[Jenna] Hello and welcome to the new United Response podcast. United Response are a charity that support people with disabilities, autism and mental health conditions to live the lives they want to lead.

We have services across England and Wales that support people with different aspects of their day-to-day lives including housing, work and getting out and about in their chosen community.

I’m Jenna Lloyd and I’m the Digital Content Officer at United Response. I’m really excited to say that this episode is all about Pride. This Pride season we’ve been looking at accessibility at Pride events: how can they be more inclusive for people with disabilities and autism?

As part of this, we spoke to another charity called Stay Up Late UK, who recently made the headlines with their ‘No Bedtimes’ campaign. We held a forum with their LGBTQ group The Wild Rainbows and together we created a Pride checklist for event organisers. I’ll pop the link in the description so you can take a look and download it yourself.

Now you might know that many Pride events were pushed back or sadly cancelled this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic but with Manchester Pride finally taking place this weekend, I spoke to Erin, Rachel and Bradley from Meet ‘N’ Match North West to talk about why Pride events are so important for LGBTQ people.

Meet ‘N’ Match are a friendship and dating agency for adults with learning disabilities and/or autism. They’re based in Lancashire but they cover the North West. Erin Blanchard is the Membership and Events Coordinator for Meet ‘N’ Match in the Cheshire and Merseyside area. She introduced me to Rachel and Bradley who are both members of the group so we could chat about their experiences of Pride events – good or bad.

[Jenna] Hi everyone, thank you for joining me today so today’s episode as you know is all about Pride so have you been to any Pride events yourself?

[Rachel] Yeah Manchester I think, I went to Lancaster with Lucy – I don’t know if you’ve met Lucy of Meet ‘N’ Match? So luckily me and Bradley did get a lift from her for example, so that really helped us but if not I’m sure how we’re going to get there really otherwise I probably wouldn’t be able to go so it’s all those kinds of things.

[Jenna] Yeah, did you enjoy it?

[Rachel] Yeah it was lovely to be honest because I met somebody that’s going through trans in our LGBT and Prides that we normally do with Meet ‘N’ Match. It was in Manchester sometime we met up before.

[Jenna] Why do you think Pride is important?

[Bradley] Hmm because everyone’s unique and it’s about celebrating… what do they call it?

[Erin] Diversity?

[Bradley] Diversity yeah.

[Erin] That’s a good answer – what do you think Rachel?

[Rachel] Yeah I think it’s to show as well that you can be accepted, whether it’s your needs or you’re LGBT, whatever it could be. What people seem to forget at times is you don’t know anybody until you met them, whether it’s an event or you go to a meeting just anything like that.

[Jenna] Yeah.

[Rachel] Once you’ve met somebody in these events, it could just give you a big lift, like a big boost.

[Erin] Oh that’s a good answer yeah. My answer would be very similar which is just that it’s a place to find community and solidify the community and make sure everyone feels united. I also just think from like a more political standpoint as well, I think it’s important to celebrate and honour the people who’ve worked so hard to get us to this point because if you tried to do – well years and years ago Pride events weren’t just parties and fun, they were like we might get beaten up by the police today, who knows? So we’ve come a long way and we need to be so grateful for that.

[Jenna] Yeah it used to be illegal to be gay, you’d get put in prison.

[Rachel] Oh my god!

[Jenna] Bradley, are you going to any Pride events this year?

[Bradley] I’ve booked for Manchester Pride um…

[Erin] and you’ve made your own Pride!

[Bradley] Oh yeah and we did our virtual LGBT Pride during –

[Jenna] That sounds good – was that last year?

[Bradley] No this year, in March.

[Jenna] Oh yeah, Erin was saying there were party packs?

[Bradley] Yeah.

[Jenna] That sounds very fun.

[Bradley] We enjoyed it.

[Erin] What was in the party packs Bradley?

[Bradley] We got some balloons, we got a Pride flag, we got face rainbows, we got a face mask to decorate…

[Jenna] Brilliant and were there guests, did you have performers?

[Bradley] Oh yeah we had performers.

[Erin] Who did you have and how many guests came?

[Bradley] Yeah we had a compere, we had somebody, we had a magician –

[Erin] And a drag queen.

[Bradley] And a drag queen.

[Jenna] Brilliant – was this all on Zoom?

[Bradley] Yeah.

[Jenna] Oh that’s good. Do you think that that worked? Was it noisy? Was it difficult?

[Bradley] I don’t think it was that difficult really.

