It’s a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon in late August and Manchester’s City Centre has been taken over. A throng 100,000 strong line the sidewalks, watching one of the greatest shows on earth: Manchester, England’s Pride Parade.
The highlight of Manchester’s Pride festival, the parade features 100 floats, marching bands, fire trucks - some doused in pink - television stars ("Coronation Street," the world’s longest running soap, films in the city) and thousands of magnificent marchers, from half-naked eye candy to enough glorious, glamorous drag queens to fill every cabaret in the U.K.
The parade is a fabulous spectacle, but what makes it unique is the diversity of its participants. Matt Horwood, a representative for Marketing Manchester enthuses, "Gay people, straight people, old, young, families, locals, tourists - everyone comes together to watch the parade and support the LGBT community. Hundreds of community organizations and businesses, including Barclays and the BBC among others, have sponsored floats throughout the years. This shows the corporate/commercial support Manchester’s large businesses give its LGBT community. And of course there’s great support from the City Council, many of its representatives being LGBT themselves."
With the recent passage of England and Wales’ Marriage Bill, which gives same-sex couples the right to wed, 2013’s Pride should be especially joyous. At least 45,000 people are expected to pack Manchester’s Gay Village beginning Aug. 23 for a non-stop 71-hour party that will boast world-class musical acts, markets, a lifestyle expo and a women’s stage.
The celebration will culminate on the 26th with the HIV Candlelight Vigil. An inspiring tribute to those lost to the virus, the vigil will be held, as it is every year, in the Village’s Sackville Gardens.
Manchester’s Largest Annual Festival
Founded in 1991, Pride has blossomed into the largest annual festival in Manchester, contributing more than one million British pounds (approximately $1.53 million) to charity. In 2003, Pride expanded to a full 10 days although the core of the celebration, which includes the parade and vigil and is now dubbed the Big Weekend, has always been held over the August bank holiday weekend. Pride Fringe debuts this year, a full slate of programming running throughout August that features theatre, comedy, sport, debate, literature, film, music, culture and heritage events feting the LGBT community.
According to John Stewart, Pride’s Chief Executive, other new offerings include an indoor dance arena with DJs from Manchester and London. "The dance arena has allowed us to program Saturday in the main arena as ’live’ day - traditionally it’s been a dance and DJ day," Stewart explains. "And we’ve shaken up the Sackville stage, giving it a more community feel. The Fringe has some real gems, with Living Cartoon Ennio Marchetto performing his first UK theatre gig in four years, a challenge rugby league match between Manchester and Leeds Prides, and the ever-popular ’It’s A Gay Knockout’ on Canal Street."
Manchester offers much more to gay travelers than the undeniable charms of Pride. The Village, centered along Canal Street, has long been the heart of the LGBT community. Once a dangerous neighborhood where police routinely harassed men meeting for clandestine hook-ups in the dark, deserted alleys, its fortunes began to change in 1990 when Manto opened.
The first gay bar in the city to feature large plate glass windows, Manto encouraged its patrons to be out loud and proud. With the backing of the trailblazing Manchester City Council, which had simultaneously emerged as a champion of gay rights, the Village soon metamorphosed into a thriving neighborhood of bars, restaurants, hotels and shops dedicated to LGBT clientele.
The Village is still where the best of Manchester nightlife can be found. Home to the world-famous G-A-Y - the only one in the U.K outside of London - the Village also tempts with the popular Thompsons Arms, New York New York (beloved for its fantastic drag shows), Crunch, and Cruz 101. Vanilla is the premiere women’s bar; Coyotes is larger and provides more of a club atmosphere. Lesser known highlights include the Alice in Wonderland-inspired Richmond Tea Rooms and The Molly House; both are hidden away on quiet side streets, a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of Canal. "The Molly House," Horwood notes, "serves a range of cask ales and ’real’ beers in a spectacular aesthetic over three floors. For an after work drink it is a great place to unwind - and does great tapas."
For foodies looking to splurge, Velvet, a sumptuous, stylish boutique hotel, bar and restaurant dishes up some of the finest fare in the city; likewise its accommodations are top-notch. Taurus, known as the Village’s "community bar" for its convivial atmosphere and crowd of regulars, serves food all day with full table service. It also presents theatre in its small, intimate basement and hosts "It’s A Gay Knockout" the Thursday prior to the Big Weekend. Featuring a high-heeled egg and spoon race and handbag-throwing competition, it’s a campy must-see for Pride attendees.
Next page for venues and activities beyond the Village.
Exploring More of Manchester
Gay travellers should not, however, feel confined to the Village. Regular LGBT nights are held at venues throughout Manchester; among the most popular are the disco, pop and urban nights at Kraak Gallery, a converted arts space in the bohemian Northern Quarter. Gay theatre also flourishes throughout the city.
Independent companies Vertigo Theatre Productions, Dream Avenue Productions and Pink Triangle Theatre present shows year-round, while Three Minute Theatre, headquartered in the beloved Afflecks Palace in the Northern Quarter, regularly hosts work from the likes of VADA Theatre.
More mainstream fare can be found at the Royal Exchange Theatre, which frequently collaborates with noted gay playwright Jonathan Harvey.
And then there is the LGBT Heritage Trail, marked by a series of mosaic rainbow flags set into the pavement throughout the city. The City Council inaugurated the trail in 2003, making Manchester the first city in the world to permanently commemorate its gay history. To get the most out of the trail, take a guided "Over the Rainbow" tour with Andrew Derbyshire. Lasting about two hours, tours usually end in the Village.
A highlight of the LGBT Heritage Trail tour, according to Derbyshire, is the statue of Alan Turing in Sackville Gardens. "Turing had worked as a code breaker during World War II and came to Manchester University after the war to work on the development of computers," says Derbyshire. "He was later convicted of gross indecency with another man. His punishment was estrogen injections ’to correct his sexual problem’ but the balance of his mind was upset and he committed suicide. A few years ago Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologized publically for the treatment of Turing."
The sight of gay and lesbian men and women openly expressing their sexuality at Turing’s statue in a way never possible for him is undeniably moving. It’s also a powerful reminder of how far Manchester has come. Once a place where war heroes could be hounded until their death simply for being gay, it is now one of the world’s most LGBT-friendly cities. "Manchester is very accepting to all walks of life," stresses Michael "Polly" Pollard, Taurus’ owner and a member of the Pride board of trustees. "And not just in the Village, but everywhere. It’s not unusual to see same-sex couples holding hands on the high street, or in restaurants. It’s a great place to visit for LGBT people!"
For more information about Manchester, visit www.visitmanchester.com/what-to-do/lgbt.