ENTERTAINMENT
27/06/2020 4:30 PM AEST | Updated 28/06/2020 7:57 PM AEST

My First Pride: Billy Porter, Courtney Act, Munroe Bergdorf And Other Stars Share Their Inaugural Pride Experiences

LGBTQ celebs including Anna Richardson, Olly Alexander and Todrick have also revealed their first Pride memories.

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For obvious reasons, Pride is going to look a little different in 2020 compared to other years.

But just because for most of us the celebrations will be confined to our own homes, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to fly our rainbow flags any less proudly than usual.

To mark the occasion, we spoke to a host of LGBTQ celebrities about their first time attending a Pride celebration, which proved that no one’s experience is ever really the same as anyone else’s...

Courtney Act

RuPaul’s Drag Race finalist and Celebrity Big Brother winner

Joseph Sinclair

“My first Pride was Sydney Mardi Gras. What was so amazing about it was that I was a young queer person, who’d only really fraternised in venues with people of a similar age, similar background, similar story, and when I went along to Mardi Gras it was this massive celebration of people. I think in my local gay bar I got one colour of the rainbow, and when I went to Mardi Gras it was the whole rainbow.

“I just remember being there among leather daddies and butch dykes and lipstick lesbians and trans people and people in wheelchairs and indigenous queer people, and I vividly remember that being the take-away, the diversity that I got to experience. For me, Pride is about the coming together of all of the facets of the community and celebrating at one time.” 

Anna Richardson

TV presenter and journalist

Anna Richardson

“My first Pride was in 1996, in London, and I would have been 26. I was living with my boyfriend at the time, but I’ve always been very much a part of the LGBTQI community. I’ve always had a lot of gay friends, and within my family there’s always been a lot of close associations within the community as well, so it’s always been something really close to my heart.

“A group of my lesbian friends came down from the Midlands to do the march, and I was like ‘I’m coming with you’. So we marched through London together. It was amazing, and I think that year we ended up on Clapham Common, where there was a big sort of music festival. I seem to remember ending up there, I was quite trollied at the time.

“I always say to people I don’t label myself, I’ve always had relationships with men, and I’ve had fling-ettes with women, and now I live with a woman. We’ve been together for the last seven years. But I’m just me. And you love who you love, and that’s what’s important for me. Basically, shame kills. So for me, if you can go out and go out on a parade of celebration and remove stigma and shame, then that’s what it’s all about.”

Billy Porter

Pose actor and Broadway performer

Billy Porter

“It was 1989, and I was spending the summer in New York. I was in a production of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, and the chorus boys invited me to Pride. I was 19, I didn’t really know… [what Pride was about]. I showed up in front of St Patrick’s, where it used to start back then – and it started there because it was a political march, and it meant something that we started in front of that church.

“I arrived a little bit late, the parade was beginning to move, my friend from the show saw me, grabbed me, threw a t-shirt over my head that said ‘Silence = Death’, and we started walking down Fifth Avenue chanting ‘Act Up, fight AIDS’. So that was my first Pride, and I was immediately an activist.

“And I’m so grateful that that was the time that I entered that space, because the importance of what we are seeing now, the galvanisation of people, who have come together in outrage... I have to tell you, for the last three and a half years, I was concerned that we as an entire society had been desensitised to the images that we see.

“One of the greatest tools of the civil rights movement as well as the LGBTQ and AIDS crisis movement was how they used the media to get their message, and it was because of the imagery that changed the public’s perception and created empathy. And I have been – within the last decade or more – really discouraged because, you know, social media has, up until this point, I feel, created a space where activism… people thought activism was largely about tweeting. Largely about having social media fights with people. And not getting out into the streets.

“Change doesn’t happen until the people put their bodies on the line. And the unfortunate part about that is that there will be blood. There has always been blood. It’s disingenuous to think that anything, any significant change happens, without a fight.

“America was built on slavery, this country was stolen from the indigenous people who were already here. Nothing changes until the people put their bodies on the line. We are putting our bodies on the line again. We are going out and marching en masse every day in the middle of a pandemic. Something has shifted. And in the last few weeks I have felt very inspired and encouraged, because it’s the kids who have to lead.

“The civil rights movement – they were all in their twenties, you know? They were young people. And it’s the young people who have to take up the mantle. So now, in this moment, the kids understand that this government is trying to take their basic, normal, human rights away. And they’re engaged. And that gives me hope.” 

