A Just Like Us ambassador shares the power of rural Pride for queer communities
BY AMY CHISWELL
There’s something wonderful about sitting in the sunshine, sipping an ice-cold drink from a reusable plastic cup. It’s a sensation I know well, one of festivals, school fetes and Pride events. At home, I have a small collection of these cups, picked up from Prides in London over the years. Penzance Pride doesn’t have the budget for souvenir ones, however, so the one I’m holding is for some kind of rugby game or something.
The sun hits the promenade just right and the small stretch of stalls, a couple of small stages and a roller disco burst with rainbows and sequins. There’s face painting for the kids and an Elton John tribute that I think could easily rival the real Elton at his peak for sheer energy and charisma.
I grew up in a village in Bedfordshire, not a million miles from London geographically but definitely in mindset.
I never went to any Pride events back home, it honestly didn’t really occur to me to look for them. I always had my sights set on London and when I moved there, that was it. It’s often a right of passage for LGBTQIA young people in rural areas if they’re lucky enough, to move away to the nearest big city, go to Uni, or both. It’s there where we are promised community, a reinvention, a chance to be our true selves, get a haircut we’ll regret, wear the rainbow merch, date who we want for the first time! For those of us who can do it, it’s an exciting time – we leave and we never look back.
But for many people who can’t or don’t want to leave, a small, local LGBTQIA community is a crucial lifeline that is often underestimated.
I moved to Penzance a year ago, and as I sit alone on the promenade watching the crowd dance to the Elton John medley, I feel such a surge of emotion that it really catches me off guard. The urge to laugh and cry at the same time. I watch an old lady in a wheelchair draped in a Pride flag dancing next to someone in a sailor moon costume. Two middle-aged men holding hands. A couple of nervous-looking teenagers arm in arm, in matching trans flag bucket hats. Kids with rainbow face paint posing for a picture. A few girls came up to me and complimented me on my outfit, I chatted with some people at the t-shirt stall, it felt like a real community of people – no cliques in sight.
The idea that a big city would offer you a community might seem like an oxymoron to straight people. Big cities are usually thought to be loud, unfriendly, dangerous, and cold. While it’s true that many LGBTQIA people find community in them despite this, I always felt very small at huge Pride events like Pride in London. Very lost in the crowd. As someone with chronic pain who needs to sit down regularly, I found a lot of it even more tiring, and it burnt me out very quickly. These experiences used to make me sad because Pride is supposed to be a joyous and powerful moment, and it had never really been that for me.
But at Penzance Pride, there was this feeling of real excitement and joy that I hadn’t ever felt in a big city. Living two hours drive from the nearest gay bar will make you really appreciate these things! Every one of the maybe 200 people on that promenade was so happy to be there and you could really feel it.
It’s the little interactions that mean the most to me in my local community, but volunteering for Just Like Us while living in a rural area has also helped me to stay connected to the wider community across the country. The charity runs training online and I am able to speak in schools around the UK via video call, sharing my experiences.
Leaving one rural town for another might seem like an unusual decision for an LGBTQIA young person, but I hope that we can start to recognise the power of small, local LGBTQIA communities. When Pride season comes around next year, go to that big city Pride event everyone’s talking about. But also, if you can, go to that little gathering back home. You might be surprised by how lovely it is.
Amy volunteers as an ambassador for Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity. LGBT+ and aged 18 to 25? Sign up here!
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