Leeds - On Sunday 5th August the city centre was taken over by 40,000 people. It was the annual Pride event, the biggest celebration of the LGBT community. A city often affiliated with the white rose, Leeds was transformed into a vibrant place filled with pink, yellow, orange, green and blue. This was a celebration of strength, a celebration of freedom, and of course, a celebration of love. I was there to shoot street photography, and in the process was able to learn a valuable lesson.
The hurdles of love
As a white heterosexual male with a liberal upbringing, it is unlikely that I will have to face any relationship challenges other than those most commonly connected with our experience of love. Heartbreak, betrayal, loneliness, grief, are all likely to be battled by a person throughout their life. However, unlike those represented at Pride, I will never have to defend my love, my attractions, or my identity.
But for many in the LGBT community, the first challenge they face is not external, but rather internal. I spoke with one of the attendees at yesterday’s pride about their journey as a homosexual man (we will refer to him as Steve).
“I remember getting these urges, these desires. I would look around me and think ‘the way I feel does not line up with what I see around me’. It was husband and wife, mum and dad, boyfriend and girlfriend. I hated myself. What was wrong with me?”.
Rather than embracing who he was, Steve tried to suppress it.
“I refused to accept who I was, so I ran away from it. I would date women. I got married and was about to start a family. I did almost everything I could in order to be the opposite of who I truly was”.
Steve's experience is not unique. It has been a common theme for many gay people throughout their life. However, listening to him as he shared his journey, made me think about how we think and feel about ourselves.
No matter our sexual orientation, or gender, or ethnicity, before we can truly love and accept love, we must first be able to love ourselves. All of us must face that challenge.
And whilst on the surface it may sound easy, for many it is not. For many people, when they look in the mirror, they do not like the person they see. As a result they seek validation from others, and can become dependent on those around them to be able to make them feel good about who they are.
But what happens when the validation isn’t there? What happens when you feel like you're alone, where does the love come from?
“As time went on, I found myself becoming even more unhappy. I realised rather than suppress who I was, I needed to express who I was. I went to therapy, I did a lot of work on myself, on my own anxieties and pain”.
Our first point of validation of who we are should always come from ourselves. Steve is now in a same sex relationship and couldn’t be happier.
“I am a bit older than many here today. I came out nearly 20 years ago, and it was the best decision I ever made. A dark cloud, that only I carried over me, has been lifted. It has burst open, and excuse the pun - it’s raining men”.
Yesterday’s event was a reminder of the men and women that have fought, hurt and even died for people's right to be who they are. It was a chance to show off how far we have come and also to accept the work that still needs doing.
The usual soundbites rightly flew around. “Love is love” being the most common.
However, yesterday I had the chance to stand back and take a look at what I truly saw around me. That was 40,000 people marching with pride and having the opportunity to say - “This is me, and I truly and deeply love and accept myself”.
I think we can all learn something from that.
Thanks for reading
If you enjoyed the content of this post, please sign up below so you can stay on top of all things new!