Pride in Sheffield – challenges ahead for a community navigating uncertain times
As we continue to navigate the uncertainties of our new-normal, one of the big question-marks is what shape our LGBTQ Pride celebrations will take in the months ahead.
I caught up with Dan Kahn – co-chair of the Pride in Sheffield committee – for a behind-the-scenes look at the challenges being grappled with.
When we think back to pre-Covid times, how does Sheffield “normally” celebrate LGBTQ Pride?
To answer this question, it’s best to cast back to 2018, when Sheffield held a truly massive, fully inclusive Pride, with record numbers in the Parade, excellent weather, and a fantastic atmosphere.
Sadly in 2019, it was but a shadow of the success in 2018, and a complete shambles. The 2019 committee antagonised the majority of the LGBT community be trying to turn Pride into an anarchist protest instead of an inclusive event and they proceeded to exclude whole sectors of society including public servants such as Police and Prison Officers, Fire service and several potential commercial sponsors.
The result was a Pride which was underfunded, offered mediocre, unprofessional entertainment, no police presence on site to offer reassurance to LGBTs, a chaotic, poorly organised parade and – to top it all – appalling weather.
Even though the rain reached flood conditions by mid-afternoon, the Pride organisers did not curtail the event, even though electrical equipment in the Cabaret tent was sinking into six inches of water and the main stage was also at risk from flooded electrics.
Furthermore, a band performing on the main stage lost some equipment including a drum and it was never found and they have so far not been compensated.
Despite all this PR disaster, the 2019 Pride committee adopted a Donald Trump mentality and grossly exaggerated the attendance numbers, conflating the few hundred in the Parade to many thousands.
How did Sheffield’s LGBTQ community celebrate Pride in 2020?
In 2020, the Pride didn’t go ahead at all, although a limited number of poorly advertised and supported online events took place.
So, all hopes have been on 2021.
But, in spite of the promise of lockdown being lifted, it has been impossible to organise anything meaningful, or even hold committee meetings, except on Zoom which many people cannot use due to poor internet or using out of date computers – including myself.
What’s been the impact of the pandemic and the lockdowns and restrictions on Sheffield’s LGBTQ venues and on the queer community in Sheffield?
Basically, the impact of the lockdown has been that there has been no LGBT scene at all for more than a year now.
For many years, Sheffield’s scene has been very moribund, with only Dempsey’s and the much-maligned Queer Junction available as venues, as well as the friendly Spirit of Sheffield bar nearby and the monthly LGBT night at the university – originally called Climax, then renamed Grapefruit.
All this has not been on for a year now – Queer Junction has closed for good, but there is no sign when Dempsey’s and Spirit of Sheffield will reopen, despite them both having some outdoor seating space, but clearly not wanting to open when outdoor seating pubs reopened a few weeks back. Maybe they will open in May when indoor seating pubs will be allowed to open.
You’ve mentioned that the continuing uncertainty and ongoing restrictions is making it difficult to bring Sheffield’s Pride committee together to consider options for Pride in 2021 – what would the impact be if it wasn’t possible to hold any in-person Pride events in Sheffield this summer?
I’m looking at organising a series of outdoor meetings near where I live in Parkhill for myself and up to five others, and I’m even looking at holding several simultaneous meetings of groups of up to six people each spaced out on the grass at Parkhill. We might be able to use our phones to communicate between each group of six, and this would enable us to carry out some business and brainstorming with the maximum number of people present while very cleverly not contravening the social distancing rules.
We could, in theory, also adopt the ‘spaced out groups of six’ rule for any event at Endcliffe Park, which we hope to do on Saturday 31 July. It will most likely be a picnic-style affair but it could have a stage with solo performers only and just a sound technician/DJ by the stage, again, to enable the restriction in group size. Each group of audience will be given a well-spaced apart taped off patch of ground to sit on.
I had also been hoping that an event like ours might be possibly used as a ‘testbed’ for a socially distanced event much like the world snooker or the trial spectators football matches in Wembley and Welling, but it is impossible to find out who or where to contact for this, and I am disgusted that all the emphasis on allowing crowds back to events seems to be in the mainly straight male sectors of men’s football and snooker, and not, for example women’s or family events such as stage plays, pantomimes, ballet, opera, charity fun runs, and charity summer fetes.
I will try and contact my local MP to see if anything may be possible, as by rights, the Government, who decide who and where is allowed to have a trial audience, should also be trialling this for minority events such as women’s events, LGBT Prides, and ethnic events such as Notting Hill Carnival.
Whether or not we get a go-ahead for an event in July in Endcliffe Park, we will also be wanting to get as many hospitality venues in Sheffield on board by arranging to hold Pride events with some kind of entertainment or other activity such as dating, quiz nights, and drag competitions on one of the nights between 23-31st July during a ‘Long Week of Pride’. There might even be an opportunity for a smaller picnic event in Endcliffe Park on Saturday 24 July, so long as permission is available. This would also allow Pride goers to choose which event or events they might go to rather than a huge number turning up at a one-day event, thereby decreasing the pressure of numbers attending a large single event.
Who is best placed to help Sheffield’s LGBTQ community find a way to celebrate Pride this year?
I’m hoping that Local Government will provide us with the necessary permissions for any open air public event. Events at private hospitality venues will not need official permission providing they abide by whatever rules the venue adheres to.
Again, the lack of being able to organise real committee meetings with real, live people has been a considerable barrier to this and Local Council should seriously look at allowing some limited pre-arranged meetings for public events such as Pride with no more than six people and in a suitable outdoor location, as not everything can be conducted on a shaky Zoom connection for much longer.
Also, most importantly, we need to tackle the huge level of apathy that has overcome the local LGBT community and which made it difficult to organise a proper Pride Committee for this year. My other co-chair resigned some months ago and some other posts have remained unfilled.
What message would you personally like to send to Sheffield’s LGBTQ community?
I would like to reassure people that I am working hard to try and salvage something from what is a very difficult time of Government heel-dragging on lifting restrictions, and also to put LGBTQ Pride at the centre of Sheffield’s revival as a city of culture and entertainment.
I am determined for us to work our way around whatever restrictions remain and we will do all we can to get some kind of Pride going, whether it is a series of events at city centre venues to help the battered local hospitality industry, or if we are lucky enough to hold an event at Endcliffe Park with entertainment, stalls and some quality local entertainment.
I will also be happy to work towards helping people organise a fully lockdown free Pride for 2022 as and when we hold our next AGM and annual elections for a new committee.