It has been two long years since most of us were able to show our Pride at marches and events around the world. It's not been the easiest couple of years for any of us, which makes the prospect of future parades, whether this year or next, even more important than usual. Not only is it a time to have a good time – although we all definitely deserve a bit of that – it is also a time to reflect on those who came before us and the work we still have to do in making a fairer and more humane society for all.
At Orlebar Brown, we are as proud as ever, and so to mark Pride Month 2021, we spoke to some of our favourite men and asked them of their memories of Prides past – and their hopes for the future.
My first Pride was in New York in 2015. It was the year they legalised gay marriage in the US, so it was a huge celebration. I'd never been to Pride before. I remember Downtown there was all this cheering, everyone was so happy. Then we went up to Fire Island, which was wild. I remember we did a nude shoot in the woods! In Shanghai, where I live now, it is a bit different, as demonstrations or parades aren't allowed. So, Pride takes the form of a marathon. Everyone dresses up in colourful clothes and runs around the city. Then you have all the stuff going on in clubs – lots of voguing in particular. There is an organisation called Vogue in Shanghai and they throw these really extravagant parties. It's very liberating: straight people, gay people, everybody loves going to their parties. Guys and girls get dragged up for it. It is like the inner circle of queer culture spilling out.
When I was 18 I had just finished high school in Buenos Aires. I used to go to a very Catholic, conservative school run by priests. They were very nice people – but I was a little oppressed and scared to be open with who I was. I moved to Madrid that year to study and rented an apartment behind the Reina Sofia museum. I lived with two girls – very stylish, very fun – full of piercings, tattoos and hairstyles. There was Pride in Madrid a couple of weeks after I moved. My uncle used to have a hair salon in central Madrid, and they put together this big float for the parade. We all went. What I loved was the acceptance – you could feel it – families supporting their children. They were open without prejudice. In Miami [at the Faena Forum] we ran a big Pride event which was really successful. To me, what it is all about is celebrating the past and remembering what happened at Stonewall and what that led to.
On Pride day in London, we always start early. We have a Pride brunch, and everyone comes dressed in rainbow flags. Then we just wander out into the day to enjoy the chaos - hopping from one party to another. In central London, there are always secret little happenings in pubs and bars. It's incredibly pleasant chaos.
For me, Pride is about rewriting the narrative. After all, a lot of the language around being queer has been given to us; we didn't create it. Pride is about luxuriating in the difference between being queer and the more heteronormative paradigm. I feel like being queer has afforded me a much more interesting perspective.
One thing that I do think we need to work on is this urge to police one another in the community. I think there's a new puritanism that is regressive and with it a wave of sex-negativity. Lots of rules dictating who can be gender non-conforming, when and who can wear a dress, and who can wear different clothes, and who can and can't express themselves creatively in certain ways. There shouldn't be a desire to control each other. We need to move away from that and reimagine what freedom might look like for all.
I'd never been to a Pride before Amsterdam. Not even in London in all those millions of years I was living there. When it did happen, it happened by accident. Me and my friends, Andrew, Michael and a girl called Sasha had booked a weekend in Amsterdam. We should have worked out why we could only find a rubbish place to stay at the last minute. I remember being puzzled in the morning waking up and seeing so many rainbow flags and leather harnesses. It was everywhere. Amsterdam is very small, very dense. It also happened to be the exact same time that I decided to try magic mushrooms for the first time. It's probably the best way to experience any Pride for the first time – all those colours seemed even more surreal than they were already.
I don't think I personally ever really supported Pride enough. You don't understand when you're younger why you have to celebrate. The new generation is much more clued in and knowledgeable about what's happening. Back in the 80s, every nightclub looked like a Pride event – it was a very visible thing. Still, somehow, my generation wasn't as well educated around gay culture in history. There's a generation now of gay and trans people who are so happy and confident and determined to live their lives which is great to see. There's still a way to go though, but you can see the strides forward. It's hopeful. Take the Brit Awards – to see Olly Alexander and Elton John performing together and getting rave reviews the next day. Even in the Daily Mail! It feels like things are moving in the right direction. Today, I think Pride feels more celebratory than ever, it is quite joyous.
I think the funniest Pride march I've joined was Liverpool. I went with a friend to see the Keith Haring show at Tate Liverpool. We hadn't checked the dates or figured it was Pride until we arrived. And as the train pulled in, the clouds opened and the rain was coming down sideways, and from the front of the train station down to city hall, it was all people marching. So you had all these drag queens all dressed up, their wigs wilting in the rain. So we joined in the march and instead of the great sea of bright colours, you had a sea of umbrellas!
Of course, in London, Quo Vadis is right in the centre of things on Dean Street. Not very long ago, Pride was sorted of tucked out the way – out of sight, out of mind. But now it's right in the centre of town where it rightfully belongs. It's not just for people alive now but a celebration of all those that went before. We stand on their shoulders. We wouldn't be here without their amazing bravery and all that they had to endure for centuries.
You have to address all oppression when you find it. And that's why these huge marches are so important: they give hope and courage. Mine was a lost generation that suffered to an extraordinary degree. But you just think with each new generation that comes, the drum needs to bang, because, you know, it's amazing how short memories are, and how easily things move on and people forget how difficult it was to be young and gay. Pride reminds us to be kind and supportive and gentle and understanding.