Words: Simon Gage
For a relatively small city, Brighton certainly has clout within the LGBTQ+ community. It has a much higher than average queer population, who will of course be joining in the fun of Brighton & Hove Pride (6-7 August this year).
“Brighton Pride brings the whole city together in a feeling of not only celebration but a reminder that Brighton – and other seaside towns across Britain – were at the forefront of fighting for LGBTQ+ rights,” says Lloyd Russell-Moyle, gay MP for Brighton Kemptown and Peacehaven. “But we still have an awful lot of work to do.”
So, how did the mighty Brighton & Hove Pride come to be? Well, it’s been quite a journey. We chart the highs and lows…
After a demo by the Sussex Gay Liberation Front the previous year, Brighton Pride started just a year after the first ever UK Pride in London and three years after the world’s first Pride in New York City.
That very first NYC Pride was created to mark the anniversary of rioting outside the Stonewall Inn on the night the LGBTQ community finally had enough of being arrested by police.
“If you look at the very first Brighton Pride in 1973,” says Russell-Moyle, “it was a mixture of parties, events and a protest... and it still is today.”
The first ever post-Pride dance was held at The Royal Albion Hotel… which isn’t that big, just to give you an idea.
Read more: Coming out as LGBTQ+: How to support someone
After the first Brighton Pride, the expectation was that it would become an annual event, like it was in London, but for some reason the yearly Pride celebrations didn’t materialise.
It would take the introduction of legislation to prevent teachers talking about homosexuality in school – Clause 28 – which was introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s government to galvanise the LGBTQ+ community in Brighton again.
The return of Brighton Pride that year was described by historians as ‘very homemade but very ambitious’. It took place over the May Bank Holiday with a festival of events scattered throughout the town and a ‘Pink Picnic’ in Preston Park, which is where the Pride partying takes place today.
Building on the previous year – and fending off homophobic attacks in the local press and near indifference from the local council – Brighton Pride was back with another Preston Park Pink Picnic after the march through town.
This year’s event was bigger and better, with a new venue for the Pink Picnic, which was relocated to Queens Park.
Brighton Pride was still marching through town with the after-party shifting to a green open space called The Level.
The format of parade, then park and street party that’s still in place today started with The Level still hosting the celebrations. As they started to grow, more and more performers began signing up to entertain the crowds.
“I first came to Brighton Pride in the 1990s,” says local novelist Helen Treverrow, who is author of New Brighton (a dystopian vision of her city) and Chair of Rainbow Families, a Brighton social group for LGBTQ parents and their children. “It was powerfully mind-opening and free. I first took my daughter Ruby when she was 18 months old.”
Preston Park was finally decided on as the permanent location for the ever-growing after-party celebrations, meaning the marchers (and spectators) started in town then dispersed east to the Park or stayed for the street parties.
“Some people wanted it to be more focused on protest,” says Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP, referring to the evolution of Brighton Pride, “which is quite understandable, but it’s also very much about celebrating that people are here, they’re queer and they’re going to enjoy themselves.
“Those two things are important and it’s what Brighton Pride brings together. It’s not just a protest, it’s not just a party, it’s a hybrid.”
With May proving a bit dicey when it came to the weather, it was decided to move Brighton Pride to August… but obviously, you can never guarantee a perfect day in a notoriously unpredictable British summer so it’s always a case of keeping fingers crossed.
Brighton Pride officially added the T to LGB making it the first LGBT Pride. Q+ would come later.
Read more: LGBTQ+ terms explained – how to get it right
Brighton Pride was granted charitable status.
Brighton Pride introduced an entry fee to the park festival, mainly to pay for security and barriers to stop the event getting out of hand now that tens of thousands – up to 400,000 – would take over the entire city.
“If you’re straight, you’re in the minority at Pride,” says local gay artist Mark Vessey of the way Brighton Pride grew over the years.
“The Parade is still accessible to everyone, but if you want to go to the party, we ask people to pay,” says Russell-Moyle.
“Of course there are events that people can take part in that don’t cost but all that money goes towards keeping LGBTQ+ charities active throughout the year, whether it be MindOut, the mental health charity, or The Ledwood Centre, the new LGBTQ+ centre for many of our community organisations. And it’s important because in times of austerity, organisations don’t have access to funds from the council.”
Almost £1 million has been raised for local LGBTQ+ charities to date.
X Factor winner Alexandra Burke headlined Pride in the Park alongside locals Fatboy Slim and Freemasons. It was the start of the big names flocking to Brighton Pride: Pet Shop Boys in 2017, Britney Spears in 2018, Grace Jones and Kylie Minogue in 2019…
The Pride Arts and Film Festival and The Pride Dog Show were added to the festivities of Brighton Pride.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Brighton Pride took on the theme of Generations of Love. It was to be the last celebration before the pandemic hit, forcing Brighton Pride online in 2020 and 2021.
Brighton Pride is back with a bang. The Parade Community Parade and Pride Village Party (also ticketed to ensure security and pay for clean-up) are set to be bigger than ever while We Are Fabuloso – the Pride in the Park festival is getting ready to host… Christina Aguilera on the Saturday night (6 August) and Paloma Faith on Sunday (7 August).
“It is now a HUGE event that takes over the entire city for the whole weekend,” says Treverrow, gearing up to take part in the parade with her Rainbow Families and to get to Preston Park on the Sunday, which she says is the more family-friendly day.
“Lots of my friends describe Pride as gay Christmas and put flags up outside their homes in the run-up like they would Christmas decorations.”
Which, as the Christmas song goes, must make it the most wonderful time of the year!
Additional research: Jessica Jurkschat
Watch: What Brighton Pride means to me