25 September 2011 should mark a historic date for the gay community in Sunderland, offering the first Pride in the city. I say ‘should’ as last year was meant to mark the first ‘Sunderland Pride’ but it collapsed in confused circumstances. Ryan Houstan has written on the origins of the current group, describing how ‘it was back in October 2009, when they were sitting in a bar having a few drinks and putting the world to rights, that Ramsey and Taylor were struck by the idea that Sunderland should have its own Pride.’
Spark FM – the radio station of Sunderland University – has been an important forum for interviews and news (and searching the web, is the only place I can get a clear line up for the event). I was struck, as I read more about the plans for 2011, with the similarities with another northern Pride –Huddersfield.
Whilst Huddersfield has a working website, Sunderland does not. It is a small plucky venture with a Twitter account (151 followers) and a Facebook groups page (1683 members). Held together by a small group, the event is rightly modest and realistic in outlook as evidenced by the organiser ‘Camp Arnie’ in this interview.
Just making something happen is an important first step that requires considerable effort by all involved. However, I find it hard to see who it will pull in beyond a small Sunderland crowd. I hope I’m wrong but whilst other events – notably Newcastle’s Northern Pride event -have made sure they’ve got a clear workable website alongside other paltforms to distribute information, but communication from Sunderland Pride has been less than ideal. Such short-falls can perhaps be forgiven as teething problems.
It seems a small but determined band. Contrast that to the mass volunteer events for Manchester Pride which along with Blackpool, Brighton an London serve as destination events. Of course, Sunderland realistically can not compete with those events and that’s the important point. Not being Manchester or London tells us what smaller Prides such as Sunderland’s are not, but they do not tell us what they are.
This is the central dilemma facing small Pride events. Is it an excuse for a party? Is it about increasing ‘visibility’, does it raise funds? Does it foster a sense of community? All important questions. For me, the bigger question for the city and wider community is whether the event is outward looking or inward looking.
Does it seek to have a private party that can be cheerfully ignored by everyone else (as happens in large part at Newcastle’s Pride) or does it create a large event that’s hard to miss – as in Manchester, Brighton or London? A parade helps to do this, but a small group of people hinders rather than helps.
Thus, these smaller events are more often about saying to one another ‘we exist’, but unless they engage with wider audiences, it’s just the same old bar crowd meeting up on a different day. At the very least, it needs to draw in people from across the region and penetrate the public’s consciousness.
I hope Sunderland Pride comes off this year – it is located between freshers week and the first week of term which may give it a boost with students – but whatever happens, there are wider questions for us all about the purpose of these events, large and small.
UPDATE: Thanks to @markglover for flagging up this lovely blog post by Miche Doherty regarding Pride in Belfast.