The first weekend in August is Pride weekend in the UK, where the LGBTQ+ community come together with the rest of population to celebrate their differences, mostly by sinking back huge quantities of alcohol. This being my first pride since coming out as bisexual, I was incredibly excited to be attending the various events occurring in the city centre throughout the weekend. So excited, in fact, that I decided to turn my wheelchair into Donald Trump’s worst nightmare.
On the Saturday, the sun was out, and a gentle breeze helped to prevent my skin from burning and peeling off like I was some kind of mutant reptile in the roasting 20°C heat. Jarred and myself made our way to the viaduct, a region of Leeds so closely associated with gay culture that a man in a dodgy police uniform walking down the street is not necessarily a policeman. A street party had been set up; there was music playing, and an impressively sophisticated outdoor bar set up on one side of the street. There was also a small stage, and people were being invited up onto the stage to sing and dance together. It was, perhaps, the only time I’ve ever been glad to see something inaccessible.
We meandered up and down the street, listening to music and investigating the few stalls there were. After a little while, the music stopped rather abruptly, and a drag queen whose make-up was far in advance of anything I could do took to the stage, introducing a performance by the Show Girls, a group of drag performers from one of the local venues. During the introduction, various members of the audience were subjected to light-hearted criticisms, such as querying whether a woman’s afro was fake or real, or whether one man naturally had silky smooth legs. Being on the front row, I was pretty easy to spot.
“And oh, look, Davros has delighted us with their company!”
Jarred and myself both burst into uproarious laughter, setting off the rest of the crowd who had seemed a little nervous as to how to react. What no one seemed to realise is that it was actually quite refreshing for someone else to make a joke about my wheelchair, which quickly becomes the elephant in the room when people do everything they can to ignore its presence for political correctness, highlighting in the process that the wheelchair is all they see. The drag queen was teasing everyone, not just myself, and there was nothing to take offence to.
The Pride parade took place on the Sunday, starting in Millenium square in the centre of Leeds with a free-entry concert. The council had made sure to provide an elevated wheelchair platform, meaning that I could see the stage above the rest of the crowd, although because I couldn’t see through the crowd, another audience member had to direct me to it. I lost count of how many other wheelchair users I saw at the event, and not once did I have to deal with things thrust in my face, or people stepping directly over my feet. Nobody stared at me, and nobody ignored me either.
Towards the end of the concert, I was invited to ride on one of the council’s accessible buses in the parade, representing both the LGBTQ+ and disabled community. I jumped at the opportunity, figuratively, not literally of course. Once I was on the bus, my wheelchair was secured safely to the floor of the bus by a driver who clearly had many years of experience doing this. I got the flag I had attached to my wheelchair to wave, and waved it while meandering slowly through the crowded streets until my arm felt like Attila the Hun was trying to remove it. I was extremely surprised to find that I got a huge response from the crowd, who cheered loudly and waved vigorously back at me.
The best reaction of all the crowd members came from another wheelchair user, who I had shared the wheelchair platform with earlier in the day. When she saw me waving from the bus, her face practically split in half as she grinned from ear-to-ear, and I knew then that I had truly made a difference to someone’s day.
I was as welcome in that crowd as I am at my beloved wrestling shows, and I hope that I never forget what it was like to find pride without prejudice.