What Pride means to me
- 26 June 2023
For Pride Month, Wandsworth u3a member Maggie and Bristol u3a member Paul talk about the importance of belonging to a community and what Pride means to them.
Maggie, Wandsworth u3a
About three months after I retired, I went to a u3a meeting. It was a full room. I found out that they do monthly walks, they do monthly talks. I thought, this is great. The thing that’s great about u3a is that I can pursue my hobbies with other people who are interested. When you retire, you lose your colleagues in the workplace, your children have left home if you’ve got them. I would have been very lonely without u3a. u3a prevented that because there was always a group I could join. And I did. And I really, really enjoy it. And I met some lovely people. And I’m still friendly with those same people.
After five years of being in u3a, I wrote to Third Age Matters which led to an article about me being published, which mentioned me being a member of the LGBT+ community. Within the first week, I received well over 100 emails, most of them from closeted gay people who were members of u3a. Some of the letters I got from people made me tear up – they were heartbreaking. Out of those emails, some people in London messaged me, so I thought, well we’ll meet up then. We still meet now. It’s about friendship, it’s about support – because some of them are still in the closet.
We all have sob stories, because we’re all of that generation. Some of the men – it was against the law when they were young. There were women who lost their children, because if the divorce court found out that a woman had an affair with another woman, she would have had her children taken away.
When I was 16, I thought I was the only gay woman on the planet. When I came out in 1995, at the age of 42, I became a part of the gay world. I always say, and it’s a bit of a cliché, but my world went from black and white to technicolour.
You don’t see older LGBT people often. You don’t see them in magazines. You don’t see it on any Twitter accounts. You never see the older – it’s always the young LGBT person. People don’t realise that there is an older queer community – that we do exist.
I have a rainbow badge on my bag because I think we [members of the LGBT+ community] need to be seen. We can’t be invisible. And I don’t think we should be invisible. People need to know we exist. Because we are part of the community. We pay taxes like anybody else. We buy commodities. We vote. We have as much right to have a voice and to be seen and to be heard as anybody else. We all do.
I love Pride, I just love it. Back in the 50s and 60s, it was horrible. So to see so many people feeling, well pride, about being LGBT+ is wonderful. A lot of people think that when we say pride, we mean being full of ourselves, but really pride just means the opposite of shame. That’s what I always felt growing up, I felt such deep shame. It’s about banishing that.
My first Pride was in Cardiff, it was wonderful. Just wonderful. It’s a reminder that we’re not invisible, that we exist. The first time I went to a gay bar, being surrounded by other people like me – it’s hard to describe what that feels like, other than life changing.
This year, I’ll be going to London Pride – but I prefer to take photographs rather than march in the parade. It is such a wonderful feeling to look around and to know you’re not alone.
Paul, Bristol u3a
I joined u3a because I knew someone who was a member of the history group. That’s what made me first look at u3a. I joined the opera group and didn’t look back. I run the group now and have been a member for eighteen or nineteen years. When my partner was alive, he used to greatly enjoy u3a music groups and history groups. It was really very good for him and very good for me.
Men of my generation were living the very real possibility of criminal prosecution [for being gay]. I was deemed to be very brave as my partner and I were living together when I was twenty. That was before the law reform and it was deemed to be very risky.
About a year ago, I volunteered to be part of the u3a equality and diversity committee. We spend a lot of time formulating policy and I’ve been putting my two pennies in. As a gay man, I feel fairly strongly about it.
I’m not very agile so in the past I have gone on Pride parades on the bus when there’s been a bus to go on – whilst I have been an out gay man since the age of 16, I have never seen any point in denying it, there’s nothing to deny. My sexuality is about as interesting as the colour of my eyes. It should be no concern to anyone else.
If this article resonates with you, there is a list of organisations that support LGBT+ people on the Equality and Diversity pages on the u3a website.
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