PEOPLE often question why Pride month is still necessary.

More than 50 years since the first Pride march in London, the world is a different place and attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community today are very different to what they were back then. To some people outside of the community, it may sometimes feel that a month-long celebration isn’t necessary.

Pride is celebrated throughout June as a nod to the Stonewall riots of June 1969 which tried to tackle homophobia.

At the time, and for decades afterwards, queer people faced oppression. In the media, the community was severely underrepresented. In fact, it was only this year that British viewers were able to view the UK’s first ever gay dating show, I Kissed a Boy.

Gazette: One-of-a-kind - I Kissed A Boy is the UK's first gay dating showOne-of-a-kind - I Kissed A Boy is the UK's first gay dating show (Image: BBC/Two Four/iStock)

And it took until 2003 for section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which banned local authorities and schools from “promoting homosexuality”, to be repealed. The controversial legislation deprived generations of LGBTQ+ pupils of seeing people like them in their schoolbooks or of learning about same-sex relationships from their teachers.

For many schoolchildren, the repercussions were devastating and long-term, and sadly many children continue to face homophobic and transphobic bullying in school. Research by the charity Just Like Us reveals LGBTQ+ young adults from unsupportive school and home backgrounds are nearly half as likely to say they are happy in adulthood and are four times more likely to feel ashamed of their sexuality or gender identity.

But things are continuing to improve, and here in Colchester the LGBTQ+ community is thriving all year round.

“Pride is about remembering those who came before us but also looking ahead at our potential,” said Tom Stock.

Tom, who grew up in Witham before moving to London for university, moved to Colchester last year to study a Master’s degree at the University of Essex.

Despite spending several years living in the capital, he says Colchester is “by far the best city” he’s lived in.

Gazette: Proud - Tom StockProud - Tom Stock (Image: Tom Stock)

Hosting an arts event, called Mind Full of Pride at Patch, in Trinity Street, Colchester, the 36-year-old will ask his participants what about the LGBTQ+ community in the city fills them with pride.

When posed that question himself, he said: “No matter what types of interests you have, there’s something in Colchester for you to do, and if not, there’s the potential to set something up.”

Reflecting on changing attitudes, Tom added: “Acceptance is definitely getting better. Generally, it’s accepted that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are normalised in society, but sadly people of colour, transgender, and non-binary people are now getting the hate we used to get.

“Hopefully in years to come, acceptance for those communities will be where we are at the very least, but there’s always a risk we can go back in time.

Conversion therapy still isn’t banned in the UK. We’ve made massive steps, but there’s still so much to do.

“If we want equality, which is what everyone should want, then we’ve still got a long way to go.”

On June 1, East Anglia’s first gay and inclusive rugby team, the Colchester Kings, celebrated its first birthday.

The team was founded by Sam Biscoe, who grew up in Ipswich but moved to Colchester last year.

Gazette: Inspired - Sam BiscoeInspired - Sam Biscoe (Image: Sam Biscoe)

“When I was younger, Colchester wasn’t somewhere I thought as a queer person I’d be able to enjoy an event or have a good night out,” he said.

Sam added: “Over the last couple of years, and especially this year, the city has gained a much better reputation for being more inclusive, thanks to organisations like Colchester Pride and The OutHouse which make such a difference to people in the community.”

The rugby player, who was “honoured” to be asked to lead the parade at this year’s Colchester Pride event, added he was “proud and inspired” by his teammates, who will be getting involved at Pride events across the county, in Chelmsford, Clacton, and in the team’s hometown.

And he isn’t the only person to be inspired by the efforts of the Kings, with supporter of the team Jen Skingsley encouraging people to warm up their vocal cords as she prepares to launch an inclusive choir.

Jen, who is lovingly dubbed as the Colchester Kings’ “number one fan”, first joined a church choir aged eight and set up a gospel choir in Halstead in 2003.

Gazette: Choir founder - Jen SkingsleyChoir founder - Jen Skingsley (Image: Jen Skingsley)

“Starting an inclusive choir had crossed my mind before so when Gary Coombs, a member of the Kings, asked how I felt about starting one, immediately it started happening,” explained Jen.

The marketing professional added: “We had a look around and couldn’t find anything similar locally, and we knew it could have an impact on the community here.

“It’ll be something enjoyable which doesn’t involve drinking or clubbing, and we will welcome the LGBTQ+ community and its allies.”

The new Hic Sumus choir will hold taster sessions on June 27 and July 25 with a view to starting weekly sessions later in the year.

Colchester’s main event will return to the city centre on August 12 and its organisers promise it will be “bigger and better than ever”.

The organisation puts on events throughout the year, such as Pride movie nights at the Mercury Theatre and family-friendly picnics.

Colchester Pride trustee Ben Powell said: “The improvements to what’s on offer have been marvellous, particularly since lockdown.

“The LGBTQ+ community in Colchester has flourished, and we are working closely with other organisations to promote their services.”