On a moonlit Monday night last August, Mayor Andrew Burnham stood before an earnest crowd in Manchester, England’s Gay Village and offered this apology: “I’m sorry you had to watch me Dad-dancing to ‘YMCA’ earlier.”
Burnham was among the thousands of other straight Mancunians who’d joined in with the local LGBT community as enthusiastic participants in the annual three-day Manchester Pride celebration (www.manchesterpride.com).
The city’s festivities, one of the UK’s largest Pride events, took on added resonance last year, coming just three months after the deadly terrorist attack at an Ariana Grande concert there. Over the course of an unusually sunny bank holiday weekend, locals and thousands of visitors flooded the city with bright colors, joyful noise, and a sense of not just gay pride, but unified civic pride.
Large numbers of straight couples and children were unmissable in the cheering crowds along Peter Street in the city center for a lively Saturday afternoon parade. On the heads of both marchers and onlookers one could spot plenty of the bunny ears, sometimes sported by singer Grande, which have become a symbol of local solidarity.
Even miles from the Gay Village, the windows of pubs and shops were festooned with twinned symbols: rainbow flags alongside the city’s traditional worker-bee emblem (The bee has long stood for Manchester’s industriousness and collaborative spirit).
Speaking at the weekend’s traditional closing event, a Monday night vigil for those lost to AIDS, Mayor Burnham and others pointedly connected the fight for LGBT rights and the destigmatization of HIV to a more global embrace of personal and cultural differences.
“This is my first Manchester Pride,” said a visibly emotional Stuart Murray, the stepfather of Martyn Hett, a 29-year-old gay man who was among those killed at the concert attack. Hett’s large circle of LGBT friends were among those who provided an outpouring of sympathy and support to his family in the wake of the tragedy.
Acknowledging a painful irony, Murray told the assembled crowd that “…my uncle died of HIV more than 20 years ago, I remember that his illness and death were little spoken of, almost as if we were ashamed.”
Murray went on to describe extremist terrorism and homophobia as “cowardly evil in various guises.”
“I want to thank Manchester Pride for doing proud by Manchester,” said Mayor Burnham, who was elected just three weeks prior to the arena bombing. “…we will never let the forces of hate change the way that we live.”