23rd July 2018
By Simon Cross, James Vessey-Miller, Amy DeCruz, and Reece Learmouth.
(James Vessey-Miller leads the 2018 Southend Pride March with Drag Artist Lou Safire - ©Paul Stygal)
This week, 14th-21st July 2018, has been a blaze of LGBTIQA+ culture, community, and splendour in Southend.
Returning for the first time in over fifteen years, Southend Pride was back this year thanks to the unwavering dedication of a band of amazing volunteers.
Featuring a packed week of literary, theatrical, faith, musical, comedic, and social events, Southend Pride 2018 has been truly spectacular.
Almost every event was sold out, with events like the Proud Poetry event at Utopia being over-capacity, and the uptake from the LGBTIQA+ community in South Essex has been heartwarming.
Here with a rundown and analysis, our Simon Cross:
By Simon Cross
Saturday 14th July
(Members of the Southend Pride Committee, Transpire, and the Police at the Transpire Social event)
There were two events on Saturday 14th, and right from the get-go, the tone was set by the Transpire social in the afternoon at Twenty One on the seafront.
I arrived half an hour in, and this party was in full swing. Transpire are such an inclusive group of Trans Activists who hold events like this to help people socialise in Safe Spaces where people are invited to talk freely about everything in the most relaxing form of human contact.
The organisers told me that it had been their most successful event to date and I met a complete rainbow of people from every walk of life.
(The opening party of Southend Pride 2018 at the Railway Hotel)
No festival in Southend can ever be complete without the Railway Hotel.
Decked out in the many flags of the community and an amazing rainbow wave, they put on a Disco Night featuring the incredible Sofonda Cox and Electro-Pop high NRG from legendary local duo Marlow. Two floors of the most eclectic and iconic disco and electro which is a mainstay of LGBTIQA+ nightlife. I spent the entire evening drifting from my friends to make lots of new ones and as butterflies do flitting from flower to flower. Saturday night was the proof that this whole week was going to be iconic.
The place was packed and I estimated that over 500 people popped in, with most staying right to the end.
Sunday 15th July
(Sunday Cinema, screening A Fantastic Woman and Moonlight)
Cinema has always played a part in the evolution and the life of the LGBTIQA+ community, and actors have often become activists fighting for the acceptance and equality of a community which has often given so much to entertainment.
Jake Penny and the amazing Kings Road URC Community Church offered themselves as a venue for a Sunday Cinema where we saw two amazing but contrasting films followed by a lively discussion and some great recommendations of things to see.
The first film, A Fantastic Woman, is set in Santiago, Chile and centres on a Trans woman who -having had to come to terms with the sudden death of her partner and true love- met with the oppression of a community and family who simply could not fully accept her as his true love. The emotion and the gut shot performance of the central figure was emotional and provoked strong feeling. This film painted a picture of just how difficult Trans life can be at times and how when a person needs support yet so often faces almost universal rejection.
"We must never let anyone be punished for being themselves or for being in love."
The second film, the Oscar-winning Moonlight, was the story of a young black boy growing up in the shadow of drug culture in Miami and having to cope with his homosexuality and his own coming to terms with and growing into his sexuality in a dark and unaccepting culture. The emotional and sometimes brutal portrayal of how difficult life can be when you have a sexuality which is neither understood or accepted by peers. I had some sense that places I know such as the Yorkshire Mining communities must have been a parallel in this country.
Around 50 attended for one or both films and we discussed the ideal situation where LGBTIQA+ roles should be offered to those from the community which has been at the forefront of entertainment since someone first played a tune or put on the moxy.
Monday 16th July
(The Proud Poetry event at Utopia Coffee)
Independent Coffee House and PRIDE sponsor Utopia held Proud Poetry on the Monday hosted by one of Southend's finest poets and writers, Cat Howe.
I am a bit of a poet myself so I was not going to miss this.
Utopia and Cat were overwhelmed even before the emotional night started as the people who came to hear LGBTIQA+ poetry had outstripped capacity before a word was spoken in love. I cannot pick any outstanding performances or highlights for two reasons. Firstly the quality was the highest as I have seen in 40 years of visiting poetry events. The second reason is that I, like the host, was crying joyous and supportive tears from the first word until the final chord of a beautiful song by Ren Steadman.
Between 100 and 200 people turned out for a showcase of the most accessible and most personal kind of art participation and I urge the community to get out to more spoken word events.
Tuesday 17th July
On Tuesday was the under-18's Mixer organised by Figuring It Out.
It was the usual 'safe space' inclusive and well-planned event we now expect from Southend Pride and all the reports I had were that this was a fabulous event and one of the real learns for other PRIDE organisers. Inclusionary events for younger people are very much needed as this is a time in life where a lot of Mental Health issues can emerge and just having like-minded and understanding people around can really help stave off some really difficult issues of alienation.
Wednesday 18th July
The Park Inn Palace Hotel were fine hosts for this cavalcade of the finest LGBTIQA+ comedy headlined by none other than the runner-up from Britain's Got Talent, Robert White. Hosted by Ross McGrane from the Southend Comedy Festival, the packed night featured some seriously impressive local LGBTIQA+ comedic talent and it was an absolute blast.
Thursday 19th July
Another day another venue.
This time yet another event which sends a message to other PRIDE organisers.
Avenue Baptist Church hosted and opened their doors to an Inclusive Church Service. This was a blessing for Southend Pride. I am reliably informed there were seventeen ministers in attendance and 100+ attended to accept the worship which included a truly heartfelt apology for misunderstandings between the church and the LGBTIQA+ community.
This in itself is a real step towards inclusivity.
I would love in future years, to see all the faiths come together and socialise and worship with all the LGBTIQA+ community.
