Peter Reid

Random Acts of Pride

By Professor Peter Reid - 07 June 2024

Professor Peter Reid shares his touching story growing up gay in a small North East village in the 70s and 80s, and what Pride means to him today.

"LGBTQ+ people of my generation have witnessed enormous changes – nearly all for the better – but there is much still to do"

The author LP Hartley said ‘The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.’ I am 590 in gay years (fifty gay years for every calendar year after one’s fortieth birthday). I am Gen X. I grew up in a small village – a place I love – but which was very insular in the 1970s and 1980s, with a clear ‘it’s a sin’ mentality. For the first eight years of my life, homosexual acts remained illegal in Scotland. I grew up before the internet. This hardly sounds the most auspicious of starts. And yet, here I am all these years later speaking about what Pride means to me, and about my pride in being a gay man. So, something went right.

LGBTQ+ people of my generation have witnessed enormous changes – nearly all for the better – but there is much still to do. We can now marry, but many still find it hard to hold hands in public: we promote equality, diversity, and inclusion, yet the tone of discussion can sometimes seem anything but. I am also struck that, despite the advances of recent decades, many still find accepting their sexuality and coming out a challenge, especially outside urban areas. I know many people of my generation who still wrestle with their identity and find it hard to take the step to acknowledge publicly who they are. Sometimes that can ruin their lives.

For me, pride is not a month; pride is every day. That is, of course, not to downplay the huge importance of this month of celebration for our community. June gives us an opportunity to be visible, to campaign, to be political, to advocate, as well as to celebrate. I cannot speak for the other parts of the Rainbow Community but for me, it is about the little random acts of pride done in a matter-of-fact way throughout my daily existence that are really important.

Sometimes that can be about calling out behaviour, or the use of particular terms. The idea that ‘it’s only banter’ doesn’t wash any more. In some respects, it can be more insidious now with an ‘ally’ saying to me not long ago ‘you know me, I’m really tolerant but….’. You know as soon as the word ‘but’ is uttered that tolerance is going to be the last thing you will hear. And, actually, we want respect not just to be tolerated.

Olivier Lallart, the French director, has made a beautiful short film called ‘PD’ (a term of abuse in French) exploring this theme. The film depicts self-discovery and coming out, but also casual homophobia, and the thoughtless use of language that can often be offensive and demeaning. Most importantly, however, it is ultimately a life-affirming film about acceptance, equality, pride, and love. If you’ve not seen it then watch it on YouTube (and, yes, one of the actors is very fanciable).

"Pride is these little moments, about being absolutely comfortable in one’s own skin and happy for the world to know that."

In one of my modules, I find myself reflecting on the ‘digital age’ and the difference that the internet has wrought on the world. I tell the students – in the most matter-fact-way – about the challenges of growing up gay in a pre-internet world in rural north-east Scotland, believing somehow that you were ‘different’ or ‘the only one’ and the near impossibility of connecting with others if you lived in an isolated community, and how the digital revolution has changed this for the better, for their generation. The students are invariably moved by this which in turn moves me. Often, I get a round of applause at the end. It is these small, matter-of-fact examples of pride that are really important, and they frequently lead to rewarding conversations and discussions. I never see myself as a role-model for students, but it is important for me to be open, inclusive, sympathetic, and visible for them.

These random acts of pride are really important to me for my sense of self, as well as how I relate to the world around me, and how it relates to me. In the supermarket recently, I couldn’t find what I was looking for and went to ask at customer services. I went back and found what I was looking for. I returned to pay and said, ‘well, that was good timing, when I went back there was a muscly, tattooed workman hunk in that aisle’. I thought Selina at customer services was going to collapse laughing. Pride is these little moments, about being absolutely comfortable in one’s own skin and happy for the world to know that.

I still live in that small village. I’m proud to as a gay man. And not only am I not the ‘only gay in the village’ but I’m not even the only gay on the street. A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook about Alan Turing. My friend wrote about him being chemically castrated for being gay in 1952 and added ‘Pride is about not going back to 1952’. He is right. That’s why we celebrate each June, but it is also why we try to live our best lives as much as we can, respecting our diversity, and demonstrating our openness through random acts of pride. The past is a foreign country; and they did things very differently there and we can take immense pride in all that has been achieved.

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