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A Magazine for Sheffield

Kelham Pride Can Kelham Island give Sheffield back its Pride?

Sheffield is the only major city without its own Pride event. Can a new one-day festival put us back on the map of queer Britain?

Kelham Pride 2024
Kelham Pride.

Despite its radical credentials, Sheffield has found itself in 2024 as, somehow, the largest city in the UK without a Pride event. The last one – the biggest the city has ever hosted – drew 16,000 people to Endcliffe Park in 2018 before the whole thing collapsed in acrimony as a result of the organisers’ historically ignorant decision to ban political activists and declare the event “a celebration, not a protest.”

“It's not that there's no scene in Sheffield, and there's definitely a desire to have some big rainbow events across the city, but a formal Pride is somehow something we keep missing out on,” my Now Then colleague Philippa Willitts, who moved to the city in the mid-nineties, told me.

“Of course, it takes people to organise it, so it's no good us all just wishing it existed and not doing anything about it. But while there are alternative events like Pinknic and Radical Pride, it can be a bit embarrassing to look over the Pennines at Manchester's efforts and compare them with our own lack of a major event.”

Now in its eleventh year, the yearly Pinknic event in the Peace Gardens is wonderful, and full of joy, empathy and community spirit. But the Peace Gardens can only hold a few hundred. Surely Pinknic should be complemented with a much bigger event in a city of half a million people.

Ebun oluwole QOCYH Irxiz Q unsplash

Kelham Island has been named by The Sunday Times as "one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the UK".

Ebun Oluwole on Unsplash.

Kelham Pride is a new event that hopes to square that circle. Taking place for the first time on Saturday 1 June, the event is an entirely free one-day festival that takes in a parade, multiple stages, ten partner venues and numerous fringe events – all within the confines of Kelham Island and Neepsend.

The event is being organised by the Kelham Island and Neepsend Community Alliance (KINCA), and has been sponsored with some start-up funding by local councillors.

“An event like this is so important for championing inclusivity, and giving visibility to all corners of the community including those that might often not get a light shined on them,” said KINCA chair Ben McGarry. “We can’t think of a better way to do that than to throw a huge party where not only is everyone invited, but we welcome them with open arms.”

The parade will start at Kelham Island Museum and cross Ball Street Bridge before arriving at the main stage, which will be at the Burton Road home of Peddler Market. Organisers of Kelham Pride are currently seeking sponsors for the festival, as well as anyone interested in performing at it.

The flash graphics, slick website and the fact that the team already have the buy-in of so many local venues and businesses suggests a degree of professionalism that Sheffield Pride never quite reached in its decade-long existence.

But unlike those earlier events in Endcliffe Park, Kelham Pride comes at a time of rising hostility towards LGBTQ+ people in the UK, whipped up by culture warriors in the Conservative Party and by a billionaire press intent on creating distractions from the gross levels of inequality and extreme wealth in this country.

Just a few days ago, four teenagers were charged after yet another violent attack on a young trans person (the victim fortunately survived), and official government figures show that the number of hate crimes committed against LGBTQ+ people in the UK rose by 11% between 2022 and 2023.

At the same time, elements of the far-right are trying to create a false narrative which suggests that the majority of lesbian and gay people don’t support trans rights, and feel that the movement for trans liberation is threatening to reverse hard-won gains in lesbian and gay equality.

Given this hostile environment, and the well-documented misjudgements that led to the original Sheffield Pride falling apart in 2018, where does Kelham Pride stand on political activism, and the idea of pride being a protest as well as a party?

A spokesperson for Kelham Pride told Now Then that the march will be “both an inclusive celebration and a solidarity event,” adding that they recognise that gains in the struggle for LGBTQ+ equality are “new, incomplete, and often under threat.”

“Pride is about joy and exuberance, but it is not self-satisfied,” they said. “We know too well that internationally, many countries criminalise the LGBTQ+ family, many impose prison or the death penalty based on sexual orientation. Within Sheffield and across the UK, members of the LGBTQ+ family still encounter intimidation, ridicule and violence despite anti-discrimination legislation”.

“Kelham Pride, whilst primarily about celebrating our diversity and fabulousness, also acknowledges the need to strive for more change. Messaging during Kelham Pride can reflect this, but hateful, vengeful or discriminatory messaging goes against the heart of what the LGBTQ+ family is all about and is unwelcome.”

For Willitts, who has watched the city’s queer scene wax and wane over the past three decades, the future of LGBTQ+ events in the city may involve “a range of smaller celebrations and protests that are more niche and suited to particular sections of the queer community”.

“With that in mind, Kelham Pride sounds promising and may become more of a focal point than it expects for the city's LGBTQI+ community this year.”

With Yellow Arch, Factory Floor and Neepsend Social among the nine partner venues, organisers will hope the buzz around Kelham Island will rub off on them. In an area already feted by broadsheet newspapers and restaurant critics alike, is the neighbourhood once again set to give Sheffield back its pride?

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