We sat down to talk with Trans Pride Brighton founder Sarah Savage about how Trans Pride got started, and why it matters now, more than ever.
How long have you been involved with Trans Pride Brighton?
I’ve been involved since before it even existed. There were a couple of groups in Brighton who wanted to create a Trans Pride. This was in late 2012, I remember going to Fox Fisher’s house, and we all had a talk about if we could do it. And in 2013 these groups got together and we did. Next year will be the tenth event!
That must make it one of the longest running trans celebrations in the world, right?
Definitely. We were the first in Europe, in 2013. The others are in San Francisco, LA, and there’s one in Canada as well. It’s amazing, we’ll get emails from local trans groups somewhere in the country and they want to talk about how to create their own Pride event. I think it’s amazing to have been part of a group that sparked these events, it’s just so cool.
Back in 2012, what was the motivation for founding this event? What said to you, ‘This has to happen?’
So, Brighton Pride is so huge, and such a behemoth, that trans people did not feel safe. The whole city is heaving with drunk people and it’s just not a safe place if you’re a trans person. So we thought, ‘We need to create a space for trans people, so let’s make our own Pride’. Nothing at the time was led by trans people, anywhere in the country. This was a real chance for us to grab our reputations, grab our futures, to grab our identities and really reclaim that.
What advice do you have for people who want to bring that inclusivity and empowerment into their own Pride celebrations?
It has to start from the top. It might not be possible for every small local organisation to have a trans person at the top, but it’s important to have trans representation on the board of trustees or in the organising network, and for those trans people to be listened to. Representation isn’t just a box-ticking exercise, and it’s not enough just to have a token trans person. Their thoughts and ideas and concerns have to be listened to.
That’s a really good way of putting it. Visibility isn’t the same as actually having that space.
Totally. Trans Pride is about creating a community for trans people. I think a lot of other Pride events have lost sight of the fact that it’s about the community, and it’s about creating moments for newly-out individuals to connect with that community. Every year at Trans Pride someone comes up to me in tears and says, ‘This is the first time I’ve ever met another trans person’, or ‘This is the first time I’ve left the house dressed as the real me’. Those are the people that Trans Pride is for. Those are the people that any Pride should be for.
During the pandemic Trans Pride Brighton has gone online. How has that been?
Last year it was just me and a computer, and some people sent me videos and I joined them all together. This year we’ve had a lot more time to prepare, and the whole committee has really come together. Also, we won a grant fromComic Relief’s LGBTQ+ COVID-19 Recovery Fund, in partnership with METRO Charity and NAZ, so we’ve been able to pay trans people for six months of part-time work. It’s really transformed the organisation, and will continue to transform it in future because of the work that they’ve done. I’m really proud of what the committee has done over the past year, we’ve really done well.
You’ve got the tenth event coming up next year. What has that journey looked like?
We’ve gone from planning for three hundred people to planning for ten thousand. It’s been such a steep learning curve, and it’s been so difficult on the health of the volunteers, because we’ve only ever been volunteer-run. Everyone loves doing it, the labour of love that you put in for the community, but the most difficult thing is doing all of this for free. We’re facing all of the structural inequalities that trans people face as well as running Trans Pride. I think it really speaks to how trans people are expected to provide their own spaces for free, there’s nothing structurally – institutionally – to support us. Over the years learning about sustainability and resilience, and how to bake that into the structure of an organisation, has been the most important lesson.
Our first year the police didn’t let us hold a protest parade. In 2019 we had ten thousand people, we shut down the entire centre of this city to show them who we are and to march proud, and to protest against the injustices done against us. Personally, it’s been life-changing for me.
It must be amazing to get that visible, tangible show of support.
It’s so cool. My experience of organising a trans event in a cis world has been that everyone we’ve asked to work with us, to do us favors, to help us out, has always said yes. It’s easy to remember the times we really struggled, but it’s important to keep that in the context of all the times that someone who is cis, and often who is straight as well, has gone out of their way to make Trans Pride happen.
When a group of TERFs [trans-exclusionary radical feminists, or ‘gender-critical’ people] invaded London Pride in 2018, that year was really stressful. We dreaded that something might happen to Trans Pride, so there was a lot of behind-the-scenes meetings and networking and talking, and we put out a call for cisgender allies to come and stand and be the stewards in our protest march. Within a week we had over two hundred volunteers sign up out of nowhere. These are all cis people who have said, ‘we will stand around you, and we will protect you if anything happens’. And the day went off without a hitch.
I went to Trans Pride London 2019, and one of the best things about it was so many people of different identities and body types just being themselves. What, for you, is the heart of that being yourself at Pride?
Tough question. It’s discovering people like me, you know? Before transition I genuinely had never met another trans person, and I couldn’t imagine being happy as a trans person. But now if a newbie comes to Trans Pride they see that everyone is so happy, it’s so joyous to be with a group of people who are like them. A lot of people who transitioned in the 80s and 90s come up to me and they’re amazed that something like this can exist, because they remember when trans people were so marginalised that they couldn’t even find each other. We couldn’t even find our community. Now people can come to this one place and that’s their people, that’s their community. It’s more than just one day in summer. We actually change lives.
At GenderGP we talk about the importance of gender-affirming care, of not challenging a person’s identity but helping them embrace it. This sounds like a similar thing – it’s about that affirming experience.
Totally. It’s such a privilege to be a part of something that makes people feel that good.
I’m getting emotional.
Me too! I can’t talk about Trans Pride without getting emotional.
On that note, one last question: This Trans Pride, what makes you proud?
I really love that the community is coming together despite all that has happened in the past year. I loved the communities that popped up around Trans Pride online last year, and I really can’t wait to see what else pops up.
Trans Pride Brighton will be hosting a special livestream event on the 17th of July. You can learn more on their website. Other Trans Pride events are happening around the country this summer, so see where your nearest one is taking place.
Trans Pride Brighton is supported through their online shop. If you want to show off some glam for the livestream or just support a grassroots trans organisation, please consider buying something.
Credit: Kate Sutton, 2018