Laura McKee is a 29 year old single mum to four year old Abbie. Working full time and studying part time keeps her busy, but she also has a deep passion for LGBT rights and supporting Belfast Pride.
Pride Parades and Festivals around the world began to happen in the wake of the Stonewall Riots in New York, 1969. For whatever reason, during that period, gay men and women decided enough was enough of being forced underground and bullied by the police, and fought back during a raid on the Stonewall Inn. Pride Parades are held in commemoration of this and also to continue the fight for full inclusiveness and equal rights.
For many, Pride is seen as an excuse to go out and party, and whilst it is a fun time, for me and many others it means a little more. It makes me angry when members of the non-LGBT community say things like “why do you have to parade about it?” or “we don’t have a ‘straight’ pride?” There will always be a need! Even if full equality is reached in every corner of the earth, the need to celebrate and remember those who fought for it will still be there. What annoys me more is when people that are LGBT, say they don’t support Pride, for without it, and the people that are the real backbone of this community, they wouldn’t have the relative freedom that we enjoy here today.
I first began fundraising for Belfast Pride in 2011 with a 12 hour sponsored silence. The idea began as a bit of a joke given that I never shut up. However, for me it had a serious undertone; highlighting the forced silence of many LGBT people around the world. There are still countries where homosexuality is “punishable” by death or imprisonment. Whilst we are not just as horrific as that in Northern Ireland, unfortunately homophobia is alive and well. With politicians being free to go on television commenting on my right to marry, and likening my personal relationship to that of having sex with an animal there is a greater need than ever to march on the streets of Belfast every summer.
Volunteering for Belfast Pride has been great for me on a personal level. I had come out of a long term abusive relationship and needed to repair my confidence and meet new people. The sense of community with my new friends and acquaintances was astounding and just the right medicine. I soon became a bit of a “scene queen” and the fundraising helps me feel like I’m giving something back. This year I have raised almost £2000 from a ‘solo silent disco’ and relentlessly pounding the dance floors in the clubs: not socialising but selling glowsticks to the revellers.
Above all, nothing can describe the feeling I get on parade day. Last year I cried with emotion the whole route, and more recently did the same when joining with our friends on the Dublin Parade. Seeing the smiling faces, and hearing the applause of support as the parade progresses, is just beautiful. Yes there are still protests, and there is still progress to be made, but in comparison to the thousands of people that take to the streets in support I guess we aren’t going anywhere. In fact this year is set to be bigger and better than ever, I will probably still cry and the fight for equality will still rage on long after the last tear has dried and the hangover clears.