MPs and Rainbow Trees: Pride 2016

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MPs and activists joined forces yesterday to discuss LGBTQ+ issues at Norwich Pride 2016. The city’s eighth annual Pride kicked off at 10am in the Forum, before the Pride Parade made its way to Chapelfield Gardens.

Norwich Pride Question Time provided an opportunity for MPs Chloe Smith and Clive Lewis to speak alongside activists, including Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners member Nicola Field, local campaigner Katy Jon Went, and chair of Norwich Pride 2016 Andy Futter. The panel debated a wide range of issues, from diversity and education funding in schools to inclusivity in the vocabulary and language of social justice.

Conservative MP Chloe Smith faced hostility from the predominantly left-wing crowd. Jeremy Corbyn’s name was mentioned multiple times by panellists, and met with raucous applause by the crowd, while Smith was heckled by shouts of “What about the bankers?!” as she described cuts and austerity as “living within your means”. Activist Nicola Field’s assertion, “we want the Tories out!” was met with the biggest cheer of all. Nigerian gay rights activist Adebisi Alimi spoke about the bravery of the LGBT community and pride activists in Africa. “A Pride in a country that will kill you for being gay. That is what I call bravery”.

Speaking about the day’s events to Concrete, Clive Lewis, Shadow Defence Secretary, said “Pride is Norwich, Norwich is Pride. It’s about acceptance, it’s about diversity and everyone is different, everyone is beautiful. This to me is an official city of refuge, as an MP, Pride is very special to me. It’s about acceptance, and that to me is what this city is all about”. Asked whether he welcomed the flying of the rainbow flag over the University of East Anglia’s campus, Lewis responded “I think it’s fantastic, long overdue, but better late than never. It really shows a sign, because the UEA is a really important and integral part of this community – to be a part of Pride is right and proper”.

The Shadow Defence Secretary also discussed the upcoming Labour leadership election, stating that “the Labour Party will appeal to LGBT voters by having a progressive, socially and economically dynamic policy platform, which makes sure that everyone has not only equality of opportunity but equality of outcome and social justice”. Returning to the diversity present at Norwich Pride, Lewis finished by saying “whether you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, black, white, a woman, disabled, you want to have opportunity, and you want to be an integral part of our community. That’s what the Labour Party is all about and I think that’s how you appeal to all sections of society”.

Chloe Smith, Conservative MP for Norwich North, discussed the governments LGBT agenda, and the importance of local events to the Pride movement. “The government is setting out a whole new action plan, particularly in terms of trans rights, in response to the Women and Equalities Select Committee, but there’s also an important set of work to be done internationally”. She continued, stating that “events like Norwich Pride are so important. It’s not so much a matter for the government, it’s a matter for every single one of us. It’s for us here in Norwich to make sure our city is proud and is welcoming”.

Katy Jon Went, Norwich trans rights and refugee activist, spoke to Concrete about the origins of Pride and how the movement has changed over the years. “Pride for me is an evolution as much as a historical thing, I’ve been involved with LGBT History Month and Pride from the beginning and what’s been important is recognising that things change. Pride started out of homophobia and transphobia in America and the Stonewall riots, so for me there’s an element of history and recognising that trans people and people of colour have been involved right from the very beginning. It’s been great to see the evolution of Norwich Pride to greater inclusivity”.

Asked about how Pride can be a positive force for tackling the issues faced by LGBT people today, she responded, stating that “Pride has got to look to its roots, and remember that it was a political movement as much as a party or a parade, that it was actually calling for changes to laws, to acceptance and to society. This year Norwich Pride is more of a party than it’s ever been – we’ve got alcohol here for the first time – and we need to celebrate that greater freedom, but also recognising its history and politicise its future so we can keep fighting for the rights of people who don’t have them”.

UEA SU LGBT+ Officer (Open Place) Sharmin Hoque commented on the importance of Norwich Pride to UEA, saying “at UEA we have one of the biggest LGBT+ communities on campus and do we do lots to make sure our LGBT+ students feel safe and have a great time at university. Pride is a big part of that – it commemorate our history, celebrates our accomplishments, allows us to celebrate our sexual and gender identities in public, and importantly it reminds us that we still have a long way to go. Norwich Pride matters as it shows the city’s support for LGBT+ individuals, and makes it more welcoming for our students”.

President of UEA Pride, Rhys Purtill, discussed the event, stating “we at UEA Pride are so happy to live in a city like Norwich that celebrates the LGBT+ community. Pride Festivals, such as the one held in Norwich, are still so important in the wake of events like Orlando. These festivals give UEA students, LGBT+ or not, a chance to march side by side”. He continued, “the message of Pride is extremely important to the LGBT+ community and hopefully it is also important to all UEA students”.

The panel was rounded off with a question for the speakers about the 50 Syrian refugees set to arrive in Norwich in September. How can the city continue to welcome not only LGBT people, but refugees of all colours, sexualities and religions, to the community? The panel’s unanimous answer: for Norwich to remain the welcoming, inclusive and diverse city that it has always been.


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