I’ve lived in Margate for four summers, and every year, Margate Pride has grown bigger, brighter and bolder. In August 2019, 9,500 people attended this arts-led event, with 192 artists performing at 26 different events, culminating in former Spice Girl Mel C’s performance at Dreamland, our revamped amusement park. Many of us who’d watched this LGBTQIA+ parade grow over the years from fairly humble beginnings were moved to tears by the numbers of businesses displaying rainbow flags or Pride artwork in their windows, the local families that turned out to line the streets cheering and clapping each passing float parading the promenade, and the turnout by older people living in the sheltered housing and residential care homes in Cliftonville.
This year was always going to be different. In past months, Margate Pride organiser Amy Redmond and her team grappled with how Margate could still have a Pride event within the ever-changing social distancing regulations and other Covid-19 restrictions.
“We started planning Margate Pride 2020 tentatively, with some online programming, a Zoom party with live-streamed and pre-recorded performances, and an Art Trail presenting works in over 40 windows of local businesses,” says Redmond. “Plus, we had DJ Hannah Holland curate a Margate Radio Pride takeover for the weekend with radio interviews and performances. We knew we couldn’t stand with LGBTQIA+ people in the usual way, with a protest. But we needed to show our solidarity in other ways.”
Margate Pride is an important act of protest and activism in Thanet, an area that continues to rank as the most deprived local authority in Kent, where community and educational resources are far from abundant. The Be You Project, which supports LGBT+ young people aged 18-25, points out that LGBT+ young people are four times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers, and 45 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils in schools experience bullying because of their sexual orientation.
But as well as being a protest, Pride is a party, and Margate Pride is an important day in the cultural and social calendar of a resort town that has historically prided itself on tolerance, friendliness and diversity. Globally, Gay Pride celebrations have become lucrative destination events. Brighton Pride ranks as one of the top Pride events in the world, attracting 450,00 visitors to the town over the weekend, and boosting the city’s economy by £20.5 million. By comparison, Margate Pride is very much in its infancy, but the 2019 parade felt – for the first time – like a destination event bringing Londoners and tourists from further afield to Margate.
“For months there was a question mark over whether we could organise anything offline at all, but finally we were granted permission by the council to use a bandstand,” says Redmond. “So we were able to offer socially distanced, family friendly events like life-drawing workshops, dance performances and talks by LGBTQIA+ and BAME activists and speakers.”
I’m bisexual and Margate Pride has been an important date in my diary every summer in my new adopted hometown. Last year I was waving a flag in the parade at Margate Pride, singing Florence & The Machine songs onstage with the Social Singing Choir, and working the door as a glamorous bouncer at the afterparty at Margate Arts Club. This year, instead, I was asked to present and pre-record a radio show for the Pride Margate Radio takeover, interviewing queer business owners around town.
“In recent years most Pride events have become more about the party, perhaps to the point where the protest side of things was overshadowed. LGBT+ rights around the world are still not secure,” says DJ Hannah Holland, who curated the two-day radio programme. “Next year, we’ll hopefully continue to have the deeper look at Pride plus the parade and party side but we’ll also have the cultural and family programming that was such a hit this year.” It’s hoped that next year Pride events will be back in the travel calendar, and after the strange summer of 2020, they’ll be better than ever.