Sunday sit-down with… Ste Dunn, Northern Pride
With the local charity set to assume UK Pride status this summer, the eyes of the world’s LGBTQ+ community are on the North East. We caught up with Ste to find out what Northern Pride have got up their sleeves for the biggest Pride celebration in the region’s history…
This summer, the eyes of the world will be on the North East.
Why? Because the region’s biggest LGBTQ+ charity, Northern Pride, will represent the UK on an international level after being chosen as 2022’s UK Pride.
Not that it hasn’t been a long time coming. After first winning the status back in 2019 – following a successful bid that centred around how life in Newcastle has created a safe, welcoming space for our LGBTQ+ community – Northern Pride have had to wait two years (due to covid) to finally see their long-awaited plans for a UK Pride festival to come to fruition. But it’s finally almost time…
Set to be unveiled from Friday 22nd July to Sunday 24th July on Northern Pride’s annual festival stomping grounds – Newcastle’s Town Moor – this year’s UK Pride festival has a packed programme of performances, events, activities and workshops centred around the theme: Remember. Resist. Rise Up.
And even with the delays, the timing couldn’t be more perfect. 2022 marks 50 years since the first ever Pride march in the country, held in London in 1972. Back then, around 2,000 people marched for ‘gay rights’ on the back of the two-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. At Northern Pride’s last in-person festival in 2019, 40,000 people gathered to celebrate the community. And this year should be even bigger.
Bigger. Better. But still free for everybody. Yes, despite being representative of the UK’s Pride celebrations to the rest of the world, Northern Pride are holding onto their impressive crown of being the largest free festival weekend in the UK. Which is pretty bloody fantastic.
That’s why we couldn’t wait to catch up with Ste Dunn, Director of Northern Pride, to find out just how important having UK Pride status is to the local LGBTQ+ community, how the charity makes its mark on the region all year round, and what we can expect from this summer’s epic celebrations…
What’s Northern Pride all about?
Northern Pride is the North East’s largest LGBTQ+ charity. We’re primarily an events-based charity and we use events to close down the gaps of social isolation, to tackle health and wellbeing concerns within the community, to celebrate our identity and to raise the profile of the issues, concerns and risks that the community are still facing at home and abroad.
The charity has recently rebranded – what was the thinking behind that?
To really look at what our vision and goals are. We created three key principles, which are what we live and breathe by: Protect, Promote and Provide.
- Protect is about the LGBTQ+ rights that we’ve won, the rights that we’re still fighting for, and championing these rights at home and abroad. In some countries, it’s still illegal to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community and is even punishable by death. Closer to home, we’re still fighting for equal rights for our trans, non-binary and gender diverse members, too.
- Promote is about being healthy in body and mind. To be a member of our community, you’re at greater risk of having mental health problems, committing suicide and self-harm. Under the ‘Promote’ banner, we look at opportunities where we can combat those issues. For example, the Health & Wellbeing zone at the Pride festivals always makes sure that we don’t just look at sexual health within the community, but on mental health, too.
- Provide is about providing the LGBTQ+ community with events and safe spaces. Whether that’s providing access to important services or running campaigns which focus on a particularly relevant topic, we make sure they align with those three core values and that they’re always providing access to information, support, services or spaces that will benefit the local LGBTQ+ community.
Some people may assume you only organise the annual Pride Festival…
Not many people know about the campaigns we run. Right now, for example, we’re running a Pride In Schools campaign, where we go into secondary schools and run some informal workshops with students and adults, so we involve governors, parents and teachers, too. That programme is to try and support the inclusion of LGBTQ+ families and young people into the school curriculum. Talking about LGBTQ+ family units to promote a greater understanding and awareness about what a same-sex couple may have to go through in terms of raising a child, for example. Or discussing how to remove some gender norms from the classroom.
Everybody knows us for the festival in July, but we’re busy all year round!
This year, Northern Pride’s festival will finally assume its UK Pride status, after a two-year delay because of the pandemic. How did you win that national status?
Local Pride festivals have to bid for UK Pride status. We submitted our bid in 2018 for the 2020 festival. All 200 local Prides get an opportunity to vote on who they believe warrants the title of UK Pride, and we won. We’ll be the fourth title holder since it started, following on from Hull, the Isle of Wight and Pride of Newry.
We won that status on the back of our bid, which was centred around the city of Newcastle: what our city means for the LGBTQ+ community here, how it’s inclusive and predominantly a safe space for people to come and be who they are. We find that many people travel to the North East for college or university and then stay here and build their futures.