Alma

Singer-songwriter 

Steve Jennings via Getty Images

“I think I was 16. It was in Helsinki, in my home country, and it was a pretty small Pride, but it was just something new that felt very free and very safe. After that, I think I’ve been to Pride every year, wherever I am in the world. And they’re all very different. In Finland, it’s more about the small community – it’s getting bigger, but it’s still very small compared to LA. There are no big stars coming to perform, it’s more about ‘let’s meet at the park and have a great time with friends’, where in LA it’s a festival, it’s huge.

“They’re totally different experiences, but I love both of them, and I hope it continues to get bigger and bigger, because I think Pride should be celebrated.”

Dr Ranj Singh

Doctor and This Morning’s medical expert

David M. Benett via Getty Images

“My first proper Pride was London Pride, about five or six years ago now. I’d never been to a Pride before that, and I got to be part of ITV’s Pride bus, so I was in the actual parade. And it was just an amazing time.

“To see the reaction of the millions of people in the crowd as the parade went through, there was no experience like it. I don’t use this term lightly, but it was magical, it felt like I was floating on air… weirdly, I’ve never felt love quite like that. Just between ourselves, that we are all in the parade together, but also from the public, it was amazing. And it was the first of many more.”

Adele Roberts

Radio 1 DJ

David M. Benett via Getty Images

“I don’t remember a specific first time, but I do remember Manchester being my first experience of Pride, and feeling so accepted and so encouraged to be myself. Manchester Pride for me is like my home Pride, even though I’ve been lucky enough to go to a few around the UK, that’s the one that means home to me.”

The Vivienne

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK winner

Ben Mak

“I was probably about 19. It was either Manchester or Liverpool, but whichever it was, it was amazing. You know, you can walk down Canal Street and feel like you’re at home, and it’s a safe space, but I think Pride is something that, until you’ve experienced it, you’ll never understand what it actually is.

“You know, you’re in a sea of people who are just like you, or they’re supporting you. It’s just an amazing day to have a ball, have a drink and have some good entertainment – and show everyone that we’re here and we’re proud.” 

Craig Revel Horwood

Strictly Come Dancing judge

Dave J Hogan via Getty Images

“The first time I went to Pride I couldn’t believe how many people there were, that were of my persuasion. Mardi Gras in Australia was the first time I’d ever seen a collection of people together waving rainbow flags, and it made me feel fantastic because it gave us a sense of freedom, and a right to belong. And that was way back, I was going to those back in the early 80s. So it was amazing actually, especially at the time that AIDS had come out, and that was a huge drama back in the early 80s.

“And it’s a great name for it, Pride, because it does make you feel proud. It’s amazing that because of all those marches, because of all the demonstrations, because of people being openly gay and out and proud, we’re able to get married and we’re able to live what I’d call, in inverted commas, ‘normal’ lives. And be part of a community rather than being disapproved of and ostracised.”

Munroe Bergdorf

Model and activist

Luke Nugent

“My first Pride was Brighton Pride, actually. I’d just moved to Brighton for university, I was 19, and I had no idea what Pride really was at that point. I’m a bit of a country bumpkin, I grew up in the Essex countryside in the middle of nowhere, and I had absolutely no exposure to anything gay, really, apart from in magazines.

“So when I moved to Brighton, it was very much everything all at once. And the first Pride I went to, it was like the veil was pulled back and I realised the community is really big. And that just made me feel really excited about being LGBT.

“When I was growing up in the 90s, things were extremely homophobic, so to have that place that felt extremely safe with lots of other LGBT people just felt like an amazing opportunity to be myself and embrace everything that the community is about. I had no idea what to expect, but I remember calling my mum at the end of it – obviously I’d had a little bit to drink – but I was just like ‘mum, it’s so amazing!’.”

Olly Alexander

Years & Years frontman

zz/KGC-138/STAR MAX/IPx

“The first Pride I ever went to was in 2008 or 2009, and it was in London and I went to Soho square. And I was really terrified, because I wasn’t really properly out and there were all these half-naked men dancing and I didn’t know where to look.

“I just remember being blown away by how exciting and glamorous it was and how Soho Square was just like the craziest, wildest place in the world to me at that time.”

L Devine

Singer-songwriter

Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP

“The first Pride event I actually went to was Madrid Pride. I played a show there, so I kind of jumped in at the deep end – it was ridiculous, playing in front of 40,000 people in the middle of Madrid. It was absolutely mental, me and my bandmate Louis – everyone in my band is gay, that’s not even on purpose, it just kind of happened like that – we were so buzzed that we were in Madrid playing a show for Pride. It was fantastic, so warm and so fun.

