Becoming aware that you're different, that you're attracted to others of the same gender, accepting that fact yourself let alone telling others can amount to a daunting experience. Add to that being surrounded every day by heterosexual images - tv, posters, magazines, film, internet - and it can also be an isolating experience.
So it was when I attended my first Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Trans (LGBT) Pride a decade ago that I was almost overwhelmed by a sense of togetherness, happiness and wellbeing. I was reminded of these feelings when I climbed off the minibus that had brought 14 of us from the SpeakUp Thanet and Ashford LGBT Forums to Brighton and Hove's 25th Pride on Saturday, 1st August. We joined thousands of other LGBT people, their friends and families, a record-breaking number in fact, as we waited for the Community Parade to commence its' route from Hove seafront to Preston Park - and waited and waited!
We were unaware that a bomb hoax had been perpetrated, a suspicious package discovered by a steward by the bandstand and the Parade had been delayed by 90 minutes then diverted. A warning if ever there was one that homophobia, bi-phobia and trans-phobia is still present in our lives, someone wanted to disrupt the Parade and almost succeeded. It was well worth the wait. This year's theme was Carnival of Diversity and it was all that and more. But alongside the colourful flamboyance of the floats, the toe-tapping rhythms of the music and bands, the dazzling drag and celebration of all things LGBT were some important messages - there is still the death penalty for homosexuality in countries like Somalia and Nigeria, and closer to home in Northern Ireland, there remains legal inequality. A quilt bearing the names of those who hadn't made the journey, those lost to suicide, was a stark reminder that one in three LGBT people will experience mental health issues and half the gay population has considered suicide. Brighton's LGBT mental health project, Mind Out, had a vintage green bus in the parade and it was lovely to see their director, Helen, again. But for me, the most touching sites in the Community Parade were a woman wearing a tee-shirt emblazoned with "My daughter is a lesbian and I'm proud of her" and the 92-year-old George Montague, the self-proclaimed "oldest gay in the village" with his husband - together for 20 years and just married. Post-parade, some of us strolled along Brighton Pier, others attended the fabulous festivities in Preston Park or met up with relatives while some took to the skies aboard the Brighton Wheel.
Wherever you went in the city, rainbow flags abounded and a happy, accepting and celebrating atmosphere prevailed, "gay" in every sense of the word. A huge thank-you to Maggie and Amanda for making the trip possible and to David for all his patient assistance with the schedule. The last word must go, however, to one of the people on our trip who texted me thanking us and saying that it had made him forget how down he'd been feeling - that says it all about our trip to Brighton & Hove Pride.