Attending your first Pride is an important rite of passage which Covid has postponed for Ella Deregowska

BY ELLA DEREGOWSKA

The pandemic has taken away a lot of what we love most. For me, the postponement of Pride parades and closure of gay bars and clubs definitely hit the hardest. And what’s worst is that I don’t even know what I’m missing! 

I’ve been out for two and a half years, and have seen the inside of fewer gay clubs than my straight best friend. No wonder my girlfriend calls me a “baby gay”. I booked all the Pride festivals I could afford this summer, including a full weekend at Brighton, only to see the money roll immediately back into my account. My big chance to show off my sort-of-newfound queerness had been wiped out, along with my hopes of finally feeling established as a grown-up gay.

Pre-pandemic partying: Ella and friends

Of course, cancelling Pride parades does not mean that Pride itself is cancelled, and there have been a lot of wonderful online events that are definitely worth checking out. But that badge of honour is something that cannot be replicated. The rite of passage of your first ever Pride parade cannot be accomplished via Instagram livestream. I’ve lost count of the nights I’ve spent in my living room shouting “Alexa, play ‘Gay Bar’!” or getting stuck on a gay TikTok loop ‘til 3am. I’m not ashamed. But I want the real thing. 

Locked down in our Uni house

Searching for a sense of community has become something of a pastime since the pandemic started. I’ve been asking myself questions like, “What makes me feel most at home in the LGBTQIA+ community?” and “How can I feel like I really belong?” I know in my heart that every member of the community has an unconditional place and belongs, but no matter what, I couldn’t help but feel like I needed to prove it to myself. 

This led me down the activism route. So in my spare time I volunteer for Just Like Us, a fantastic LGBT+ charity which helps educate people on Diversity and Inclusion. This has enabled me to speak out about LGBT+ issues and teach others about my own experiences. In order to qualify as an LGBT+ ambassador, being a gay woman definitely suffices. But it seems to me that having actually been to a Pride parade is a pretty helpful box to tick on the list, up there with some of the most basic and necessary queer experiences. 

Rocking up to a panel with a group of enthusiastic allies and hearing the question: “What does going to Pride mean to you?” feels like a slap in the face. And so I’ve found myself questioning whether I am really licensed to speak about being LGBTQIA+ at all. I’ve found myself gritting my teeth, working up the courage to say: “I’m not the right person to answer that”. 

I feel like a phony and a fraud. I’ve never flown a rainbow flag through the streets or even seen a parade through my window. Sure, I’ve been out for a couple of years now, but I’ve never been “out out”. I’ve never had the chance to really celebrate it. 

Get us back to live music!

It’s been comforting, then, to realise that it’s not just me. Speaking to friends and colleagues who are also in their early 20s, it became clear that many of us were embarrassed to admit our lack of experience. 

But if like me you came out within the last two years, you’d be very lucky to have even had a glimpse of the British gay scene. The closure of bars, clubs and events has caused an imposter syndrome pandemic amongst many young LGBTQIA+ people, who are desperate to get out there. 

Shakira, a fellow LGBTQIA+ advocate, is from Greater Manchester. Having basically been locked down since the start, she knows all too well what it’s like to be waiting to get on the dance floor. Admitting she feels “like such an imposter” compared to many of her gay friends, she tells me she thought she was the only one. 

Mariya is another friend who misses dancing. Having moved countries during the pandemic, they say that making friends without gay bars and in-person events has definitely been a challenge. Joining the LGBTQIA+ society at uni hasn’t quite cut it in terms of feeling cemented into the community, and Mariya believes those much-needed “safe spaces” would do wonders for people’s sense of belonging. 

It’s amazing to hear from older LGBTQIA+ people about their experiences on the scene, but for people like Shakira, Mariya and I, all this talk of gay clubs being the most welcoming, exciting places, makes us more desperate to see it for ourselves. 

One thing I have realised, during those late night living room dance parties, is that everyone deserves their place in the community. There is no qualifying box to tick, no gay card waiting for you to collect behind the bar. 

No, I can’t answer every single question on the panel, but that’s because every individual’s experience is unique and valid. We’re not all the same and that’s what makes us fantastic. 

Maybe you’ve never kissed a girl or you’re not going to come out to your parents. Maybe you don’t know what it’s like to wear a rainbow one-piece in Brighton – maybe you never want to. It doesn’t matter. We’re all equally “licensed” to be a part of this community.

That said, with 19 July fast approaching, I’m preparing for my official welcome party into this glorious community of ours. The parades, nights out and celebrations are so close I can almost taste it, and I can’t wait to get out out. It’s going to be a big one.

@bigyikesart.

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