“But my guitar broke halfway through the set so I couldn’t play Daughter. Thirty seconds went by where I was playing my guitar, and that’s a long time when you’re on stage, so in the end I just said ‘fuck it I can’t waste any more time’, so I did it acapella. And the crowd was so nice – I was so scared, but they all put their phones in their air and helped me through the song, it was the best first Pride experience ever.”

Bob The Drag Queen

RuPaul’s Drag Race winner, activist and star of We’re Here

Jacob Ritts
Bob The Drag Queen

“I was in high school, and my mom took me to Pride in Atlanta – my mom is queer as well – and it was really interesting, because I wasn’t out, but I was at Pride, and so it was kind of a secret joy. I was looking at all of these people who I thought were basically doing something I could never do, that’s what it felt like. It felt like I was looking into a mirror, but the mirror was foggy. Like I could never get to the other side. But it was also really an inspiration as well.

“And then my first Pride post-coming out, I think it was in Atlanta again, and that was me and my friends from college, we went to the parade and the festivities in general… but that one was messy, I was a college kid, that one was very messy. It was fun, but it was… messy.”

Saara Aalto

X Factor finalist and Eurovision singer

HOLLIE ADAMS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

“I think it was around 2012 or 2013, and it was in Helsinki. At that time Helsinki Pride was still quite little, we had maybe 10,000 people participating and marching, and I was already a well-known singer in Finland, but I wasn’t out yet. So for me, it was a bit nerve-racking and exciting to be marching there, and not be out.

“And it’s so funny, because it has changed so much. In 2012, it was still only almost LGBT people who were marching, and nowadays, everybody is marching. Last year, there were 100,000 people marching in Helsinki, so it has grown so much, in such a small amount of time.” 

Todrick Hall

Musician and internet personality 

Karwai Tang via Getty Images

“I remember going to Pride in Dallas, Texas. I stumbled upon it accidentally, and I remember at first being really scared and fearful for our safety, because I was so afraid that someone was going to get a gun and attack people. But then I started feeling very free. It was the first time I remember feeling like no one was ever going to judge me.

“I was 16 years old, so it was the closest thing I’d ever felt that could be compared to a gay club, and it was such an awesome feeling. And now I love looking out at Pride events when I’m performing as an artist, seeing all the children there in strollers holding Pride flags. It gives me so much hope and sometimes makes me emotional, because it shows me that we’re heading in the right direction. Sometimes in this chaotic and crazy and scary world that we live in, we forget that even though we’re making baby steps, I feel like making a lot of baby steps in the direction that we need to go towards the right side of history. And that makes me feel very confident and be able to breathe a sigh of relief for my future children and future grandchildren.”

Juno Dawson

Author

Eivind-Hansen

“My first Pride would have been Brighton Pride 2004, and I had just moved down. I grew up in West Yorkshire and then went to university in Bangor, North Wales, which at that time didn’t have a Pride. The university barely had an LGBT society – in fact they added the ‘T’ while I was there, and it caused great, great scandal – but when I moved to Brighton it was like ‘oh my gosh, it’s going to be Pride weekend’. And everybody was treating it like Christmas. Like ‘oh my god, are you ready for Pride?’. And I was like, ‘I don’t really get it, what are you talking about?’.

“But from that year on, me and my friends in Brighton have always met at around the same spot in Brighton to watch the parade, sometimes we might do a bit of fancy dress or have a theme. And at that time, things were free, you’d follow the parade down to the park, and it was just the most amazing day out. It’s become a slightly different beast now, but we still go and watch the parade in the same spot every year.”

Laith Ashley

Model and singer

Getty Images

“The first time I went to Pride, I was 18 or 19, and I remember being happy to be out there with my friends, but also afraid, because I came from a very conservative background and what I was taught about the LGBT community was negative, and there are still things that I’m dealing with to this day.

“It was New York City, I remember walking around, there was this huge Pride parade, and I could see everyone free and happy and celebrating, and we walked by a group of religious folks holding up signs saying, you know, ‘homos go to hell’ or whatever the case might be. And it felt like a darkness came over me. And I had to go home. So that’s what happened the first time.

“When this stuff is put into your head at a young age – that who you are is wrong – you question that a lot. And it took me a while to really say ‘you know what, this is who I am, your beliefs are your beliefs and that’s fine, but I’m going to live my life and I need to find happiness for myself’. So I did return the following year, and I had a fantastic time.

“Since then I’ve participated in Prides, I’ve marched in them, been on floats, and had a great time every single time. And since I’ve come out as a trans man, I’ve also had the opportunity to attend Prides in different states, and meet so many different people, and had the chance to perform, it’s been fantastic.

