Daydream Believer – Reflections on the 2015 Durham Miners’ Gala

39 years ago I left my mining village in County Durham to go to University ‘down South’. At the time I was a single, ostensibly heterosexual young man who believed that I still hadn’t met the right woman. Two weeks after starting Uni I discovered that ‘the right woman’ was, in fact,a man!

Such was the legacy of living in County Durham, where ‘queers’ (in the nastiest sense of the word) were either invisible or vilified. Somewhat ironically, it was the fact that I came from a mining community that led me to join Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners: it was also the fact that I came from a mining community that led me to suppress my sexuality so well that I didn’t even realise who I actually was until I had left there.

LGSM banner

Such is the background to my participation in this year’s Durham Miners’ Gala, under the banner of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. Obviously many years had passed since my original departure but old habits die hard and I confess to harbouring a few mixed feelings prior to our arrival. This despite the fact that Durham Miners Association had very publicly announced their intention to march in the London Pride parade – then subsequently done so. Colin and PatrickThis despite the fact that a couple of homophobic comments about LGSM that had appeared on the Miners Gala Facebook page had been quickly overwhelmed with supportive responses. It was, of course, amazing that the organisers had been so publicly supportive – but what about the thousands of people who would be lining the route expecting a parade of miners lodges and associated brass bands.

I should say that my concerns didn’t put me off marching: I wouldn’t have missed this for the world – whatever the response. And I should also say that any concerns evaporated the moment we arrived at our assembly point, Durham Market Square, suitably dressed in our ‘Pits and Perverts: Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners’ T-shirts. Since the rest of the LGSM team had been caught up in the huge crowds it was necessary to ensure that our T-shirts were as visible as possible so we could spot each other in the crowds. What came across very quickly was that any preconceptions people may have had about ‘queers’ had long been superseded by recognition of – and appreciation for – our support for the striking miners.

And so we gradually assembled and took our place in this huge parade. The atmosphere was amazing. We were surrounded by brass bands on all sides and, of course, two minutes after telling my partner Patrick that these bands wouldn’t be playing ‘YMCA’ like the Tredegar Band had done in the London Pride parade, one of the bands kicked off with ‘YMCA’! And I was particularly touched (I think!) when another band played ‘Daydream Believer’: when they got to the line about ‘homecoming queen’ everybody looked at me!

Participants Jonathan Blake

Because of the huge number of participants it actually took us hours to work our way along a relatively short course through the streets. But the response was amazing: not quite the level we got in London but given that this was a miners’ parade and not an LGBT one, it was still fantastic. (And, no, I didn’t blub this time – even though everyone was expecting me to!) One spectator called out from the crowd ‘At last! You should have been in this years ago!’ So the support certainly signalled a huge change in ‘my’ community. What I also found truly encouraging was the number of local young LGBT people who marched with us. Young people from a variety of towns and villages across County Durham; all living openly and happily as lesbian or gay. Last month they organised their own Pride parade through Durham city and something like a thousand people turned up! What was particularly noticeable was that they had support from the Durham Miners’ Association. The miners have never forgotten the support we gave them in 1984/85 and continue to repay it in whatever way they can.

NUM and LGSM banners Durham