As the Dykes on Bikes rumbled past, my mum and dad – sporting ‘Proud LGBTQ Parents’ T-shirts – were whooping, clapping and enthusiastically waving their flags.
When I looked over and saw this all unfolding, I felt a unique sense of euphoria.
If you had told me when I was 18 that I would take my parents to a Pride parade as an out and proud lesbian and they would wave their rainbow flags with the best of them, I never would have believed you.
That, however, is exactly what happened on 2 July when myself, my parents, girlfriend and best friend went to Pride in London, an event that marked 50 years since the first pride parade in 1972.
I knew I was gay from a very young age, but because of a lack of representation, I did not have the language or knowledge to understand my feelings.
I was incredibly drawn to Aurora from Sleeping Beauty and – at the time – I just thought she was my very favourite Disney princess. Since my celebrity crushes today are Cara Delevingne, Margot Robbie and Lily James – well – you can draw your own conclusions.
Growing up without an understanding of who I was fundamentally led to a sense of self-hatred, loathing and shame. Of course, this is not a unique experience to myself and these feelings are shared by young LGBTQ+ people around the world.
I felt so alone watching my friends fawning over the most mediocre boys while I pretended to join in, claiming to love stubbly cheeks and rippling abs. All the while, my secret thumped in the depths of my chest like an uneasy heartbeat; gay, gay, gay.
At night, I would aimlessly scroll on Tumblr – reading about the battles for LGBTQ+ rights around the world, lesbian representation in the media and coming out stories. Hidden behind an anonymous username, I was finally part of the community.
I keenly remember circling the LGBT Society picnic table at a distance during Freshers’ week. Filled with the fear of walking up to a group of queer people and admitting – more to myself than anything – that I was one of them; visible and out of the closet for the first time in my life.
But as an only child, I felt an unspoken pressure from society to fulfil heteronormativity: to find a nice boy, get married and settle down. I was terrified – completely unnecessarily – of letting my parents down and spoiling the future they, perhaps unconsciously, imagined for me.
My heterosexual, together-since-they-were-18, salt of the earth parents were never homophobic, but queerness was a hidden, unknown thing to my child self. An unexplained otherness that felt separate, secret and concealed.
For me, like many, coming out to my parents was a traumatic experience.
It was a snotty, crying mess of a conversation on a hot summer’s day between my first and second year of university, laced with anxieties of disappointment and words trapped in my throat.
When I said I was gay, my dad – however – completely cut through the tension by half-joking: ‘Thank God! I thought you were going to tell me you were dropping out of uni!’
Although I had never said it in so many words, my mum always seemed to know – a mother’s instinct.
As we all hugged it out, I felt a sense of relief like no other. This closely held secret that weighed me down like a sinking ship was finally released. For the first time, I felt like I was above the surface.
The following summer – almost a year to the date of coming out – I went to my first Pride event and it was euphoric.
To be so open, not simply unashamed, but truly proud was an indescribable feeling.
It is a feeling that never, ever gets old despite attending countless Prides across the years in big cities, small towns and, more recently, a teeny tiny village brewery.
My decision to take my parents to Pride in London this year – and immerse them in the very queer world I was now part of – was actually down to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The cancellation of practically every Pride in the country following the outbreak of coronavirus physically, emotionally and spiritually severed queer people from each other, as well as the community we have.
This isolation only made my conviction about the importance of Pride stronger. Absence, as they say, makes the heart grow fonder.
For the first time, I wanted to introduce my parents to this world.
The morning of Pride in London 2022, we met my parents at Euston station, turning the heads of unaware commuters as we were all donned in our rainbow gear.
A quick, but slightly pricey pub breakfast later, we headed to Marble Arch and emerged from the Tube station to a scene of London transformed; rainbows, balloons, drag queens and flags representing every identity of the queer community.
We positioned ourselves relatively close to the beginning of the parade route so we were some of the first people to see the participants come around the corner from the start line.
My mum – who even donned a Progress Pride Flag headband – fully got into the spirit of things and it was touching to see her so elated to be handed badges, sweets and leaflets by the parade participants.
‘I really liked seeing the people who were at the original Pride event,’ my mum, Shelley, told me afterwards. ‘It made me quite emotional and tearful recognising what challenges they have overcome.’
On a less serious note, she particularly loved seeing all the dogs who were dressed up for the parade, including one who was driving a mini toy car along the route – only at Pride!
My dad, Neil, loved seeing how happy everybody was. He told me afterwards: ‘I felt proud of all the young people putting so much energy into something that was looked down on a few years ago.’
After the parade, we all headed to St James’s Park for a picnic, game of football and bat and ball.
In the past, I have ended up at bars and clubs in Soho until some unrespectable hour following the parade. This Pride, however, was much more family-focused and also gave me an insight to the other side of the festivities, namely how people with children celebrate the day.
Seeing those around the park with youngsters was heartwarming because, although every family was different, we were all connected by the unity and community of Pride.
A lack of Pride during the pandemic highlighted to me what a fundamentally important part it plays in my own life. It is not just something I go to, do or experience, it is – at its very core – how I move through the world.
To be proud is a conscious decision I make every single day in the face of a society which is, in many ways, still not ready for us.
Taking my parents to Pride for the first time – proud and filled with joy as I watched them throwing themselves fully into the festivities – was not so much the final step in a long journey but an extra piece in a never ending kaleidoscopic jigsaw puzzle.
If you had told my 18-year-old self that I would take my parents to Pride, I would have thought you were joking. I was filled with an internalised shame, which our heteronormative society is complicit in imposing on young LGBTQ+ people.
This is something I continue to unlearn and fight back against. For that one day at Pride in London with my parents though, I felt invincible.
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Metro.co.uk celebrates 50 years of Pride
This year marks 50 years of Pride, so it seems only fitting that Metro.co.uk goes above and beyond in our ongoing LGBTQ+ support, through a wealth of content that not only celebrates all things Pride, but also share stories, take time to reflect and raises awareness for the community this Pride Month.
And we’ve got some great names on board to help us, too. From a list of famous guest editors taking over the site for a week that includes Rob Rinder, Nicola Adams, Peter Tatchell,Kimberly Hart-Simpson,John Whaite, Anna Richardson and Dr Ranj, as well as the likes of Sir Ian McKellen and Drag Race stars The Vivienne,Lawrence Chaney and Tia Kofioffering their insights.
During Pride Month, which runs from 1 - 30 June, Metro.co.uk will also be supporting Kyiv Pride, a Ukrainian charity forced to work harder than ever to protect the rights of the LGBTQ+ community during times of conflict, and youth homelessness charity AKT. To find out more about their work, and what you can do to support them, click here.
For Metro.co.uk's latest Pride coverage, click here.