RAINBOW colours lit up the streets of Sunderland last year as thousands turned out for the city’s inaugural Pride festival.
Fast forward 12 months and the spectacle is set to be even bigger and better.
On Sunday, Wearsiders are welcome to join a parade which will leave the Civic Centre at noon and weave its way through the city centre with floats and passionate parade-goers.
The entertainment baton will then be passed to Park Lane, which will host live music, stalls and a funfair from 1pm.
The event, which embraces diversity in Sunderland, has been a long time coming.
Other cities have long celebrated their gay community with a Pride parade, and Sunderland has finally caught up.
Drag artist Miss Trixie, real name Tim, who will be performing at Pride, couldn’t be more proud.
The performer, from Chester Road, helped to found Sunderland’s first gay night at Ttonic nine years ago and hasn’t looked back since.
The 45-year-old said attitudes towards homosexuality in the North East have changed immeasurably over the decades.
“I grew up in Hartlepool and back then, at the age of 17, there wasn’t even a name for what you were.
“There was a scene in Newcastle but if you lived outside of there and were gay, you were considered to be a freak,” he said.
Tim moved to London as a teenager and discovered his talent for drag cabaret.
He went on to travel the world with his act before discovering a gap in the market in Sunderland.
“I was back in the North East and I got a call from my agent to do a charity night for World Aids Day at Ttonic.
“I’m a matriarch for the gay community and will do anything to help,” he explained.
“It went really well, but there wasn’t a gay night in Sunderland at the time. There was Newcastle and nothing else.
“I got talking to the owners who said they were toying with the idea of having a gay night on a Tuesday and I started working there the following night.”
Sunderland now has a thriving gay night every Tuesday with a host of pubs taking part.
Tim recalls: “At first I used to stand at the front door in full drag with three security staff. I used to get hostility, but now no one bats an eyelid.
“When we first started the gay night you had to fight to get in the door, it was so busy. Then other bars started opening on Tuesday nights, which is inevitable, and the crowds were spread out.”
Tim says as well as celebrating diversity, Pride is a great way to highlight issues.
He’ll be donating his fee from his Pride performance to HIV and Aids charity, the Terence Higgins Trust, a cause that’s close to his heart.
“It’s something I’ve supported for many years,” he explained. “I lived in London during the height of the HIV and Aids epidemic. Back then people were petrified but I would work as an ambassador at Charing Cross Hospital on the HIV and Aids wards.
“People are under the impression that it’s ok now, that you can take a tablet every day and be fine. But Aids is still a killer. Fortunately I was lucky and never contracted it, but the younger generation need to be aware of the facts.
“At Pride we’ll be promoting safe sex and there will be information available.”
Tim says though Pride marches started as a way for gay communities to fight for equality, they are now a fun affair for everyone.
“Gone are the days when you have to ram down people’s throats that you’re gay,” he said.
“When I was young in London, Pride marches were about Clause 28 and protest marches.
“Now it has more of a festival vibe, we just want the community to come together no matter what their sexual orientation.
“You do get bigots but all I ask is that you don’t have to understand my life, just accept it, because I’m not going to change.”
•For more details visit www.sunderlandpride.co.uk