This year marks the 20th anniversary of Oxford Pride: a significant milestone.
There have been many ‘gay’ societies and events over the years in Oxford; from the Oxford branch of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (OCHE) to the Oxford Gay Action Group (OGAG) in the 70s and 80s. We even had our own Oxford Lesbian and Gay Community Centre (OLGCC) at Northgate Hall opened in 1991 by Sir Ian McKellen. Sadly, this closed in 2005 with no replacement ever found.
The idea of starting a Pride event in Oxford began in 2002 at the celebration of the Queen's Golden Jubilee when the two gay pubs on Paradise Street, The Jolly Farmers and The Castle Tavern, held a street party that was so popular people began talking about organising a local Pride event.
On Saturday 3 May 2003, Oxford saw its first Pride Day held in Oxpens Meadow by the River Thames. The event was free, fun, and family-friendly with live entertainment and market stalls. The first Oxford Pride Parade took place on Pride Day in 2008. Starting in the Castle Quarter, about 150 people marched with flags, banners, and whistles, past the Paradise Street pubs, The Brewery Gayte on St Thomas Street, and the Coven nightclub, then continued on to the event at Oxpens.
The date of Pride was changed to early June in 2009, to the weekend after the bank holiday when Birmingham Pride usually took place. This change was also to encourage more involvement by staff and students from the universities, who were invited and took part in the first ten-day Arts and Culture Festival.
Oxford Pride relocated into the city centre in 2015, returning to Paradise Street and expanded throughout the Castle Quarter with the rainbow flag flying from St Georges Tower. The Parade route expanded in 2016 to start at Radcliffe Square, then wound its way down Broad Street, Cornmarket, and Queens Street towards the event.
Last year was amazing for Oxford Pride, as we were finally able to hold an in-person event following two years of Covid. On the Queen’s Jubilee weekend, we held our first Parade and Pride Day since 2019. Thousands of people took to the streets of Oxford to protest against inequalities for LGBTQI+ rights in the UK and globally. We also took the opportunity to celebrate how far we have come since the first Pride March in London 50 years ago.
Oxford Pride took over the Oxford Castle Quarter, County Hall and Leiden Square in the Westgate. Two stages were mainly filled with local talent plus an ABBA tribute band headlining and ensuring everyone in the crowd left singing and dancing. It was also an opportunity for many of the younger people in our community to experience their first ever Pride in a safe and welcoming environment.
Throughout the years Oxford Pride volunteers have worked with many local groups and organisations to increase the visibility of LGBTIQ+ people and raise awareness of important issues affecting our community. In April 2022 we supported local organisations with a protest against the exclusion of Trans people from the ban on Conversion Therapy. Then, in August, we organised people to gather and support the Drag Queen Story Hour in the Oxfordshire libraries as a counterbalance to those protesting against the event. About 300 people dressed in bright colours and rainbows sang and danced outside the library ensuring the parents and children attending were not scared or heckled but entered safely and in good spirits.
Sadly, this year we lost one of our longstanding patrons with the death of Paul O’Grady (aka Lily Savage). Paul was a vocal champion for LGBTIA+ rights for many decades and a beloved figure on our TVs and stages.
Pride Day, the Festival and all of the events that take place throughout the year can’t happen without volunteers. When the committee was elected to create Pride for 2022, we were a small band of volunteers determined to put Oxford Pride back on the map after two years of not being out and proud on the streets. Volunteers have been hard to come by; and the committee was even smaller for our anniversary year. It has been a daunting task to try and match the expectations of the public with the limitations of such a small group of volunteers who donate thousands of hours to put on what is now a large event. In order to have a Pride in our 20th anniversary year, four former chairs of Oxford Pride have stepped into the breach, fulfilling roles both at director and committee level. They have covered positions that remained empty and done their best to ensure the Oxford Pride is something we can all be proud of.
But all good things come to an end, and this year as the committee stands down at the AGM, as per our usual rules, the directors will not be re-standing. The time has come for new voices, new energies, new people to create their vision of what Oxford Pride could be.
If Oxford truly wants to enjoy Pride in the future, then Oxford and its community needs to make it happen. Pride is something many people around the world are denied. We should be thankful that we have this opportunity, and we ask that the legacy of the people who worked to create Oxford Pride over the last two decades does not disappear, simply because everyone assumes that somebody else will do it.
Oxford Pride AGM will take place at Oxford Town Hall in July 202. Final date TBC.
Images: @mazzimages, @VivaciousMel