We share our highlights from Manchester Pride 2023
As a pioneering city, Manchester has always been one of the first places to get behind movements that benefit people.
From filing the first civic anti-slave trade petition to fighting for women’s rights to voting and birthing the female suffrage movement (thanks, Emmeline Pankhurst) it's been a pioneer.
As far as history can recall, Mancunians have always embraced and pushed for equality. So it’s no big surprise that Manchester is one of the biggest players in the UK’s queer liberation movement.
For nearly 40 years, in some way, shape or form, Manchester Pride has been an annual opportunity for the city’s inhabitants and its visitors to come together as a form of protest and celebration. The first event hosted back in 1985 saw Manchester City Council award a £1,700 grant, putting on a two-week celebration and installing a banner on Oxford Street for all to see.
Pride means feeling free and liberated
Organised by Mark Fletcher, CEO of Manchester Pride, and his team, this year’s Manchester Pride festival saw four days of enthralling, thought-provoking and incredibly moving acts and instalments throughout the city, focusing heavily around Canal Street and the inclusive hub that is the Gay Village.
Here are some of our highlights from the weekend.
Friday saw the weekend kick off and the streets of the Village were adorned with members of the LGBTQIA+ community, allies and supporters spreading love, acceptance and copious amounts of glitter (more than on a typical Friday night on Canal Street anyway).
Then of course, there’s the unmissable Gay Village Party. Co-created by the Manchester Pride charity and Manchester’s queer communities, this year’s line-up was the most diverse to date and featured 96% queer performers; 54% women, 51% people of colour and over 42% from trans and non-binary communities.
Spanning over three stages (The Village Stage, MancUnity, and the Alan Turing Stage), activists and artists from across the globe gathered to show the city what unity and human rights is all about. The Village Stage became home to Trans Filth & Joy hosted by Milk Presents and Trans Creative for the evening and featured performances from wave-making trans artists including RuPaul's Drag Race UK Series 2 star, BIMINI.
Meanwhile, over on the MancUnity stage, Celebrate Fat Pride in partnership with Gaydio was in full swing showcasing names like The Fat Britney and Miss Lei-Lei.
Hilarious Brummie drag artist, Donna Trump, opened up the Alan Turing Stage ready for the Human Rights Forum - an event which served as a poignant reminder of what Pride is: ‘a protest, a demonstration against systemic issues, and a catalyst for change’. This year’s theme for activism was ‘Stop the Hate’ and commemorated the 20th anniversary of the repeal of Section 28.
After the event, attendees were encouraged to head to the Activism Hub where they could find practical resources to help take action with. This included resources for writing letters to MPs, asking them to advocate for the Equality and Human Rights Commission and to implement an independent panel of trans and non-binary people through a ‘nothing about us without us’ approach.
Throughout the festival (running from Wednesday 23 - Monday 28 August), a series of venues including Mirage Bar, Sonata Piano & Cabaret Lounge, Whitworth Locke and Stoller Hall all played host to Superbia Weekend; a calendar of queer events across the city, most of which were free to attend and paid for through Manchester Pride’s Superbia fund.
On Saturday, thousands took to the streets to watch the Pride Parade march from Liverpool Road to Fairfield Street. The theme of this year’s parade was ‘Queerly Beloved’, paying homage to 10 years of marriage equality in the UK, and was the longest parade to date.
The whole thing was incredibly moving, seeing droves of members of the LGBTQIA+ community and the individuals and businesses that support them waving their flags, blowing their whistles, shouting down megaphones and dancing their hearts out in the rain, all in the name of equality.
Over at the Gay Village Party, the Alan Turing Stage was experiencing a groundbreaking new set of shows from the Queer Asian Takeover. Working with House of Spice and Lucky Roy Singh, Manchester Pride curated a full day of queer Asian acts including Gok Wan and Gracie T.
Speaking on the stage takeover, Mark Fletcher “What we're able to do this year is respond to a harrowing experience that was had by some of the members of the House of Spice in 2022 by collaborating in an authentic way.
“So we've been able to sit around a table, to work with members of our community to listen to the stories that they've experienced, and to provide an opportunity to platform what it is that they do but also to draw a focus to the fact that this injustice is still happening. This is happening on our doorstep, in proclaimed safe spaces for queer people,where there's levels of racism that are just not acceptable. We've been able to empower our space by providing an opportunity for them to curate a stage for themselves. It's by queer Asian people for the rest of us to go along to, to take part in, and to understand and experience.”
