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Friday, February 23, 2024

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Pride Month Series: Shaun Dellenty

To celebrate pride month, throughout June we will be asking “What does Pride mean to you?” We’ve spoken to people from across our vibrant scene and community.

Today we spoke to Shaun Dellenty. With over twenty-four years of education experience, Shaun Dellenty is a multi-award-winning educator, trainer, speaker, Bloomsbury author, and globally recognised advocate for intersectional LGBT+ inclusion. Shaun was twice included on the Independent on Sunday ‘Pink List’ of the top 100 most influential LGBT+ people in the U.K.

Here’s what he had to say:

GLL: What does Pride mean to you?

S: For me, Pride should serve both as an intersectional community celebration and (along with LGBT+ History Month and IDAHOBIT) a regional, national and international platform for raising awareness of LGBT+ lives and societal contributions. Pride means speaking out, not only on behalf of ourselves but also on behalf of those overseas facing inequalities, discrimination, criminalisation or death simply for being themselves. Pride is taking joy in each other as unique, complex LGBT+ individuals, whilst educating and informing wider society about the damage caused by bullying, discrimination, exclusion and hate crime. Prides means agility in adapting and responding to cultures, legal, societal and political systems. Pride is compassion, equality and human rights and direct action in the form of protest. I wish all LGBT+ people could feel pride from the outset of life, however eleven years in the field of international education and LGBT+ advocacy has taught me that sadly, this is too often not the case. LGBT+ people deserve better. Pride is for every minute of every day, but until that day comes, Pride festivals and marches are vital for visibility.

GLL : Tell us about your first Pride experience, what & where was it?

S: In the 90s I lived in rural Leicestershire, some of my friends came to London Pride, but I refused to accompany them! I now realise as a result of internalised homophobia; I’d had a tough time growing up gay in the 1980s. Then by 1996, I had my arm twisted after visiting some gay bars and agreed to come to London Pride.

I remember driving the M1 with so many regional coaches adorned with Pride banners and rainbows and it felt really exciting, a sense of a tribe coming together in a way that I had never felt before. Tubing it to Green Park was an absolute revelation and hugely exciting as more and more LGBT+ people of all kinds packed into carriages around us. By the time we reached Green Park the whistles were deafening and you could almost taste the collective adrenalin in the air. We finally emerged into the fresh air and before us processed many thousands of proud and smiling LGBT+ folk of all kinds, shapes sizes, colours, professions and denominations. Standing there (at the age of 28) it was the pride of others that enabled me to fully accept myself and I remain grateful to those who marched and waved that beautiful day. Everyone LGBT+ person should be free to experience such an empowering moment.

Shaun Dellenty

GLL: What is your favourite part of Pride?

S: It’s a bit like Christmas for me, I love all the build-up but too often wear myself out by lunchtime! I really enjoy walking the march with supporters of my LGBT+ inclusion work, it’s an absolute privilege and I’m hugely grateful to everyone who has walked with me over the years.  I used to hand out little cards with my social media contacts to the crowds along the Pride route, a few years ago a young man contacted me nearly a year after London Pride who had taken one of my cards. He had researched my LGBT+ life journey online. He wrote to tell me that prior to Pride he had been feeling suicidal and was closeted, but reading my story had shown him he belonged and deserved to be happy in life, family and work and out and proud as himself. ‘ little Pride card of yours (he told me) saved my life’.

Such is the potential power of Pride and authentic visibility.

GLL: Do you have a favourite Pride memory?

S: So many, but I think Pride 97 Clapham Common; my then partner David and I right at the front of the stage. Holly Johnson singing ‘The Power of Love.’ I look behind me and see many thousands of LGBT+ people smiling, singing, kissing, embracing and crying, all lit by colourful fireworks. It was joyful, beautiful and communal.

A perfect Pride moment.

I also used to really enjoy the party in the park afterwards, but sadly this has fallen by the wayside which is a real shame. I know many people (including myself) who find Trafalgar Square and the Soho area packed and overwhelming post-march. Thank goodness for Mighty Hoopla!

GLL : Why do you think Pride is still important?

S: Pride is needed now, more than at any time I can recall since I first attended Pride in 1996. It is dangerous to think that as a result of the Equality Act and equal marriage that everything is ‘fixed’ in the UK for LGBT+ people. Progress is rarely linear, look to Poland, Hungary even the USA as examples. In England, we had the broken promises of the Government’s LGBT+ Action Plan and highly polarised discourse around trans and non-binary identities. I have concerns about our government executive and its ongoing commitment towards LGBT+ rights. There are strategic attempts to destroy the reputations and legacies of those working to achieve LGBT+ inclusion in schools going on right now. There remain significant issues around hate crime and LGBT+ bullying in schools and workplaces. LGBT+ people still face stigma and discrimination in families, in communities, workplaces and on social media. In healthcare LGBT individuals face inequalities and COVID-19 and the associated lockdowns exacerbated existing inequalities and proved incredibly difficult for LGBT+ youth. There remain issues of racism as well as ongoing issues around disability and accessibility in some LGBT+ spaces. My voluntary work with Opening Door London highlights that many older LGBT people are isolated and vulnerable. Then there is conversion therapy, trans rights, ‘culture wars’ and international regimes who will hang a teenager for simply being themselves. Take nothing for granted, engage with our democracy and with Amnesty. Please use your voice to speak out for yourselves, for others here in the UK and those suffering overseas.

You can find lots of lovely information about Shaun and his work  HERE.

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