Writer Yasmyn Nettle / Photography Jessica Whitty
My whirlwind journey starts with a relatively pleasant community event on Friday. Free to attend – I leisurely mill around, gather with friends, hold hands, sing, and find space to dance.
Crip Ladywood co-hosts the main stage. Drag King Crip is becoming a firm staple, known for hosting a supportive space for upcoming drag talent at the Loft. Fatt Butcher also runs local community events, most notably Mobilise, at the Exchange. Both are warm and welcoming co-hosts today. We light candles, holding a vigil for our passed trans siblings.
I go away with a sense of eerie foreboding about Sunday.
My worry prickles as I look through Pride’s website. No timed line-up, light font on a light background, and key information is hidden in chunks of text. I follow instructions to ‘check their socials.’ Their link to Instagram produces a 0 post, no-profile, no-photo account with the bio ‘Spring.’
What is going on?!
I start my Sunday at the Back to Backs. I’m here for Queer Reading Festival The Brum Buzzcut, run by Back to Books. Zine making, poetry readings, queer books abound – it is an oasis of creative calm. Entry into the heritage site is included which is just lovely.
I head through to the ‘Street Party’ element of Pride, taking place in and outside venues of the Gay Village.
The schedule, for some confounding reason, is split into two slots of three hours, and two slots of two hours. Some slots have one act, and some have up to four. Any monkey can guess as well as me when acts are expected, and I’m supposed to be a clever monkey!
I hate waiting, but more than that, I hate not knowing how long I’ll have to wait.
The first main stage act is two hours late. Pride sponsors get an extra two hours of ad time I suppose. They could display a clarifying message, a revised line-up (which the stagehands have) or an apology. Instead, we are forced to see the same ads. An emaciated woman, companies wishing us a great Pride, cheap insurance. Not great.
Sweet Female Attitude brightens me, I get up and dance to a nostalgic old-school garage set. They are fun and energetic, singing over ‘Put Your Back in It’ by DJ Flex. The reprise ‘Put your back in it! Just a little more!’ could be heeded by Pride organisers.
I wander over to the Cabaret stage, which would be better as a more intimate affair (the tent, at best, is never more than a quarter full.) I have no idea who might be performing, with no clarity of timetable. The stage manager Marty Smith is great, joking and singing with the audience between sets. I sneak backstage to watch their skillful organising of the drag talent. Fabulous!
Donna Trump, it turns out, is on stage as I arrive – this Kingstanding local has an amazing singing voice. She treats us to a singalong of ‘Sex on Fire’ by Kings of Leon which the crowd belts.
The dance tent has the best vibe – when I want to boogie I slip into the crowd, trusting whichever DJ happens to be on the decks and it opens its VIP section, meaning all revellers can have bass in their faces for the rest of the day.
Back to the main stage to see Black Peppa. They are due to be on at some point between 5 pm and 7 pm, and the first listed of three acts. Five comes and goes before six ticks by. Still no Peppa.
Liberty X is on the main stage an hour early instead. A beautiful trio for the girls, guys, gays and theys. Crowd pleaser ‘Little Bit’ is the first song, and we are reminded that in the year of our lord 2023 we celebrate 22 years of Liberty X. The sun comes out for their performance and shines on their metallic capes.
I am not sure how I feel about Caity Baser, who is not who I’m here to see. The more time I spend watching acts I do not like, the less time I spend reviewing Birmingham-based talent.
I am crabby.
The people standing behind me know all of Baser’s songs. Lyrics such as “waiting all day for the night” are just one example of crummy lyrical prowess. The production, featuring big names like Digital Farm Animals, feels generic and forced.
I plan next to see Yshee Black on the Carlos Medina Community Stage. But the stage is nowhere to be found (again). Even security at the main venues has no idea where it is, sending our poor scout (the editor, Jaz) on a wild goose chase through the Gay Village.
The acts on the community stage seem to have disappeared into thin air. And what a shame.
Black Peppa finally makes an appearance, their two backup dancers look exhausted. Did the rehearsals go on too close to call time? Or was there some sort of backstage hanky panky I was not privy to?
Peppa starts off commanding the stage with a Beyonce medley lip-sync. I am disappointed by the distinctly mild energy from the crowd.
Black Peppa introduces us to James Indigo, in matching black and yellow with Peppa’s third outfit change, which I must say is very cute. Peppa and their crew leave the stage without a peep to the audience after their short 15-minute slot.
If I feel chaos and confusion as a punter, I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for the performers today. An act not even on the line-up, GUSTAH, was on for what felt like 40 minutes and our QUEEN Black Peppa humbles the stage for a mere 15 minutes.
I have to take a break – I am disoriented, disheartened, and displeased.
I make my way back through the concrete border to the main stage for Gabrielle. She serves us a very stylish striped rainbow dress and performs looking fabulous and sounding great with that unmistakable voice. The backing instrumentalists and singers are responsive, you can feel they make a good team.
Gabrielle’s voice is crystal clear and she gives a sleek and polished show. Performing Sunshine, Dreams – all of the gooduns.
By the end of the night, my autistic self has to sit with headphones in an empty meet-and-greet tent. It seems that physical disabilities are catered for at pride – but not neurodiverse disabledness, people who may need somewhere away from loud noise, bright light, and crowds.
Not even an ear plug was on offer, let alone a chill-out space.
Overall, Birmingham Pride sponsored by HSBC does not feel made for me, or the everyday Queer community. This pride feels more like a convenient money-making scheme and does the bare minimum to accommodate us.
In the UK we accept that borders are inevitable – we show ID to vote, pass through train station gates, have bags checked at clubs, or have a passport stamped to enter a country. There are borders everywhere. The shutting off of the streets for Birmingham Pride, and the paid entry to the concrete Smithfield site is an erection (ha) of more artificial borders in the name of Gay Pride.
As a queer person, I do not have any pride in borders. Houseless people swept off the streets, police everywhere, and gouged prices are not my Pride.
I’m left feeling angry and overwhelmed. This was supposed to be a protest, not a place for a captive audience to be stuck in advertising hell. We deserve better.
Friday & Sunday @ Birmingham Pride 26 & 28.05.23 / Jess Whitty
For more from Birmingham Pride go to www.birminghampride.com
For more from the Back to Backs go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/visit/birmingham-west-midlands/birmingham-back-to-backs
For more from Back to Books go to www.inktr.ee/Backtobooks
For more from Miss Marty go to www.instagram.com/missmarty1973
For more from Sweet Female Attitude go to www.open.spotify.com/artist
For more from Donna Trump go to www.linktr.ee/DonnaTrumpUK
For more From Caity Baser go to www.open.spotify.com/artist
For more from Black Peppa go to: www.instagram.com/iamblackpeppa
For more from Gabrielle go to: www.gabrielle.co.uk