Black Pride MCR and Swagga took over the MancUnity stage with a striking performance from headliner; professional dancer and choreographer, Raven Mandella.
Families looking to show their support for the LGBTQIA+ community were encouraged to head down to the Amphitheatre at Great Northern Square, where a safe and welcoming environment for all ages was set up. Here, youngsters and their parents could take part in a range of engaging activities from play areas to performances, crafting to party games to sing-a-longs, and even a rainbow disco.
Over on the Village Stage, one half of the electronic music duo Goldfrapp, Alison Goldfrapp, closed the evening with a fiery performance of all the band's best hits including 2005 banger Ooh La La.
We also caught up with Black Peppa, drag superstar and contestant on season four of RuPaul's Drag Race UK before she took to the stage to perform a medley of her singles and Beyoncé tracks.
When we asked what Pride meant to her, she said “Pride means feeling free and liberated. That’s something that I didn’t feel for most of my life growing up so when I hear the word ‘Pride’ I feel like it's the time and the place to just be yourself, to not give two sh*ts about anything and to just feel happy and free.”
Watch the full conversation below.
Despite the weather threatening rain from the off, spirits were high across the Gay Village and everyone was still in the mood to party, celebrate and protest.
Just off Oxford Road, taking over Circle Square from midday until 7pm, Youth Pride MCR had partnered with Akt and The Proud Trust to provide a safe space for young LGBTQIA+ individuals between the ages of 14-18.
Designed to help younger generations discover and feel comfortable with their identities, Youth Pride MCR hosted a plethora of activities and acts throughout the day including a ‘Being Your Authentic Self’ workshop with Ben Pechey, performances from Danny Beard, dance tutorials from Ghetto Fabulous, a wellbeing zone and crafting sessions including screen printing and packard making.
Back over in The Village, a jam-packed line-up was underway on the main stage with Danny Beard and Friends providing plenty of laughs, spectacular lip syncs and even a dog show.
Hosted by season two of RuPaul's Drag Race UK’s Ginny Lemon, the show featured tricks and agility from four legged friends across the city as well as entries from human ‘pups’, too.
Manchester’s very own drag icon Cheddar Gorgeous took to the stage, donning a fiery red cowboy outfit with tassels, matching assless chaps and shoulder pads so pointy they could cut like a knife. Cheddar performed their own rendition of John Wayne by Lady Gaga, a new original track called Pink Lightning, and Creep by Radiohead after dedicating it to all the ‘weirdos’ who thought they would never fit in.
The MancUnity stage showcased a Queer Women’s Takeover with performances from the likes of honorary Mancunians Blasha & Allatt, while Cutie-POC Cabaret produced a stellar line-up of performers and vibrant DJ sets on The Alan Turing Stage.
Jake Shears (Scissor Sisters), Natasha Beddingfield and Lisa Scott-Lee then took to the stage to fire the crowds up even further with their hit tracks before Danny Beard came back out to close the evening with a powerful performance of their own.
Though the festival was nearing a close, the atmosphere was still as vibrant as day one with energetic performances from Disabled Queer Joy Cabaret and Yorkshire-based drag artist, Cuppa T.
Unfortunately, the adverse weather over the past couple of days had left the Alan Turing Stage a bit worse for wear and the Disney Orchestra performance expected to last the whole afternoon was cancelled to give a waterlogged Sackville Gardens the chance to repair in time for the candlelit vigil to be held safely.
Luckily, with the help of boots, wellies and some TLC for the gardens, the incredibly important and moving vigil was able to go ahead. Hundreds of people gathered with candles as the sun set, ready for deep contemplation and companionship as they paid tribute in memory of those lost to HIV. In partnership with George House Trust, the vigil is an emotional and contemplative gathering, encouraging members of the LGBTQIA+ community and allies to stand together as a unified front in the battle against HIV and the stigma behind it.
Summing up the festival, Mark Fletcher, CEO of Manchester Pride, said: “This year’s Manchester Pride Festival is not just a celebration, but a reflection of our journey over the decades. We honour our past, celebrate our present, and look forward to a future of unity and equality.”
Read our full conversation with Mark here.
Read next: 10 things to do in Manchester this September
Read again: Manchester Pride 2022 in 100 photos
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