Writer Jasmine Khan / Photographer Mx Neffy
The main pride parade down New Street has become saturated with rainbow capitalism in recent years. It’s worth a quick look to spy Birmingham’s burgeoning queer talent, with House of Allure and Mobilise leading the charge. But as soon as I see privatised water systems responsible for mass sewage fumbles donning mushy performative slogans, it’s my cue to sashay home and prepare for the main event.
I know the layout of Pride changed from last year, the Community Stage has moved, and we’re a bit more packed in. But I hope that’ll add to the sense of pride and party.
It’s no surprise Hurst Street is lit by 3 pm.
The music’s loud and varies from early 90’s pop to early 2020’s pop. The food smells great. People look fierce. And, every now and then, a particularly glamorous gay treats the main road like a runway – strutting, voguing, and posing as the rest of us fans obsess from the pavement.
It’s time to see some acts, and I know exactly who I’m going to take in first, Ryan Lanji. Ryan isn’t necessarily Birmingham-born-and-bred, but his dad is a certified Brummie so he still counts in my books. Ryan’s DJing today, but he also heads up Hungama, a queer South Asian collective based in London.
Last year, we were treated to a full set from the entirety of Hungama, a delight for any desi queer of which there (unsurprisingly) many in Brum Town. But this time, we’ve just got Ryan, not that he’s lacking.
Introduced by the ever-well-dressed and charismatic Char Bailey, Ryan’s set starts with heavy bass and then slowly introduces a romantic, melodic Bollywood tune playing over the top. The bass is like lead pulling you down, and the track on top is like a hot air balloon pulling you up, up, and away into the spectacular Saturday sun.
In the VIP section, my hips roll. I’m twirling my hands, spinning in circles, stamping and kicking my feet in time with the bhangra crossed with DnB. It’s truly a moment of realisation – just like last time – for my little Pakistani self to dance to music that speaks to my desi culture and sends love to me at Pride.
My eyes have been closed for a while. It’s a particularly filthy mix and requires my full attention. But when I open them, I’m disappointed by what I see – a selection of white girls melting like ice creams in the sun, sitting down against the barriers at the front of the stage with their backs turned to Ryan.
To me, it’s disrespectful. No one’s making you listen and no one’s surprised that the bhangra didn’t bang for you. But you can leave, don’t stay with your back turned to the artist, sitting on the floor and killing the vibe. You don’t realise how rare a vibe it is…
Then, it dawns on me, VIP definitely doesn’t stand for very important POC. There are no people who aren’t white here. Not unless they’re a performer, me, or my photographer, Neffy. I wouldn’t mind as much if people were attempting to get into the groove, even a measly try at screwing in the light bulb while patting the dog would be appreciated.
It’s early, and I’ll admit members of my community are notoriously late to a party, but having a VIP section at Pride gives me the ick full stop. With weekend tickets costing just under £60 and single-day Pride access costing over £40, an additionally expensive and exclusive VIP section doesn’t spread the feelings of togetherness and belonging I’d hoped to encounter.
Now I’ve thought about money, I seem to see it everywhere. Walking through the main arena, a growing list of corporate sponsors assert their presence amongst the ‘Dicks on Sticks’ stand and intersectional flags, joining Pride’s notoriously queer main sponsor, HSBC. There’s a place to sign up for the Lidl Plus App. Jaguar are flogging a car…
It’s too much, tacky, and not giving me queer at all. But, it is giving charity because last year Pride raised a whopping “excess of 400k for LGBTQ+ projects, plus above £105k in additional subsidies for LGBTQ+ organisations.” So, maybe people think it’s justified?
I persevere to the dance tent to lighten up a bit, catch up with Neffy, and get lost in the beat. Lauren Goulder, DJ and footballer, is cranking some housy DnB, and it’s exactly what I need to groove the grump away.
We pop to the Conrad Guest Cabaret Stage, and I definitely don’t bitch about the weird VIP section, which acts as a three-metre deep distancing zone between the performers and their crowd 99 percent of the time. I’m only around for an act or two, and I don’t manage to catch names, but the Cabaret stage really satisfies the closeted GCSE drama/theatre gay that secretes within.
We can’t be late for RuPaul’s UK Drag Race season four winner, Danny Beard. It’s back to Main Stage, and, unsurprisingly, Danny is the fabulous enby legend we all expect them to be. For their first song, Danny murders Adele in their crow-inspired floor-length gown, and not murder in the way you or I would murder it, murder it as in they absolutely killed in.
Not just a looks queen – but definitely still a looks queen – it’s worth mentioning for those who don’t know Danny – they are singing live, and their voice sails across the summer breeze. Their firm and sassy, but still kind, stage presence reminds me for some reason of Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way.
The crowd gets some ABBA and a duet with Birmingham’s very own Fatts Butcher. Danny takes time to shout out to their “Gays”, “Lesbians”, “Bis and Pans”, and ‘Trans/Non-Binary siblings” individually. The ‘Bis and Pans’ receive a solid boo from the crowd, which is definitely biphobic, but also a bit valid because we can be pretty trash.
Danny, a bit lost for words and slightly stressed, sighs, “Common now.” and “It’s Pride…” shaking their head. I’m laughing, but my friend looks a bit downtrodden at the crowd’s bi-beratement.
Neffy lets me know they’re heading over to directly pinpoint the Carlos Medina Community Stage to get a good spot. I take a nose at the facilities after I’ve finished dancing to Danny Beard’s tremendous set.
The toilets are delightful, plentiful in loo roll, and gender neutral, and the drinks aren’t too expensive either. I know I’ve probably missed House of Allure and Cake Boi, who I can solidly say are worth going to see, but I’m hoping to catch Kenya Knott and Donna Trump, so it’s time for me to hit the Community Stage.
Texting Neffy, they can’t locate it – strange.
Neffy tells me the stage in front of Nightingale Club is being taken down as we speak, which doesn’t make sense because it’s only 8pm, and the Community Stage is being moved. Neffy walks around the corner and then gets redirected to the Future Stage, assured that it’s becoming the Community Stage.
I meet them there, and we wait for a bit. Some DJs are spinning good tunes, but the tent’s pretty empty. We proceed to wander around aimlessly, looking for signs and asking around after our local legends. Maybe things are running late at the Future Stage and soon queens will appear, so we wait for a bit.
It hits 9 pm, then almost 9:30 pm. We’ve all started sitting down and leaning on things, and everyone’s miffed to have walked out of the main arena and rolled around like lemons for the past hour and a half.
We’re a bit DJ-ed out for Jodie Harsh, and the Sugar Babes are a while away now. I jokily remind Neffy that all pictures taken of the iconic British trio must be approved by management first, and we both roll our eyes.
Deciding to conserve energy, we depart and I enjoy ‘Push the Button’ as it blares through my open bedroom window back in Balsall Heath, dreaming about the very best of Birmingham, the one the only Mx. Black Peppa, who I’ll witness live and in the flesh on Main Stage tomorrow.
Saturday @ Birmingham Pride 27.05.23 / Mx Neffy
For more from Birmingham Pride go to: www.birminghampride.com
For more from House of Allure go to: www.instagram.com/_houseofallure_
For more from Mobilise go to: www.fattprojects.org
For more from Ryan Lanji go to: www.ryanlanji.com
For more Lauren Goulder go to: www.instagram.com/laurengoulder0
For more from Danny Beard go to: www.linktr.ee/TheDannyBeard
For more from Fatt Butcher go to: www.linktr.ee/fattbutcher