[Jenna] That’s good.

[Bradley] We managed it okay.

[Jenna] Do you think there should be more online Pride, not just because of Coronavirus but like in the future, do you think that might be helpful for some people?

[Bradley] Maybe but I like meeting up in person.

[Erin] But do you think there was maybe some people at your Pride event who wouldn’t normally come to a meet-up in person and they were able to come to it because it was online?

[Bradley] Probably yeah.

[Erin] Yeah I’d say there probably was. There’s quite a lot of people who come to the online LGBT group isn’t there that don’t come in person for accessibility reasons and things.

[Jenna] Yeah accessibility, also you know with anxiety and stuff. I think online events can be good for some people like you say Rachel, but for others it might make it more intense if you’re not in the room with somebody.

[Rachel] It’s just as well that too many talk over at once, I find to be honest with you.

[Erin] Yeah they do get a bit hectic, don’t they?

[Rachel] Yeah they do.

[Erin] And it’s not like in person where if other people are talking, it’s just like a mumble, if you talk over on Zoom, it’s a really loud tinny noise, isn’t it?

[Jenna] What is your advice to LGBT disabled people and people with autism who want to celebrate Pride?

[Rachel] The advice would be, well quite many of them really! It would be to have somebody with them for the first time. It could be family, carer, a friend or somebody that they know in a organization, for example with me, it helped me to have Lucy.

[Jenna] Yeah.

[Rachel] Because you’ve got some – if you’re going to be on your own that first time, it’s very difficult to be honest. You’ve got to try and settle in within the group to be honest, so that’s going to be really vital to have somebody there.

It could help as well to look for somebody that’s going through the same like sexual stuff, LGBT stuff as you.

[Jenna] Yeah.

[Rachel] Because then you’ve got something in common or somebody with the same needs of autism or a learning disability. So there are a few things there that would work to be honest, that won’t where you won’t feel isolated and lonely and everything. It’s getting help from somebody – I don’t know who could do it – but just getting help maybe as well with planning as I said before about the essential stuff and everything.

[Jenna] Yeah no all really good ideas. I think a good thing about the flags, having different flags as well, is maybe if you see someone with the trans flag or the gay flag, then you know that you guys have got something in common, so that’s really good isn’t it?

[Rachel] Yeah for example this trans lady is just ahead of me at the minute, I’ve yet to see somebody at the clinic so we’re kind of letting each other know exactly where we’re up to with that. That could help but also it’s finding the right friends for you to be honest that is really difficult. We’ve done loads of different things on Meet ‘N’ Match like friendship packs and other things with other people you’ve probably not met yet on Meet ‘N’ Match.

[Erin] It might be a good idea to have like a buddy system, mightn’t it? Like volunteers who can be part of maybe an organisation who can be matched with people with a learning disability or autism and then you can see what they’ve got in common and that person can be your guide almost, be like I know which trains we can get, I know how we can get back.

[Rachel] Like befriending yeah.

[Erin] Yeah a befriending system yeah.

[Jenna] That’s a great idea. I know when I went to university, I was really confused by you know the campus, where the rooms were, what buses to get, what and then they give you this big timetable of when you’re supposed to be somewhere and it’s all very stressful. So if you can, if somebody who already knows the area, knows the buses and stuff can guide you through it, that would be really good.

[Rachel] The other thing as well about planning is making sure you let the people know whether to buy a meal or not, because they might think ‘There’s a meal there, I don’t have to turn up and just pay for the ticket’ but then if they have to pay for the meal, it’s best to let them know then they can bring their money to be honest.

[Erin] It would be good to have a whole information pack, wouldn’t it? We were saying the other day Rachel because you said you’d like to know what is appropriate to wear, whether to bring money for food, the nearest trains and buses – a whole information pack about everything you might need to know about the day.

[Jenna] Somebody mentioned if you’ve got a carer or a support worker, they should have a free ticket because money is obviously – the tickets are very expensive. I mean, I think Pride should be free anyway.

[Erin] I think it should be free. I think it’s terrible that it’s like capitalised on.

[Rachel] Yeah and the other thing with that as well is, you know it could be hard work, but I think the people that do events or organise it or whatever you can think of, it would be really good if they gave us information on what’s happening.

Because what helped us two at the time was knowing where our tables were because we had like a stall thing if you would for Meet ‘N’ Match and everything. So we had that so we knew who to speak to and it’s just knowing exactly what’s going to happen really – that would help us if we had that information.

