The atmosphere outside the Marlowe theatre before Canterbury Pride was as you would expect; happy, excited and colourful. Throughout the morning, more and more rainbow flags were unfurled as people assembled around the theatre in preparation for Canterbury’s third Pride parade.
While the crowds slowly arrived, two young girls sat attaching rainbow flags to their shoulders with safety pins. For one of them this would be her third time taking part in Canterbury Pride, but for her friend, as for many, this parade would be a momentous first. “I was in the closet until earlier this year and so I’d never really got the chance” she explained, adding that she was “nervously excited” for her first Pride experience. Nora Baker travelled to Canterbury from Essex to take part in the parade. “Canterbury is my second home,” she said, “and so when they advertised Canterbury Pride it was like ‘I am going to that!’”. For Nora, who came out “last November after 38 years” this would also be her first time taking part in the parade. “It is quite an experience and it will be emotional” she noted, after saying that she and her friends were thrilled by the number of people who had turned out to support the LGBT+ community.
For others in the crowd, Canterbury pride has become something of a habit. Though the parade has only been running in Canterbury for the past three years, there are already several people who would consider themselves regulars. Aaron, a former Canterbury Christ Church student, helped to organise Canterbury Pride two years ago. For them it was nice to return and see how the crowds had grown since the first parade. “It just gets bigger and bigger and it’s such an inclusive atmosphere”. Though Aaron is originally from London and has been involved in “at least ten” different Pride parades, when asked which their favourite was they instantly named Canterbury the best. “I don’t even need prompting to say that!”
Of course, it being a celebration of the LGBT+ community, and love, there were many couples in attendance. One woman currently getting her PhD in psychology at the University of Kent was celebrating her second Pride in Canterbury with her wife, though she has a longstanding history with this city. “I did my first undergrad at Kent in the 80’s with my wife; this is where we met 35 years ago” she explained, adding that she later came back to Kent for a second undergraduate degree at the University before returning once more for her PhD. “This is home now, absolutely” she said. Of the LGBT+ community in Canterbury, she and her wife commented on how encouraging it was to see it “thriving and growing” compared to when they were first here in the 80’s when “there was hardly any community”.
The importance of the acceptance of the LGBT+ community in Canterbury was made evident by many at the parade. Many commented on the diversity and inclusiveness of the city and its LGBT+ community. One couple, both students at UKC, said that having this community “is such a liberating thing”. Though they have been together since they met in Canterbury two years ago, one of them is unable to be out in her home country of Turkey, saying that “there’s no community at all in Turkey”. For her, the turn out and support for the parade was encouraging but she added that more could be done in terms of mental health and protection for the LGBT+ community in Canterbury.
As the parade made its way down the high street, hordes of spectators blew whistles, cheered and clapped. Just before entering the park, a woman and young man stopped to take a selfie with their flags. Neighbours Ben and Mel came to take part in Canterbury Pride for the first time. “I’m bisexual, I’ve got my bisexual flag, and I’ve come here to support everybody” said Mel as the parade neared the festival site. To Ben the support and inclusiveness of Canterbury Pride is something fairly recent. “For the past few years I haven’t really seen this sort of thing go on. But I think it is starting to become the norm for people to get together and support everybody”. The success of the parade and Canterbury Pride has shown the diversity of the LGBT+ community here in Canterbury but it also the growth of this community and its importance to the city.