With NHS England being represented at London Pride for the first time earlier this summer, we further marked our commitment to LGBT + equality, diversity and inclusion by joining Leeds Pride at the weekend. Oli Mansell reports on the day:
Although Leeds Pride only started in 2006, what struck me this time around on arriving at NHS England’s first ever meeting point for the event this year, is just how much it has mushroomed in size during that time.
There now seem to be more participants, more organisations, more causes, more street sellers, more spectators… such a general logjam that for a brief moment, you could be forgiven for wondering if the whole parade was ever going to be allowed to set off and leave Millennium Square.
Eventually, however, we did start out, and without really discussing any particular tactics, the NHS England group and our banner had spontaneously colonised the entire front of the top deck of the NHS Employers bus. I’m glad we did, because as a view of the city I’d lived, studied and worked in for more than fifteen years now, it took some beating.
Although we were helped out by a pretty huge sound system, several whistles, and an air horn or two, perhaps what gave our first ever Leeds Pride presence its biggest boost was the NHS brand and name itself. The term “well-wishers” possibly gets a bit over-used, but that is exactly what I felt every time I looked into the eyes of one of the people lining the side of the street who waved, smiled and reacted.
For LGBT-identifying people, it can sometimes feel as if much of life passes you by pretty anonymously – side-stepping or dodging certain topics of conversation, or hoping you can blend into the scenery with everyone else. However, for that brief mile or so as the bus meandered forwards, stopped, and started again, all that changed and was turned on its head.
Total strangers and friends alike were wishing us well, simply for being ourselves.
At one point, in an image straight out of umpteen Notting Hill Carnivals, two uniformed police officers appeared on the top deck, and joined in the dancing. It was a unique, contagious, adrenaline rush of pure joy, and like one of the more high-octane rollercoaster rides at Alton Towers, no sooner had it ended than I think we wanted to do just one more victory lap, and experience it all over again.
At another level, it felt fantastic to have been part of the team effort which enabled NHS England to attend its first ever Pride in the city where it’s practically headquartered, and to have built on the great day enjoyed by all our colleagues and supporters who’d also turned out for Pride in London at the end of June.
We were also made to feel extremely welcome by our peers from – among others – NHS Employers, Yorkshire Ambulance Service, and Leeds Teaching Hospital. If ever there was a reminder about the NHS being dizzyingly huge in scale, while also essentially being made up of values-driven human beings right through the middle, this was it.
2016 has arguably been characterised by an almost relentless drip-feed of negative and divisive news; Leeds Pride, however, was a sunny and uplifting antidote.
We in the LGBT+ Staff Network at NHS England hope that this is just the beginning of a long story of us standing up and being counted in person for our core beliefs in diversity and inclusion, at Prides up and down the country.
If you’re considering taking part in the future, whether you count yourself as a member of the LGBT community or as one of our allies, I can only say come along! It really is a case of “the more, the merrier”, and you will have an absolute whale of a time.
- Now read Siobhán Clibbens’ blog on London Pride.
He serves as the inaugural co-chair of the LGBT+ Staff Network alongside Siobhán Clibbens.
Prior to joining NHS England, he spent seven years as a higher education administrator and manager for the University of Leeds. Oli has been a volunteer member of a patient assurance group at Leeds North CCG, and is currently volunteering once a week at the A&E of St James’s Hospital in Leeds.