Manchester: Every Reason to Be Proud and Gay
Remember when you turned 21? Neither do we. But still, there’s something resonant about that age - as if the world suddenly opens a door for you. And guess who’s turning 21 this year? None other than Manchester Pride.
You know, Manchester, as in "Queer as Folk," the original series. Manchester, the hometown of Morrissey, the Smiths, New Order, Oasis, Joy Division and Simply Red - and nearly every other band you danced to during your slightly goth coming-out phase.
And yes, Manchester, the town where the pursuit of LGBT equality has been a seminal part of Mancunian history. Mancunian - that’s what we call people who live in Manchester, England.
That Manchester. That’s the city we’re talking about. In other words, the city that is no baby sister to any other British town.
By now, thanks to the near-global conquest of "Queer as Folk," most everyone knows that LGBT life in Manchester starts at what is known as the Gay Village, a series of cobblestoned thoroughfares centered around Canal Street. But what you might not yet realize is that during Manchester Pride, the Gay Village morphs into a 24/7 bacchanal.
For the nearly ten days and nights of Manchester Pride, the Gay Village becomes a veritable amusement park, with manned gates and entrance fees. Since its inception twenty-one years ago, Manchester Pride has raised more than one million dollars for LGBT and HIV charities across Greater Manchester.
One of the final Pride celebrations of the global calendar year, Manchester Pride’s Big Weekend occurs during the annual August bank holiday, with Saturday afternoon’s Pride Parade, which remains the city’s largest, as the centerpiece. More than one hundred floats and marching contingents cheer their way through the city’s center, including the stars of the world’s longest-running television soap opera, "Coronation Street," this year celebrating its 51st year of filming in Manchester.
Last year’s official Grand Marshal for the 20th annual Manchester Pride Parade was Sir Ian McKellen (also known throughout Pride as Serena McKellen) who worked a rainbow-colored feather boa and a t-shirt that stated: "Some People are Gay. Get Over It."
Winner of "Best Pride Event" in the UK for the past four years, as well as a recent nominee for "World’s Best Pride" award, this year’s Manchester Pride 21 hosts more than 40 events at more than 20 different venues, with headliners such as Pam Ann, Pixie Lott, and a rainbow cast of virtuoso entertainers and consummate performers.
For many Mancunians, the raison d’être of Manchester Pride occurs on Monday evening, the final night of Pride, at Sackville Gardens, the picturesque locale for the HIV Candlelit Vigil. There, beneath the trees, amidst the garden, and alongside the life-size bronze memorial statue of Alan Turing, the eminent mathematician and father of computer science who was persecuted and prosecuted for his homosexuality, thousands of people gather for a contemplative celebration of those who have died.
For many, it’s the sight of a silent crowd holding thousands of candles that speaks the loudest.
"Each year we go above and beyond to ensure Manchester Pride is bigger and better whilst remaining true to our roots as a fundraiser for local LGBT and HIV charities," says Jackie Crozier, festival director of Manchester Pride. "And the fact that people travel across the country and even the world to attend really means everything to us."
One of the joys of Manchester Pride is the outpouring of support from the city at large throughout the ten-day festival. With a parade route lined with the full spectrum of humanity, from children to grandparents, all cheering, waving and singing along to gay anthems while waving rainbow flags, Manchester Pride presages an almost idyllic world where everyone is happy and free.
It’s no wonder that you see so many people in Manchester (and the world over) wearing t-shirts with the city’s motto: I [heart] MCR. What better sentiment to capture the spirit of a city that practices camaraderie in the pursuit of civil rights.
WHAT TO DO:
Over the Rainbow/Gay Manchester Walking Tour: As Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living," which is another way of saying, "Know yourself," which means, "Know your history - and especially if you’re gay."
And one thing you’ll realize with this brilliant walking tour is that Manchester has been at the vanguard in the fight for LGBT equality. Take, for example, Manchester’s Lesbian and Gay Heritage Trail, a series of rainbow tiles set into the pavement at various LGBT historic points around the city. Originated during Manchester’s hosting of Europride in 2003, the Lesbian and Gay Heritage Trail has become one of the city’s more popular tours, commingling a rainbow cast of Mancunian heroes such as Quentin Crisp, Noel Coward, Albert Kennedy, and Edward Carpenter.
Right behind Canal Street, over in a quiet corner of Sackville Gardens, there’s the "Beacon of Hope," the United Kingdom’s only permanent HIV/AIDS memorial. Across the lawn is the Alan Turing Memorial - further evidence of Manchester’s commitment to making LGBT history an integral part of its cityscape.
Tours are often led by Manchester Councilor Paul Fairweather, a true gentleman and an LGBT scholar who brings our history to life with an articulate empathy for the struggles we’ve endured and the victories we’ve earned. Be grateful for how far we’ve come - and for those who have brought us here.
LINK: Over the Rainbow/Gay Manchester or Tour Manchester with Pauline Lloyd
East Lancashire Railway: Even if you don’t have a Harry Potter fetish, or a penchant for Victoriana, or a rail worker fantasy, you’re going to love taking a ride on this coal-powered, steam locomotive. And if you’re lucky, you might even get to ride in the engine - and shovel coal.
The East Lancashire Railway is a 12-mile heritage railway that runs from Bury to Ramsbottom, and beyond to Rawtenstall. Ramsbottom is one of those impossibly quaint British towns - and to arrive there via coal train is to feel as if you’ve stepped back in time and found yourself in a beautiful time warp.
Keep your cameras within reach - and don’t be surprised to find yourself smiling uncontrollably. Everyone else is, too.
LINK: East Lancashire Railway
(Feature story continues on next pages: Where to Eat, Where to Stay, Getting There, Tourism Info...)