[Jenna] Yeah.

[Rachel] And they never think about how do people get home? They tell you to get buses like for five o’clock, six o’clock, whatever time you start the group or Prides or shows – whatever it is – but they don’t mention going home and that is really irritating.

[Jenna] Yeah like you say, you need a plan, you need to know when you’re coming home, how you’re coming home. Again that’s probably good when you’ve got someone with you right, because you can make that plan together?

[Rachel] Uh yeah but a lot of people won’t have that to be honest because they might not have families and the support they have, sometimes you’ve got to give more than a month’s notice, depends on what support service you’re using, so these are the things are that people need to understand really.

Having information, I think what we need to include possibly is what information do people need in terms of Covid, because I’ve just said recently to somebody I don’t feel comfortable going on a bus – do I need proof that I’ve had a vaccine or that I’ve had a test? So there’s more extra things like that we might need to remember and if so, how can people do it if they’re not good with phones or apps?

[Jenna] Yeah that’s all really good points. Some people don’t even have a phone, do they? So I know you’ve got your little vaccine card, you should have a card that they gave you when you got a vaccine?

[Rachel] Yeah sometimes though things like this, we need to find out more about for these events, and Prides I think, because people might need to show that they’ve been tested or whatever it could be, and not everybody’s good with apps to tell you the truth. So maybe it’s something down the line we might need to look into.

[Jenna] Yeah good idea. What you could do, saying about information packs, is maybe if you had a video of somebody going through and ‘here’s some things you could wear’ and then a map pops up and ‘here’s where we’re meeting up’ … Do you know what I mean? Like a video that’s a bit…

[Erin] Informative?

[Jenna] Yeah and then there’s not loads to read because some people, you know, reading isn’t their strongest point either. I love your idea Rachel about a timetable so when things are on, so that you can pick out what you want to do and give yourself enough time to get there, figure out how you’re going to get back.

I think that’s really important definitely and what about the noise Rachel? Do you think that Pride events are too noisy or noisy enough?

[Rachel] Yeah it was more quiet for example, when me and this trans lady went for a walk at Lancaster. There were lots of noises around but then we went around for a walk – I think it’s a town bit with a Pride bit, we felt like it was a town. So we just walked there and it was good because we went to a café and everything, but then when we came back to meet everyone at Pride thing, it looked lovely with the colours and everything it was like ‘crikey, it’s noisy again like it’s New Year’s Eve!’ That’s how we felt.

[Erin] So it’s nice to have an opportunity to get away from the noise, isn’t it?

[Rachel] Yeah.

[Erin] Yeah for people who are feeling – if it’s just a bit overwhelming or if it’s just a bit too loud, it’s nice to have a chance to get away, isn’t it?

[Jenna] As Rachel was saying, a lot of people don’t feel very confident going to events yet so some people might feel more confident doing some stuff online for a bit longer and figuring out when and how they want to go to… I mean Pride’s really busy and like the football, that’s really busy so maybe some smaller things and some online stuff to start with, and then people might feel more confident and think ‘Do you know what? I can go out in my pants in Manchester with a big gay flag…’


[Jenna] I’m not gonna do that!

[Erin] Mmm and some people again with the anxiety thing, some people are just not comfortable going to big drinking events. I was talking to Bradley and Rachel the other day about – I’m near Liverpool, that’s my nearest Pride event and that’s the only one I’ve really been to and every time I’ve been, even though I like to have a drink, I like to dance and things like that but even that Pride is too much for me. I find it so anxiety-inducing because it’s just chaos, absolute chaos.

[Bradley and Rachel agree]

[Jenna] It’s such a shame that a lot of the bigger events are getting cancelled this year, but I think it has made people think ‘what else can we do?’ and be quite creative hasn’t it? Like Bradley said with the online Pride, we might not have thought to do that before the pandemic so that’s good.

[Bradley] Yeah.

[Erin] I think that’s happened with loads of things. The pandemic has made a lot of the world more accessible to some people. Suddenly all these businesses were like ‘oh do you know what, you can work from home’ after all these years of saying that people had to come into the office and making it difficult for people with disabilities and anxiety and things like that. So it’s changed the playing field – it’s levelled it a little bit for some people I think.

[Rachel] There are some good things that’ve come out of it. I know it’s been a bad, tough 13 months or whatever but there are some good things that have come out of it.

[Jenna] Thank you for listening to the United Response podcast. You can find out more about our disability, autism and mental health support services at www.unitedresponse.org.uk