Friday 20th July
(Jessica Rammit and Joey Bambino at the Kings vs. Queens event on Friday - ©Paul Stygal)
Joey Bambino who is such a lively and innovative drag comedian and singer hosted a drag event titled Kings vs. Queens upstairs at the Alex.
Once again, a full house and a reminder that we may need bigger venues next year. What was done here was that unlike certain PRIDE events, the Drag and Transgender part of our community came together to do what (IMHO) nobody does better and provide a pure Burlesque entertainment filled with innuendo, sexuality, humour and unabated fun. Once again those who have not stopped smiling all week left in floods of laughter and good tears.
Saturday 21st July
Three events and what a day!
The venue, Warrior Square Gardens in the heart of the town.
The Southend Pride team were on site from 6 AM preparing for what was to be an astonishing day of community togetherness.
A monumental effort was put in by the crew and all involved, and the festival ground was just about ready for 11.
(The Southend Pride Crew arrived on site at 6 AM.)
As we left Warrior Square walked down the High Street and turned into Pier Hill, the success was evident.
From the LGBTIQA+ community, the political groups, and the Unions (these events were largely the result of the unswerving support of UNISON) and the other groups - every section of society was there with banners and tonnes of enthusiasm.
After a hula hoop warm up and some speeches from the Mayor, Unison, and Pride crew, we set off.
(Amy Decruz and Clare and Freya Fletcher at the start of the March - ©Paul Stygal)
The parade started gently and as we walked the short distance of the High Street, we were joined by more and more beautiful people.
The parade swelled to three times its original number and good humour and song was all that could be seen and heard.
This could be amongst the largest turnouts for a march in Southend ever.
(The march was led by Drag Artist Lou Safire, and Green Party Coordinator, James Vessey-Miller - ©Paul Stygal)
(Both the local Party and the National LGBTIQA+ Greens marched in the Parade. - ©Paul Stygal)
It took thirty minutes to check the 1,700 marchers into the venue and it was looking like the estimates that 2,500 would attend were becoming a reality.
Wendy Solomons bedecked in the most beautiful rainbow sequin number opened things up from a stage which was set to see an array of choirs, drag performers, lip sync artists, young performers with joyous confidence, chanteurs and chanteuse' torch singers and more than a little fun and comedy.
"The entertainment flowed for over seven hours and the sun shone on the most wonderful event in Southend history."
Apart from a bit of sun and beer-related overindulgence, security and police experienced a crowd filled with love where they found themselves participants rather than having to intervene. So many times I saw them helping us litter pick, having photos with kids, or dancing.
In the end, the final number of attendees for the festival was just over 4,500.
All the local businesses who supported the PRIDE had a fantastic day and the Cafe on the corner said it was 'simply wonderful' that PRIDE had turned Warrior Square into a venue. I was genuinely overwhelmed and spent much of the day in joyous tears. I expected the litter pick and takedown to take hours but a testament to the respect for the event was that the sad sight of an empty site seemed to take us no time at all.
PRIDE Official Afterparty
People simply did not want it to end!
The Cliff Bar was the venue and I arrived around 10.30 PM to be greeted by a bar so full that as many or more were partying in the zone outside the pub as were inside. In the truest sense of something so good, I intended to leave by midnight but was still with over 250 people when I finally left at 2.30 AM on Sunday.
I spoke to over 500 people and I am going to keep this as short as I can. I asked why this PRIDE had been so successful as so many told me it had been the best they had ever seen. I am a veteran of 30 PRIDE events (some great, some massive and some not so well thought out) but because of 3 things (significance, total inclusivity and perfect timing for the town)
This is the very best PRIDE I have ever attended.
The three main responses from the crowd were:
There are many stories about why Southend has a PRIDE to be proud of after 15 years in exile.
Those stories are too many to put into words.
"It was beautiful to see so many in Southend come out and support love and happiness in all forms. Moments like this are what makes our community and shows the better, lighter and more joyful side to people. Truly amazing."
- Reece Learmouth - Equality & Diversity Co-Officer, South East Essex Green Party.
"It was emotional seeing such unity in the community. Being a part of pride alongside so many other amazing people was truly spectacular."
- Amy DeCruz - Equality & Diversity Co-Officer, South East Essex Green Party.
By James Vessey-Miller
(The 2018 Southend Pride Planning Committee)
As effortless as it may have looked, Southend Pride took months of tireless work from a band of committed volunteers.
I am incredibly thrilled to say that I was a part of the team that brought Pride back to Southend, and the fact that I got to lead the Pride March was just the icing on the cake.
The organisation of Southend Pride has been one of the most challenging but rewarding experiences of my life. Nine months of dedication and hard work resulted in one of the busiest community events Southend has ever seen.
To see thousands of LGBTIQA+ people and Allies march in solidarity through the town centre, after a week's worth of stellar cultural events was incredibly emotional.
The Southend Pride Planning Crew dealt with a lot in the runup to the event. We received barrages of hate and Homophobia on our social media pages, we faced great deals of stress over the financing of the project, and on the day of the march itself, we received the threat of a Protest from the group who gatecrashed London Pride 2018.
These challenges only reinforced our commitment to the cause.
We faced these challenges united, and what better testament to a community working together that a band of individuals from every walk in life came together to bring back such an important event to Southend. All ages, sexualities, genders, disabilities, and backgrounds, we came together, and so did Southend.
The events we have seen in the town last week are only the beginning of a wider movement yet to come.
What was started as a conversation in a Pub one rainy November last year has flourished into the most extraordinary cultural awakening, and there's no stopping it now.
Southend Pride will be back, and it will be back stronger than ever.
Watch this space.