The history of Leicester Pride: How it went from dream to reality

Everybody in society should feel the right to accept oneself in regard to sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Pride parade moves through Leicester city centre © Leicester Pride
The Pride parade moves through Leicester city centre

Pride is the celebration of individuals who identify as a part of the LGBTQ+ community. It is a joyous event filled with acceptance, love, and equality. But it hasn’t always been a part of Leicester's rich history of celebrating identity.

56 years ago, the Labour government under Harold Wilson made history with the Sexual Offences Act 1967. The act legalised homosexual acts between two consenting adults, over the age of 21 and in private places. The age for this was later lowered to sixteen in 2001.

During the 1990s in England, right wing groups would verbally abuse the LGBTQ+ community by shouting comments such as “the kids are on fire”. But after years of being told by local people that being LGBTQ+ was “dangerous to children” and “damaging to family values”, a group of brave people took a stand, pushed past the stereotype, and decided to fight for what they wanted and deserved.

This is the history of Leicester Pride

In 1999, just 24 years ago, a group of people in Leicester decided to hold an event that celebrated the LGBTQ+ community. As time went on, the Leicester Mercury received letters from the public which were expressing their concerns about the event – this resulted in it being cancelled.

The community tried again in 2000, but they received opposition from a group called the Silent Majority who demanded Leicester city council cancel the event over concerns of 'child safety.'

Later that year, the community was more determined more than ever to hold a pride event.

On 29 July 2000, Leicester Pride was finally born. It consisted of around 500 people, and they stood outside the LGBT Centre in Leicester listening to Samba music and dancing to the beat.

However, it wasn’t all positive. There were rumours that opposition was going to arise, which led the city council to issue a public notice that warned the community of public demonstrations against them.

But, after months of fighting for Pride, the community got the celebration that they were fighting for and the recognition that they deserved. Now, Leicester Pride allow the LGBTQ+ community to feel empowered.

Abi Willock, who attended Leicester Pride last year, said: “Pride means taking pride in who we are and not being afraid.”

“It’s a protest. So we’re not just celebrating that we’ve got freedoms, we’re also protesting that other places and other countries in other parts of the world don’t have the same freedoms, and we’re not okay with that. We’re not going to stop protesting until everybody has the same equal rights.”

Now, around 10,000 people attend Leicester Pride, with over 2000 people walking in the parade.

Since the inception of Leicester Pride in 2000 it has only failed to go ahead twice: in 2007 and 2020. The reason in 2007 was due to a lack of funding. Corin Desborough, who was the festival director in 2007, said at the time: “We’ve had some difficulty raising funds… The festival is entirely run by volunteers, and we’ve lost some key committee members who have moved on, so we are down in terms of expertise.”

The reason for the event being cancelled in 2020 was due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and therefore it was unsafe to hold a gathering that large.

But as Pride events have grown, unfortunately, the opposition has remained a constant. The community still have to face groups and individuals hurling abuse towards them for just expressing and being their authentic selves. In 2022, a small group of religiously motivated protestors were at the clock tower as the parade passed through the centre of Leicester.

The government under Gordon Brown introduced the Equality Act 2010 which aimed for everyone to be treated equally regardless of differences – including race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. This paved the way for a truly inclusive country that accepted all individuals in society regardless of everyone’s differences.

Joseph McCarthy attended pride in 2018, 2021 and 2022, and said: “Not only is [the parade] a way to express ourselves, but it’s also a protest to show who we are.”

“Everyone has their own sexuality… we are being ourselves. We’re not letting anyone get in our way. We’re not letting anyone tell us what to do or place us in society. We’re just being ourselves, and we like to keep it that way.”

Jane Hearst has attended Leicester Pride twice and has had the opportunity to play the drums at the front of the parade. Hearst said: “For me, pride is really important because you get to see what is otherwise quite invisible… you’re all getting to observe their relationship dynamics and things that you just don’t get to see very often.”

Hearst continued: “I think Pride is a great way of showing people what exists to make them feel less alone.”

Leicester city council have also been striving towards more equality after publishing the Corporate Equality and Diversity Strategy in 2018. This outlined how they were going to eliminate discrimination and advance equality regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, and marital status. Hearst added: “There’s a lot of people creating Pride marches particularly for trans people. I think they’re really important as well.”

Recently, Leicester Pride have set up a stall where individuals that attend can now get free STI checks and free contraception. Speaking about this, Hearst said: “It’s a really important thing, especially for gay men who would feel uncomfortable going to those places or knowing the reason they’re getting those things.” They believe that it’s a vital part of Pride.

This year’s Leicester Pride parade will take place on Saturday, 2 September at Abbey Park and is celebrating its 15-year anniversary with their current team.

The event starts at noon, with the entrance is based on Charter Street. Bus services will be running from the Rainbow and Dove bar on Charles Street.

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