Writer Jasmine Khan / Photographer Maddie Cottom-Allan
I’m wearing all black to this year’s Birmingham Pride which marks “25 years of pride & protest” across our fair city. As fishy queens, fat queens, disabled queens, melanated queens, and ENBY queens from MOBILISE lead the charge, lathered in carnival technicolour like birds of paradise, I feel a bit like a sad crow.
However, then comes the Poundland float – amongst a number of other irrelevant corporations – and my outfit is suddenly fitting. Companies that don’t mention queerness outside of Pride month do seem to saturate our street parade, one of the few free events still available to queer Brummies across the weekend.
To paraphrase LIL BAB, why are we giving these organisations the space to be performative allies? Maybe that’s why most of my friends don’t come to Pride anymore.
The parade still moves me to tears (although that could be the post pre-Pride hangxiety) and it is important to mention that not every float is a thrusting rainbow capitalist dildo on wheels. There are kids sitting on their parent’s shoulders wrapped up in Pride flags, leather daddies, dog masks, queer joy, and some serious top energy about the place.
Unsurprising, considering Brum is fresh off the back of a double UK Drag Race win on last Thursday’s Season 4 premiere, courtesy of the iconic Black Peppa.
Photographer Maddie and I hit up the Community Stage first because that’s what we’re about at BR (spoiler alert, Maddie will have a serious allergic reaction on Sunday morning and won’t be able to shoot on day two). Alas, for now the Community Stage and Maddie are prepped and popping off with the provocative nature of everyone’s outfits in fierce competition.
I’m just in time for dancers/performers Rajan Das, Emily, and Joey Taylor. It might be drizzling outside, but it just got steamy in here. With a combination of hip hop, ballet, and ballroom choreography (you know which one) these immaculately dressed queers evoke “ooos” and “ahhs” galore, as well as plenty of supportive screams from yours truly.
Rajan says: “It’s such a crazy and wild time. It is pretty manic, but I love performing and dancing so it’s quite the dream to be performing during a festival that truly means a lot to me.”
Next up, it’s Blü Romantic who I will continue to claim is Joe Lycett dressed-up as Freddie Mercury, crossed with a Smurf. They are pretty sassy about their reception as they take the stage, repeatedly demanding more and more applause. Then, sass melts into song.
Blü Romantic might be a tad show girl, but they’re not too shabby.
Head over to Smithfield Live, and one of the sponsors GAYDIO (brilliant name) is heavily present in the dance tent. This space is fuller than I’d expect for the middle of the day and there’s plenty of bump and grind to go around, thanks to Gay Garage and Mix-Stresss.
No one’s tried to dance with me yet, so it might be time to lose the abya and show off my new harness and sports bra combo.
As I leave tent number one and take a wander through the arena space, I can’t keep my eyes still. It’s Willy Wonker’s chocolate factory but with more dicks. Every kind of sweet is available along with tacos, pizza, fans, flags, and obviously plenty of bars.
Once I’ve made my way through the various stalls and bars, I get to the heart of Pride – the main stage. The main stage isn’t as busy as the dance tent, but for me it’s truly astounding to hear the sound of queer Bollywood as the bouncers – who are delightful all day – let Maddie and I into the VIP section, which spans the entire width of the stage and goes back about 10 meters.
I’m not sure the platinum gays needed this much space, and the set ups really stunting the community vibes, as well as spreading the crowd thin.
Every Asian person in the audience is taking the opportunity to strut their stuff a little, and a murder of drag queens stand off to the right drooling at the Bollywood drama on stage.
Led by BBC Three host Ryan Lanji, whose relentless energy and emotion fills the currently sparse VIP area, Bolly-Illusion, Miss Tikka, and several other incredible artists whose names I cannot find for the life of me, steal my soul for a minute.
As I twist my heels and wrists, twirling around in the unbuttoned abya my cousin gave me for Eid, I think about how blessed I am to have come out to my dad this year. Then how much trouble I’d be in if he saw what I was wearing (or indeed not wearing) under my abya.
There are still so many South Asian and POC communities that don’t feel like they fit in at Pride. Ensuring collectives like HUNGAMA take centre stage is key and makes a real difference.
Miss Lola Lasagna is singing ABBA flapping a fan that says ‘FUCK THE TORIES’, which shouldn’t be hard with the Conservative conference round the corner… but it’s not for me.
Miss Lola Lasagna is a bit of me. Even though she’s a smidge fromage, she’s everything you’d want from classic, comedic, interactive drag.
Back to the dance tent and it is old skool garage banger after old skool garage banger with DJ Luck & MC Neat. There’s a migraine skank challenge which results in four people getting up on stage, although I’m pretty sure only three were invited.
MC Neat refuses to call a winner, though we all know who it is. Then there are kids and what I think are peacock inspired balloons on the stage.
It’s getting a bit ridiculous, but I don’t think I’ll be leaving this tent for some time – there’s too much arse shaking and finger guns.
It’s only 7pm and I’ve still got plenty of glitter in the heels of my DMs, looking around and taking in the entirety of the spread, I’m slightly more understanding about why you might need to take out a mortgage to get into the main weekend Pride events (not that I did).
It’s not just Pride, it’s Pride the Festival and a testament to how far we’ve come. While there isn’t much protest, we’re partying in peace, and perhaps that’s a protest in itself.
Back to the Cabaret Stage and I’m thrilled to be welcomed yet again by locals Rajan and Emily, this time supporting the tantalising Miss Kenya Knott. The raw energy coming for this trio is immense as they cover classic Beyoncé tracks like ‘Summer Renaissance’.
Even with Beyoncé’s spiritual presence in the tent, it’s still a tie over who’s the biggest and baddest queen up on stage. Miss Knott, Emily, and Rajan all throw it back, bend it over, snap it, and dust it off as the crowd eats up every crumb. Hunny! We. Are. Obsessed.
At 10:30pm (9 ½ hours since I arrived) our long awaited headliner Becky Hill comes to the main stage.
Taking a power stance right at the front of the stage, her affirmative voice rings out through the crowd accompanied by bass, confetti, and the odd firework. In a full sequin suit she’s definitely dressed for her audience and as Maddie turns to me smiling, neither of us have got a clue about the journalistic challenges we’ll face on day two.
Still, what a stunning first day at Pride it has been.
Birmingham Pride 2002 – Saturday 24 September / Maddie Cottam-Allan
For more from Birmingham Pride go to: www.birminghampride.com
For more from Fatt Projects and MOBALISE go to: www.fattprojects.org
For more from Rajan Das go to: www.uk.linkedin.com/in/rajan-das
For more from Emily go to: www.instagram.com/emlayting
For more from Joey Taylor go to: www.instagram.com/joeyalantaylor
For more from Blü Romantic go to: www.instagram.com/bluromantic
For more from Gay Garage go to: www.outsavvy.com/gay-garage
For more from Mix-Stresss go to: www.soundcloud.com/rebz-1
For more from Sober Pride go to: www.solcafebrum/sober-pride-is-coming/
For more from HUNGAMA go to: www.outsavvy.com/organiser/hungama
For more from Ryan Lanji go to: www.ryanlanji.com
For more from Miss Tikka go to: www.instagram.com/saya_tikka
For more from Bolly-Illusion go to: www.outsavvy.com/organiser/bolly-illusion
For more from Lola Lasagne go to: www.twitter.com/misslolalasagne
For more from DJ Luck & MC Neat go to: www.djluckandmcneat.com
For more from Miss Kenya Knott go to: www.instagram.com/misskenyaknott
For more from Becky Hill go to: www.beckyhill.com