Despite a grey and dismal start to the day – and a rival march by the English Defence League that claimed to be supporting LGBT rights – Bristol Pride concluded its week-long celebrations on an upbeat note, with a parade and free outdoor festival on College Green, between Council House and Cathedral.
At 11am on Saturday, some 3,000 supporters assembled in Berkeley Square. Many were local: some, including a contingent from London lesbian network Gingerbeer came from further afield. Bristol’s Lord Mayor, Peter Main, and Daryn Carter director and organiser of We Are: Pride, led the way down Park St, closely followed by colourful dance troupe, the African Sambistas.
Opening the festival, the Lord Mayor described the event as “wonderful” and the “high spot of his year in office”.
He said: “Bristol today is full of goodwill”.
His sentiments were echoed by Marvin Rees, Labour candidate to become Bristol’s first ever elected Mayor later this year, who said: “This day is a statement about the future of the city – and an event to be celebrated”.
In contrast to WorldPride in London a week earlier, which was not attended by London Mayor Boris Johnson, Bristol boasted a near full house of mayoralty, with Lib Dem hopefuls for the title, Simon Cook and Jon Rogers, also enjoying themselves on the Green.
By mid-afternoon, the sun was shining, the crowd, now swelled by several thousand more, was in party mood. Some fifty acts performed throughout the day, with LGBT choir Singout Bristol, Trayla Trash, and local drag queen Della Woodshed taking the main stage, before Bright Light Bright Light and head-liner Martha Wash electrified the audience with number one hits including “It’s Raining Men”, “Carry On” and “Keep Your Body Working”.
A second live stage and five performance areas played host to many more – the final tally reached over fifty live acts – including Tina Sparkle, Lloyd Daniels and the Lady Gaga Experience.
Also out in force were stalls for a plethora of campaigning, information and service organisations: too many to list, but mentions to the Gay Outdoor Club, Tribe of Doris and Bristol Zoo.
The free festival brought together a week of partying and events that succeeded in involving an even longer list of local businesses and non-LGBT organisations. Despite the ill-omened start, Bristol Pride was a hit with the local community, attracting good-natured comment from shop workers and passers by the length of the town centre.
The celebrations were only slightly marred by the decision of the English Defence League to stage a parallel event in the city on the same day at more or less the same time, and the arrest of a number of counter-demonstrators for public order offences.
It is understood that the EDL claimed to be marching, at least partly, in support of LGBT rights, though it seemed to many more likely to be a figleaf to add weight to their anti-Islamic views than any deep-seated conversion to gay rights.
Some 300 supporters of the EDL assembled at Redcliffe Wharf, before marching to Queen Square. An official counter-demonstration organised by We Are Bristol, with backing from local trades unions and Unite Against Fascism was barred from going ahead as planned, as police used their powers under the Public Order Act to force it to a location some distance to the north of the City Centre.
There were near unanimous pleas by Pride organiser, Daryn Carter and local politicians that the EDL event be given a wide berth. Mayoral candidate Marvin Rees said: “The EDL came to Bristol to sow discord and discrimination: it should not be allowed to fester.”
Despite this, some LGBT activists did make their way down to the dock area, where there followed an afternoon of cat-and-mouse activity: EDL activists listened to speeches in Queen Square; up to 500 counter-demonstrators milled around the streets behind. Separating the two was a massive police presence, with up to 1,000 officers brought in from forces as far afield as the West Midlands, Staffordshire and Yorkshire.
The situation remained tense for much of the afternoon, and there were a number of arrests during the day – according to the BBC, 14 in total – including an EDL supporter making an “anti-islamic statement” by refusing to remove a face-covering when asked to do so.
The majority, however, were of counter-demonstrators, as events later turned violent. Rubbish bins were overturned and set on fire, missiles were thrown, and a small group of demonstrators in Victoria Street attempted to charge police lines, leading to a number of arrests for unlawful assembly and one for assaulting a police officer.
The press result has been all too predictable. There were three events in Bristol on Saturday. a foodies festival, where thousands came together to celebrate new and interesting cuisine: Bristol Pride, where thousands more were celebrating diversity and tolerance; and a demonstration by the EDL where a few hundred demonstrators protected by a thousand police came together to showcase intolerance.
On the national news that evening, it was the intolerance that won out – and diversity was but a footnote.