“So, the first time around was not too great... [but] following that, I was just like ‘F that, I’m going to go out and have a good time and be free to be me’.”

Rufus Wainwright

Singer-songwriter 

V. Tony Hauser

“The first real official Pride I went to was in New York, around the early 1990s, and it was pretty dramatic. I was with some friends, and we went down to the piers, which at that time were very decadent, it was kind of the Paris Is Burning period, and it was very exciting.

“And I think at one point, when the fireworks went off on the Hudson river, I pierced my ear with like a safety pin or something, as a kind of emblem of that evening. It was a lot of fun.”

Arlo Parks

Singer-songwriter

Charlie Cummings

“I think I must have been 15 or so, I went with a bunch of my friends, and I remember just being so blown away by the sense of community. I think I just felt very uplifted, I felt part of something, and it was a really beautiful time. And the weather was amazing, as well, and I remember making lots of friends, it was lovely.

“And I remember the outfits, they were amazing, I remember feeling very underdressed, and just everyone being so kind and open to each other and people giving me compliments, getting into conversations in the middle of the street, it was beautiful.”

Tayla Parx

Singer-songwriter

Atlantic Records

“My first time at Pride was in LA, and I had to be around 21. It was nuts, it just felt like one big party, honestly. I ended up going with a few friends of mine, and we linked up with even more friends when we got there, and it was just an incredible vibe, because you’re surrounded by all of these people that are celebrating themselves, or their loved ones, or just strangers that they’re admiring for being so confident in who they are.

“And during Pride last year, I was travelling a lot, so I kept running into it. I was in New York, and then I went from New York to London where it was their Pride, so I was like, ‘OK, I’m here for it, I’m in the right place at the right time’.”

Paul O’Grady

TV personality

Ken McKay/ITV/Shutterstock

“Oh god, I was at what was probably one of the first Prides in London. Zipper was a tiny shop in Camden Town that sold books, it was like Circus Of Books in LA, and we were on the Zipper float. We were all on it, there was me, [fellow drag queen] Regina [Fong] – Regina had just broken her leg, pissed coming out of Ally Pally – and I’d just come back from the Philippines... There’s a photo of us from that day, actually, and I’ve got tiny skin-tight little shorts on, and a mass of curly hair and a t-shirt. Reg is in an Air Force sort of jumpsuit to hide his plaster on his leg, and we’re all hanging pissed onto this float.

“And it wasn’t a big Pride. It wasn’t like what it is now. And there was loads of abuse, as you went through the streets. Loads of abuse. There was no cheering or waving of rainbow flags, it was ‘fuck off you queers’, and the coppers snarling. And we snarled back, you can imagine, can’t you? It was good fun! 

“But drag was never allowed at Pride. Me and Dave Lynne, I think we were the first… we were treated like pariahs, and I remember saying to Dave, ‘I’m going to kick off here, because who the hell has been raising thousands of pounds in pubs for the AIDS hospices and AIDS wards? The drag queens’. We used to do three or four benefits a week. Unpaid. Just to raise money, because those were the days when there was nothing in the hospitals, you know? And yet, we were still [not allowed]. That was a really bad period, I thought.

“So I remember when I first did the Pride, and thinking ‘Jesus, talk about fourth class citizen, here’. The American drag queens would come over and get on the mainstage, because they were sexy, from America. But the English ones, we worked in the tents. It was ages before they let Regina Fong on the mainstage, which I used to go mad over. I used to say ‘she’s so popular in the pubs, you don’t get it, do you?’.

“The last Pride I went to was the Amsterdam one last year. And that was smashing! I remember I was going back to who I was staying with, and I walked past the Amstel Tavern, where we used to work a million years ago. And then, a load of English guys came running out, shouting ‘stay and have a drink’, and I said ‘I’m goin’ home’. Anyway, five o’clock in the morning, I turned up, out of my mind. So that was fabulous.”

Shangela

RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars finalist, actor and star of We’re Here 

Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

“My first time attending Pride, I had just moved to Dallas for college, and coming from my small town to being in a big city, I remember looking around and feeling like I actually belonged. It was so foreign to me, but such a beautiful reality.

“I was 18, and it was my first time seeing so many couples holding hands, kissing, living their lives out, and people around celebrating them. And us as a community. It was beautiful.

“I love attending Pride, but honestly Pride lives in the heart of each of us. It’s about feeling that you are validated and able to express yourself freely, and without shame. So any chance I get, I’ll still be celebrating Pride, whether it’s in the hallways of this house, or the backyard, or the local street.”