I’ve got a confession to make. I’m 28 years old and I’ve never been to Pride.

Well, that’s technically not true anymore since I attended my local Pride recently, but it’s an awkward secret that I dared not reveal until this very moment. I’ve spent pretty much 10 years of my life now, as an out and proud (ignoring the early denial stage) homosexual and I hadn’t even experienced Pride. What sort of gay am I?

It’s not that I’ve never been tempted in the past, but I guess I’ve just never really felt the urge to go to Pride. Like, just because you’re of the LGBT+ persuasion, it doesn’t automatically mean you must go screaming it from the rooftops, marching in your Kylie shaming gold hot pants and spreading the rainbow love. This was what I used to think, but my first Pride has flipped that opinion on its head.

For my first Pride experience, I went as part of a group from work. I’m fortunate to work for a forward-thinking organisation, and as part of our LGBT+ networks activities, we sponsored and took part in the York Pride festivities. If it wasn’t for this excuse I might never have been in a position to want to attend.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. My mind was crawling with visions of me getting mobbed by anti-gay protesters, or going home in the back of a police van for me fighting with the aforementioned protesters. Thankfully, I didn’t get arrested or come home with a bloody nose, and those hateful preachers kept their nasty opinions to themselves. What transpired though was a day that ended up bringing a little tear to my eye and has created a new belief in my mind.

Firstly, Pride isn’t just for us gays, but open to the whole sexuality spectrum. At York Pride, I would suggest that half of the people taking part in the march were allies out to support their friends or colleagues. These people giving up their weekends to make their voices heard and provide their backing made me feel accepted and even more capable of being myself, and the judgement from the past evaporated with the sound of the whistles and horns being blown down the march.

What also came through for me is just how far we’ve come in terms of acceptance and normality. Not long ago, I would feel awkward simply walking down the street with my gay friends or my boyfriend in fear of getting those piercing looks most of us will have probably experienced, and don’t get me wrong, we still have a long way to go. However, until that hour-long march along the streets of York, I have truly never felt so comfortable in my own skin and being able to walk hand in hand with the boyfriend without that familiar sense of fear of persecution.

I guess that is simply the magic of Pride. No matter which Pride you go to. It’s simply about being able to feel proud of yourself, letting go of the shame and self-hatred you may have felt, and opening yourself up to a community that will always understand the pain we’ve all felt no matter what path you’ve taken.

So, if you’ve never experienced Pride for yourself, my advice would be to give it a try. Open yourself up to a new experience and prepare for the unexpected. Even if it’s only to stand on the side-lines and watch the pride march go past, or you may even go along to the after party dressed as RuPaul.

And no Pride experience would be complete without going home drunk with a complete stranger and instantly regretting it the next morning (or so I’ve heard).

Words by Craig Barton