride and a UK LGBT+ charity

To celebrate 50 years of Pride, Metro.co.uk has teamed up with Kyiv Pride to raise money for their important work in Ukraine.

Despite war raging around them, Kyiv Pride continue to help LGBTQ+ people, offering those in need shelter, food and psychological support.

We will be splitting the cash with a grassroots charity closer to home.

You can donate here

Scott McGlynn, 35, Cardiff/London

‘I was so naive at my first Pride that I thought lube was wet look hair gel, and covered myself in it’ 

If someone is struggling through something they shouldn’t have to wait to feel accepted or represented (Picture: Scott McGlynn)

I was bullied really badly in school and my teenage years weren’t nice. It really affected me, I had depression and anxiety, my grades plummeted, and I stopped speaking, as people were always making comments about my voice and how I spoke.

At around 14 or 15, I came out as bisexual, but only to my very close friends. I think I thought that people might accept me being bisexual more than they would me being gay. But I still wasn’t able to live my life as me, and I had my guard up at all times. 

My first ever Pride was Cardiff. I had no idea what to expect. By this point, I had made a group of gay friends who I could be myself with – I was out and living my life. 

However, Pride was completely new to me and I just remember feeling so naive. This was the first time I’d been introduced to glitter and coloured hairspray. The whole experience felt so fun and freeing.

I was still new, I wasn’t very sexually active and I was still taking everything in. At Pride, there were lots of stalls selling merch and things that gay people might need – but I didn’t know what lots of things were. I was going round, drunk, and I came across a stall selling bottles that looked like hair gel. Now, I’m quite famous for my hair – it’s big and stylish! 

Wet look gel was very much a thing at this point in time. So, I decided to buy some – but the lady selling them gave me free samples first. I opened them up and was standing there slathering the liquid all through my hair, when I saw her looking at me wondering what I was doing… 

Turns out it was not wet look gel, it was LUBE. I then had to go to my friends’ after and wash my hair… lesson learned!

It might just sound like a funny story but it’s one of the reasons that first Pride is so memorable to me, as it reminds me how naive I was back then. But that was a long time ago.

Pride is amazing and it’s a time to dress up, be who you want, and what you want. But now, that’s genuinely how I live my life every day. I think Pride is especially important for young people who are coming out, or who are thinking about it. 

It’s a nice way for teenagers to dip their toes into the LGBTQ+ world – they can enjoy the day, have fun, see what it’s all about. And importantly, be themselves. 

Pride is a year-round thing though, it should never just be a month. We should always support each other. If someone is struggling through something they shouldn’t have to wait to feel accepted or represented. 

Follow Scott on Instagram @scottmcglynnofficial

Lottie, 27, London

‘My first Pride was Barcelona, just after I’d come out – If you’re not going to be an advocate and ally all year round, then don’t show up for the party’ 

Lottie and a friend in front of a rainbow wall and with glitter on their faces

I found myself in a crowd of thousands and thousands of people all celebrating being queer and I realised it maybe wasn’t something to be ashamed of after all (Picture: Lottie)

I first wondered if I might be gay, aged nine – as I really fancied Sharon Osbourne on the X Factor (I’ve always had a thing for an older woman…) 

I didn’t really understand what it meant as I grew up in Somerset and it wasn’t exactly a hotbed of representation, to say the least. 

I remember being around that age and someone at primary school calling me a lesbian because I was holding hands with my best friend. I came home and asked my mum what it meant and she said, ‘it’s just when a woman loves another woman, don’t worry about it.’

Lying in bed that night, I remember thinking that being a lesbian must be something that you chose to do. So, I thought, ‘if I choose not to be a lesbian it will mean I’m not one’. At that point, there were no lesbians on TV – or if there were, they were old-school lesbians, with comfortable shoes and bad haircuts.

As a teenager, I did so many ‘am I gay?’ quizzes, as I fell more and more in love with various women in films and TV shows. 

I finally ‘came out’ at 19 but it wasn’t official, I just started dating women. Then I told my parents. But honestly, after all of those years of conditioning, coming out to myself was miles harder than coming out to other people. 

My first Pride was Barcelona in 2015, when I was 20. It was completely overwhelming – I had no idea what to expect. But it was amazing. 

I had moved to uni the year before and immediately I found the lesbians. We all went to Barcelona the following summer and it felt like such a relief. I’d finally found my people. 

I found myself in a crowd of thousands and thousands of people all celebrating being queer and I realised it maybe wasn’t something to be ashamed of after all – it was something to be celebrated. I’d never felt this before. 

After Pride, I became so much more confident. I shaved my hair off and carried out every single lesbian sterotype in the book, going through my ‘baby gay’ phase, after finally discovering who I really was. 

Since then, I’ve been to London Pride several times. I love the parade, I love the party, I love the rainbow families, the build up, and the excitement. We call it gay Christmas. 

However, the message behind Pride is important – and it’s not just a party. This year, I’m also going to a smaller DIY Pride event, reclaiming pride as a protest. It’s more about anger and battling for your human rights. I think it’s important for there to be an educational element, as well as the celebration and fun.

Although we’re more liberated than ever, LGBT hate crimes are up in the UK every year. The battles are being won but it’s very hard from being over. And, sadly, trans people are bearing the brunt of it at the moment. 

People shouldn’t come to Pride and then not step in when they hear someone being homophobically abused on the way home. 

If you’re not going to be an advocate and ally all year round, then don’t come to Pride. 

MORE : 50 years on Pride is just as important as ever – and here’s how we’re going to mark it

MORE : London Pride: LGBTQ+ events in the capital this June

MORE : In the run up to Pride, companies need to learn how to really be allies

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