We were over the moon to win UK Pride status back in 2018 and this year we’ll finally get to deliver on that status. There’s a bit of a running joke that we’re now the longest-running title holder of UK Pride!
How special is having UK Pride status for the charity?
It’s amazing. There are similar models to this across the world – there’s a World Pride, as well as a Euro Pride, but having UK Pride status really does mean that the eyes of LGBTQ+ communities across the globe will be on the North East this July.
It’s even more special because it’s 50 years since the first Pride march took place in the UK, back in 1972. That was in London and there were around 2,000 people marching for, what was known then, as ‘gay rights’, on the back of the two-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
Gay, lesbian and, in some instances, bisexual rights have improved to a bit more of an acceptable standard since then. They’re still not where they should be, in terms of true equality, but they’ve moved on considerably. Unfortunately, 50 years on from that initial Pride march, that’s still not the case for the trans, non-binary and gender diverse communities. Their identity and their existence is still being challenged in the public domain now, more so than ever before.
You’ve released the line-up for the UK Pride launch party (which looks incredible, btw). What does it mean to get those big names in to kick things off?
The launch party is a fundraising event. Our Pride festival in Newcastle is the largest festival weekend in the UK that’s free. Many other festivals are now ticketed events. We’re working incredibly hard to try and prevent that from happening here. We believe that the Pride event is, as well as a celebration of gender and sexuality, a political protest – a fight for those rights we still haven’t won and for the equality that some members of our community still haven’t achieved. We’re working hard to make sure that we can keep the Saturday and Sunday as free entry events, so that anyone can come and be a part of that protest, as well as that celebration.
That’s why we’ve launched the Friday night fundraiser. This is a ticketed event to help raise money to keep the weekend free. Unfortunately, community donations are at an all-time low for various reasons, especially on the back of the pandemic. So, what we’re saying to the community is: if you’re able to, come out and see some world-class queer artists and have pride knowing that, by buying that ticket, you’re helping us keep the rest of the festival free for everybody. And also, you’re helping to make sure Northern Pride continues its commitment to deliver paid opportunities for the queer community here in the North East.
We’ve heard you’re also donating some tickets to the launch party to the community?
Yes! We’ve made sure the price of tickets start off really low, in terms of what you’d pay to see some of these artists at bigger venues. And 100% of the profits are going back into Saturday and Sunday’s celebrations. But we’re also going to be gifting tickets to local LGBTQ+ charities, not-for-profits and community groups. We’re aware that some members of our community deserve to have access to this kind of event but unfortunately just can’t afford a ticket. Which is why we’re partnering with organisations such as Rainbow Home, who look after our LGBTQ+ asylum seekers, and AKT who look after young LGBTQ+ people at risk of homelessness because of their gender or sexuality, to make sure the people who rely on those services can also attend.
What are you most proud of (so far) from your time as Director of Northern Pride?
I’m a gay man with a 10-year-old daughter. One of the main reasons that I started to get involved with Northern Pride was on the back of some of the challenges that I faced as a same-sex parent and also from a co-parent relationship. It really started to make me want to do more for LGBTQ+ families, in particular.
We have a Family & Youth Zone at the Pride Festival and it’s one of our most successful spaces. I really wanted to bring that up another level. In September 2021, we delivered our first Ouseburn Family Pride. We took over the Ouseburn Valley and got organisations involved like Seven Stories, Ouseburn Farm, The Cluny, the Victoria Tunnel, The Ship Inn and Ouseburn Trust, and dedicated activities to young LGBTQ+ families. Whether they were for young people from the LGBTQ+ community or families with children who were being brought up by parents who are in the LGBTQ+ community, we wanted to create a space where everybody could get together, feel welcomed and be somewhere they could meet other people who were in a similar situation to them.
Seeing over 4,000 people across the day coming down to the Ouseburn Valley and being a part of those activities was phenomenal. That was definitely one of my Northern Pride career highlights.
And what are your ambitions for your time as Director of Northern Pride?
One of the things I appreciate more now than I did when I first became Director is that my role is one of stewardship. It’s not my charity, it’s the people’s charity. All I want to be able to say is that I’ve left the charity in a better place than when I found it. That I’ve been able to deliver activities that are based on people’s needs – not just delivering the festival, but also campaigns that have really supported a social benefit or the needs of the LGBTQ+ community.
It’ll be really hard to monitor what success will look like or how I’ll know if I’ve achieved it. But I think the biggest thing for me is having an open door with the community. If the community are telling us we’re not going in the right direction, then our direction needs to change. If they’re telling us we are going in the right direction as a charity, then brilliant – we need to do more of that.