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Some of the 1,500 people who attended the Manchester Pride protest march in July 2021
Photo courtesy of John Proctor

Manchester Pride Protest Organisers ‘Blown Away' When Hundreds Turned into Thousands for 2021 Parade Cause

With Pride's annual consultation results due this month, the 2021 parade organiser speaks to Now Then about planning one of the UK's biggest LGBTQ+ protests.

At the end of the protest on 28 August 2021, John Proctor, organiser for Manchester Pride Protest, sat quietly in St John’s Gardens, contemplating on the day as a whole. “I was a bit overwhelmed at that point, and I had some people come over to me and say some really lovely things about what the day had meant to them. And that meant a great deal really, that people took the time to come over and say that, and that it had such an effect on people.” John says.

Early last year Manchester Pride, one of the biggest LGBTQ+ charities and festivals in the UK, revealed that donations to charities like the George House Trust and LGBT Foundation would be cut. This, added to the frustration felt by many about the ticketed ‘premium like’ festival, the cancellation of the parade, and its replacement of small, ‘exclusive’ marches, led to criticism – and activists like John Proctor had to act.

After the news of the parade being cancelled in July 2021, Proctor, tech lead in a small software company, and a group of friends, with no previous experience, had the idea to stage a pride parade to counter Manchester Pride’s lack of one. “It was just kind of me originally organising and saying to a few friends you know, ‘I don't think it's good that the Pride Parade has been cancelled. We should do something about it and hold our own parade.’”

John was tasked to plan and organise the ‘parade’, not realising that it would quickly turn into a protest. “It suddenly started getting bigger, and I very quickly realised that I would need to talk to the police and get a route approved and make sure it was done officially. While I was doing that, the news then came out that Manchester Pride was cutting grants to George House Trust and LGBT Foundation. I think that increased the community's response and it was what led to so many people being out on the streets on the day of pride.”

John Proctor (centre, with megaphone) leads around 1,500 people who attended the Pride protest march in July 2021

John Proctor (centre, with megaphone) leads around 1,500 people who attended the Pride protest march in July 2021.

Photo courtesy of John Proctor

His reaction to Manchester Pride and their questionable practices resembled the rest of the community: “It was the same thing that spurred a lot of people this year, which was the feelings of frustration with Manchester Pride. A lot of people saw Manchester Pride as being a vehicle for supporting other charities in Manchester, and now by cutting their funding to charities they weren't doing what they should be doing.”

The protest represented an opportunity and a change of view on Manchester Pride: multiple LGBTQ+ groups like PrideOut opting to not participate in the official marches and instead go to the protest; and old activists returning to finish what they started in 2010’s protest ‘Reclaim the Scene’. “I think the whole day was just incredible,” John said. “But, obviously, marching through the Village was something very special. Knowing that pride hasn't walked through the Village for – I think it was something like 20 years – to be able to pull that off was really huge.”

John and his friends first thought the movement would gain 400 to 500 participants. However, by the end of the day John watched as hundreds became thousands, with an estimate of 1,500 people attending. “I was just blown away, really. I think in the couple of weeks before I saw the kind of numbers on Twitter and engagements, I thought we might get a couple of hundred. And then, the night before, I realised, oh, this looks like it's getting big. So, the last conversation I'd had with the police was, along the lines of, ‘We might get something like two to five hundred people.’ We obviously got a lot, lot more, which is quite humbling in a way.” The protest received support from John’s friends, family, the police and 30 volunteers, who John says handled the situation perfectly.

Even in his younger years, John recalls that it was in his nature to speak out on civil matters, lobbying and protesting for LGBT rights in Brighton and Hove. He took part as a participant in a youth group, and got the attention of local MPs and the House of Commons to make sure that young LGBT people were included in youth services and services provisions.

“I think what drove me into wanting to help other LGBT people was that things were very different from how they were then when I came out of school… I was very quickly outed by some people who didn't really think about the impact and what they were doing. And back then… there wasn't the kind of awareness and openness in society that there is now.”

The thing that spurred me on is when I got involved with a youth group, I saw that there were other young people like me who have been going through similar and to a degree a lot, lot worse. And, I didn't want other young people to be going through what I had and what I'd seen.

What I did then, and then what I've done now, both of those things kind of came out of a sense of anger and frustration and needing to do something with that, and a feeling that, actually, there's an opinion, and there's a voice or voices here that need to be heard.

John Proctor on his motivation for speaking out.

Manchester Pride held its yearly consultations and surveys over October and November, they plan to post the results in mid-January. John said: “It certainly seems like they've made an effort to listen. I think it's kind of key as to what comes out of that, really.” John attended and commented on the consultations on his Twitter page (see below), spreading the word of them and encouraging people to speak out and participate.

John will not pursue activism as a full-time job or responsibility, but said he will continue to push and support for awareness in conversation therapy, trans rights, and other important LGBTQA+ issues.

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