Guest blog by Art and Design student Maya Jagger. Maya’s opinions are her own
It’s Saturday, the 27th of May. Last week Harrogate celebrated its first ever Pride festival, Pride in Diversity. Prior to the full week of celebrations, I asked Leonora Wassell if she would like to visit Harrogate College on the 11th of May. She accepted my offer, came to the library bringing with her much more than wristbands: she brought inspiring stories to share with the college, which staff and students embraced with open arms. It was a lovely thing to see how she could connect with, be recognised by and resonate so directly with young people around me.
Leonora is reminiscent of a present day Vicar of Dibley. She’s the gay female reverend who sports a rainbow dog collar, and though she has struggled to be accepted, Leonora is now a revered figure in her community. She has a great sense of humour about it all, saying that “the labels can get a bit silly when trying to introduce yourself to people, it’s easier to say we are all human”.
In church, Leonora practices “acceptance” over “tolerance”, saying she wants everyone, straight allies included, to not be excluded from the LGBTQ+ community. This message she wanted to extend to those who support and participate in Pride in Diversity. Her attitude proves to be positively infectious.
For the first event I got my hair done at our very own Image Academy salon at Harrogate College! I attended with my friends Dayna Bennett and Jaden Phillips, the Diversity in Art and Literature night on the 16th of May, where we listened as fashionista and friend Joe Harris, deliver a moving acceptance speech for his entry that won 1st prize in the under 19 category. It was described as “powerful, incredibly interesting visual piece with a lot to say”. It was praised by one of the judges for “speaking on so many different levels”, on one level “stunning and beautiful” and on a deeper personal level it “showed openness makes you very vulnerable to criticism, for being different”.
After Joe sat back down, we were announced as joint winners of the over 19 category. We delivered our own speeches as we picked up our prize of £100, split three ways. We were delighted as none of us have never won anything before and the three of us agreed that this felt like the start to something bigger.
I thought it would be nice to show some behind the scenes work here from our collaboration: The image of Jaden and I holding hands was shot on college grounds under a beautiful cherry blossom tree by our friend Dayna. We picked this setting because we thought it would look sweet and romantic, it’s also visually indicative of the season. Springtime brings new beginnings and this image represents on its own, young love and innocence.
Next, Dayna gave Jaden a rainbow makeover and then took a photograph of Jaden’s eyes that had been decorated to represent the LGBT community. I chose two images to overlay on top of one another, which shows that love comes in many forms and that we never know what’s going on inside somebody’s head. To me it represents happy memories, but the meaning is subject to interpretation.
Those who follow Harrogate College on social media will have seen us as we excitedly prepared to show our support for LGBTQ+ rights and their progression, by creating tie-dyed t-shirts to be worn by students attending the parade and party in the park on Saturday. So, sporting our shirts on the 20th of May, my college friends and I followed the open top bus and Parade to Montpellier Hill, where we were joined by likeminded old friends as we also made new ones.
We were very lucky as it didn’t rain on our parade, but as the heavens opened in the afternoon, everywhere I looked was drenched colour and diversity as people (and pets) adorned themselves in the rainbow flag. The Valley Garden party didn’t end there, as the Facebook page Gay Pride Pics observed, and I quote:
“People of all ages made an effort and showed up, and in spite of a sunny morning turning into a stormy and wet afternoon, spirits weren’t dampened as much as the attendees, and while the rain drove down a hardened group of dedicated (or mad) youngsters remained in front of the stage and soggily danced the day away, proud in themselves and collectively of who they were and how they related to the larger community.”
Yes, I am proud to say that I was one of those in this “hardened group of dedicated, mad youngsters.” As I photographed friends at the parade, I realised this was a historic event for Harrogate. I am very happy to say I was there and I experienced that. For many of us it was the first time we felt safe to go out and be ourselves in public. As someone who comes from Leeds I think this is a big step towards acceptance from a little town.
With a week to reflect on the festivities, it has struck me how successful Pride in Diversity was in bringing together such diverse people, to be themselves and to enable them to celebrate their individuality together. We want to congratulate Leonora in her success and we can’t wait to for many more years of Pride in Diversity to come!
If you would like to see more of our day, my classmate Lorenzo has vlogged their experience via Youtube here! https://youtu.be/y0VYORl-Og4 thank you very much for reading.