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'It was the most wonderful and euphoric experience': How was your first Pride parade?

We asked some well-known members of the LGBT community to tell us about their first experience.

THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE will gather in cities across the country today to celebrate the annual Pride Parade today.

Just weeks after the historical result in the Marriage Equality referendum, there are sure to be spectacular scenes in Dublin, Cork, Galway and beyond.

Ahead of the day’s events, we asked a number of people to recall their first time at the festival.

Laura Harmon, president of the Union of Students in Ireland (USI)

90380543 Source: Photocall Ireland

“It was in Cork. I was 21, I think, and in the process of coming out. It was great to see so many people walking through the streets, being loud and proud of who they are. It was very empowering to be able to do that with a big group – I went with the LGBT society in UCC.

“The highlight, for me, was just being able to say, “This is who I am. I’m part of this community. I’m proud of this community.” I wasn’t out a year before. I’d hidden my sexuality and a big part of my identity, so it was invigorating to be able to finally express myself like that. But it was a bit scary as well, because I wouldn’t have been out to everyone at that stage.”

Brian Finnegan, editor of Gay Community News (GCN)

brian finnegan Source: brianfinnegan.ie

“My first Dublin Pride was in 1993. I was 26 and had just moved back from London to a dark and grey Ireland.

The parade took place just after homosexuality had been decriminalised, and it was the most wonderful and euphoric experience.

“I’d lived through the 1980s, knowing how terrible it was to be gay in Ireland, only to find myself in the middle of that parade with my Irish boyfriend.

“It was one of the biggest of that time – there were maybe 4,000 or 5,000 people there – and there was a real sense of freedom in the air, a sense of liberation. I remember the lead-up to the parade was highly politicised. It was really the beginning of a very organised and concerted lobbying group for gay rights.

“The best moment was seeing the Diceman [Thom McGinty, a street performer on Grafton Street], who was an iconic figure at the time. He did a symbolic performance on the steps of the Central Bank, dressed as a prisoner, where he removed himself from a ball and chain. It greeted with great joy and laughter, and pride, I suppose.”

Dil Wickremasinghe, journalist and broadcaster

1078892_10151552551711977_103476575_o Source: Dil Wickremasinghe/Facebook

“It was about 24 hours after I arrived in Ireland [in 2000], which was a pure coincidence. Before then – in Sri Lanka, Bahrain and Italy [where Wickremasinghe used to live] – there were no such things, so it was quite an introduction to Ireland.

I came from a world where being gay meant skulking in the shadows and suddenly there we were walking down a main street in broad daylight. It felt like a transition where I could move on from the past and embrace my present, my new life in Ireland.

“It was a very small parade. There were less than 1,000 people there and we were certainly more vulnerable then than we are now – there were lots of people hurling abuse at us.

It was liberating, but also quite frightening at the same time.

“The highlight, hands down, was Izzy Kamikaze. At that time, I knew a lot of gay men were very vocal and visible in the movement. But up until that Pride, I’d never come across a lesbian at the forefront of the movement.”

David Norris, independent senator

90088379 - Copy Source: Photocall Ireland

“The first [gay rights] march I was on was in 1974. About seven or eight of us marched to the Department of Justice and the British Embassy. The first Pride [in 1983] was very small but what gave it a real boost was the tragic murder of Declan Flynn [who was killed in a homophobic attack in Fairview Park a few months before].

That’s really what prompted women with children in buggies and grandmothers and husbands and sons to come out – and it was very moving.

“Later on, I wasn’t involved in organising Pride parades but I went on a number of them. On one occasion, when I was grand marshal, I was in a Morris Minor with a rainbow umbrella, and it had stopped on O’Connell Bridge when a man who was with a woman wearing slacks leaned in and said to me, “Why are’t you wearing a skirt?” I said, “That’s a question you can more properly address to your wife!”

Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International

00148565 Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

“My first Pride was in London in the late 1980s. I came out in 1984, a year after Declan Flynn was murdered, and I left Ireland two years later. I was living in Earls Court at the time and I would’ve gone with a big gang of Irish people. I was only about 19 and I was really taken aback by its carnival atmosphere.

“The gay community in Ireland at the time was very small and Pride in Dublin back then was very much a political statement. But Pride in London was a bold and colourful celebration of the LGBTI community. It was a statement of pride as well as a demand for respect.”

John Lyons, Labour TD for Dublin North-West 

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“It was only about four years ago, in 2011, the year I was elected a TD. I wondered, “Why the hell didn’t I do this years ago?”

It’s a very public display of who you are when you’re part of a parade – you’re really putting yourself out there. It felt great.

“I was with colleagues from the Labour Party in a big red bus and it was great to have so many allies there. I remember seeing lots of mates cheering outside a bar on Dame Street and that prompted Aodhán Ó Ríordáin to pull my t-shirt off, exposing half my body to the street. I won’t forget that one.”

Darren Kennedy, TV presenter

Source: Dominic Lipinski/PA Archive

“I was about 23. It’d never really been on my radar up until that point. Even though I was out, most of my friends were straight – so it wasn’t really something that featured on our calendar. But my first Pride was brilliant. We ended up taking it in on Dame Street.

“At that time, it ended up at the back of the Civic Offices. It pissed down with rain for the afternoon, but the energy and atmosphere were so good that it didn’t really matter. I remember seeing a lot of families and kids, which I thought was nice.”

What are your first memories of Pride? Let us know in the comments below.

Read: The journey to Pride – Ireland’s dark past and brightening future >

Watch: Panti talks homophobia in Amnesty video >

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About the author:

Catherine Healy

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