Uganda to Paris: student Pride event lands in London

Three day festival for the LGBT community will include debate between Evan Davis and Paris Lees and performances from Foxes and Eternal at G-A-Y.

Exactly a week after Hollywood actress Ellen Page came out at a Human Rights Campaign conference and proved how important it remains for the LGBT community to stage high profile events and have visible, accessible, role models, National Student Pride – a celebration of gay culture and equal rights – will open today. The first event will be a screening of the Teddy Award winning film, Call Me Kuchu – and a message from Boris Johnson.

For the first time hosted in London, after previously being held in Oxford, Manchester and Brighton, the event has grown from a small protest against a 2005 Oxford Brookes University talk to a full-blown weekend festival. With 108 universities attending and drawing some of the biggest LGBT names in entertainment, journalism, sport, politics, and music.

Last year Coronation Street actor Charlie Condou, rugby player Ben Cohen, and Caroline Lucas MP were among those in attendance. This year, journalist and campaigner Paris Lees, the broadcaster Evan Davis, ex-NBA basketball player and speaker John Amaechi, and Great British Bake Off winner John Whaite are all involved, with performances by Foxes and Eternal.

Tom Guy, national student pride (NSP) president, says: “This is our biggest year. The event has transformed. I established Student Pride in response to Brookes’ Christian Union giving a talk on ‘homosexuality and the Bible’, in which it was argued that one could not be gay and Christian. I set up an event as a response; that was how it started. And now we’ve been running for eight years and we’ve come to the capital.”

The screening of “call me kuchu” at Channel 4 studios kicked off the festival at 3pm this afternoon. The documentary exposes the struggles of Uganda’s LGBT community, including the murder of prominent out campaigner David Kato, amidst the introduction of the country’s anti-gay laws. The film was met with critical acclaim on its release.

Following the screening was a Q&A session with leading gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Gay Star News’ Tris Reid-Smith, Channel 4’s Deborah Lane-Winter and Alistair Stewart of the Kaleidoscope Trust.

NSP hopes to offer support to LGBT students and young professionals, but also to increase wider accessibility to LGBT events and culture. As the event has evolved, a steering committee has been set up to help. The committee consists of successful LGBT professionals – including Stephen Gilbert MP and Stonewall’s head of media Richard Lane – and last year a meeting was held at 10 downing street.

Cross-party politicians have been quick to support Student Pride. David Cameron and Nick Clegg have both spoken in the past of the importance of the event and Ed Miliband recorded a video, as well as Boris Johnson.

And while the festival is run by students with a core student audience, anybody is welcome to attend. NUS cards are not a requirement. Costs are kept to a minimum to make sure the events are financially viable for students working on beans-on-toasts budgets, with a weekend pass available for just £5.

The main day on Saturday will include a panel discussion with Attitude magazine editor Matthew Todd, Lord Waheed Alli, entertainer Amy Lamé, Paris Lees, John Amaechi and journalist Milo Yiannopoulos.

Comedian Zoe Lyons will host a great student bake off competition, and Evan Davis will be in conversation with Fox and Lewis of my transexual summer, and Lees, who yesterday announced her new role as editor-at-large with Attitude. She told the Guardian:

“I’m so pleased to be doing student Pride again this year. It’s wonderful as a trans woman to be offered the chance to talk about issues that affect people like me and get away from that very fuddy-duddy preoccupation with surgery and before and after photos.

“As a teenager I didn’t see trans women being taken seriously anywhere, so I don’t think you can underestimate the impact seeing things like this can have on young minds. I think it shows you that they are taking transgender issues seriously and making sure they are prominent in the conversations - which is what I always like to see.”

The evening will see Grammy award winning artist Foxes (only one of the freshest and most exciting pop stars of the moment) and 90s girl band Eternal performing at G-A-Y Heaven in a massive celebration of pride and banging pop music, before the Rocky Horror Show closes the festival on the Sunday.

Despite the entertainment factor, as with all Pride events, NSP is not just about having a good time; it also aims to reach out and offer advice and support to the LGBT community. 2013’s panel had a theme of homophobia in sport; an important topic when few active sports stars – such as Tom Daley, Casey Stoney and Robbie Rogers – have spoken openly about their sexuality. The event hopes to promote positive role models.

“It’s bittersweet when I do things like this as I had such a tough time as a student, I’d never have believed you if you’d said I’d be up on a stage talking to students, future politicians and campaigners about these sorts of issues. But I guess I had to have those struggles to put the passion in my belly”, says Lees.

This is echoed by actor Charlie Condou, who took part in last year’s Student Pride: “I got involved because I think it’s really important for young LGBT people to celebrate who they are. I was a teen in the 80s when we had no equal marriage, no equal age of consent and section 28 was in full effect. We’ve come so far in the last few decades and it’s really important for young LGBT people to take pride in that.”

Guy, who has graduated and is working as an architect, hopes to pass the baton on. “I’m 29 now, the event was devised as an event mostly for students, run by students. We have some great people involved now who are really committed and passionate. I hope it carries on and just gets bigger and bigger.”

(Source: TheGuardian)


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