My long travel bucket list never included the prospect of standing on these iconic Atlantic coast rocks

It really was a most extraordinary sight and a moment where you really did feel at one with the majesty of Mother Nature’s beauty and magic

Gary Burgess (31486306)
Gary Burgess (31486306)

Opinion: Gary Burgess

I SPENT last Friday morning standing on the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. It’s not something that was part of my plans even a few months ago but, hey, 2021 – like 2020 – is the year of the unexpected for all of us.

You may remember, last November when I wrote about hopes and aspirations for the future, on my list was a cruise with my husband Alan. We’ve been on cruises in the past and, personally, I find them such a happy place where my brain can switch off from day-to-day life and my body can properly relax and recharge.

Last year had begun with a cruise lost to the chemotherapy I was undergoing. That got rebooked but was then lost to a certain pandemic, which was then rebooked and rebooked and rebooked and cancelled and cancelled and cancelled. What began as a once-in-a-lifetime sailing from Hong Kong to Singapore via Vietnam at the start of last year ended up as an anti-clockwise cruise around the British Isles last week.

And you know what? It was just wonderful.

Our first stop was Orkney where we got to see the breathtaking scenery of these islands, then onto the beauty of Scotland’s west coast via a stop in Greenock. We sailed into Liverpool along the Mersey for the greatest view of The Three Graces and that iconic city skyline, as well as a day moored up in Belfast just along from the Titanic Quarter, from where a coach wended its way along stunning coastline to the Giant’s Causeway.

My travel bucket list, a long and sprawling affair, never included the prospect of standing on these iconic Atlantic coast rocks, but suddenly here I was clambering over the thousands of concave and convex hexagonal tiles which were each effectively heads of pins that push 500 feet into the seabed below. A most extraordinary sight and a moment where you really did feel at one with the majesty of Mother Nature’s beauty and magic.

It’s the first trip of my ‘retirement’. I keep feeling the need to put that word into quotation marks as this next stage of my life hasn’t fully sunk in. I still intend to do little bits of work here and there for my own sanity and to keep the grey matter going, but now is all about making memories while my health allows.

One of the next memories on my list was due to happen this weekend, and that’s Channel Islands Pride. But, like so many events, its physical form has fallen foul to Covid restrictions, however an online afternoon of events and celebrations is planned.

I like talking about Pride because it’s an annual line in the sand for us all to be incredibly proud about the progress that has been made and continues to be made here in Jersey.

I think back to the first Channel Islands Pride I attended, with my then boyfriend, long before we could even imagine the Island’s marriage laws catching up with the rest of the world. If I’m honest, I remember walking somewhat nervously towards the starting point of the parade with a rainbow flag in my possession, unsure as to whether I’d be safe unfurling it in the street before joining a supportive crowd at West’s Centre.

I recall the truly emotional sight of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people gathering there – young, old, gay, straight, on their own, among friends, families, workmates and more – and realising what support was there in our community all along. I just didn’t know it.

Fast forward to each subsequent occasion and the number of people has grown, the sense that Pride is for everyone has grown, and the idea that I’d have an iota of hesitation about wrapping a rainbow flag around my body en route to the event seems so odd.

Oh, and Alan and I are married.

Three years ago last March we became civil partners, and then in the July of that year we became the first to convert our civil partnership to a marriage when the law changed. We hold certificate number one on the conversion register – something that holds such immense pride for me to this day.

So why the need for Channel Islands Pride any more? Job done. Surely?

Well not quite.

Massive, massive progress has been made, but homosexuality remains a crime in dozens of countries around the world. There are countries right now where governments are actively fomenting anti-gay sentiment and violence. There are, bluntly, people living in daily fear for their lives simply because of their sexuality. Imagine for a moment what that must feel like.

There remain issues of representation in the media, in workplaces, in parliament, in all areas of life of the full spectrum of the diversity that Pride represents right here in Jersey, as elsewhere. Why does that matter? Well if you don’t see people who are like you in these places, the danger is that you grow up believing these places aren’t for you.

I grew up, as a child, knowing I was gay – though I didn’t know that was the word for it – and my earliest memories are of media representation of homosexuals as deviants, of them being ‘riddled with AIDS’ (genuinely the phrase that springs to mind), of them belonging to an underclass separate from the rest of society, and of such a sexuality being something you absolutely must keep a secret from your family.

I came out to my family aged 18. It was fine, eventually. But for the entirety of my school life my sexuality was a secret and I lived a strange double-life. It was exhausting and, often, frightening.

From all I can gather, not least from speaking to young people, things are dramatically different today. And that is absolute cause for celebration. But let’s not take our foot off the pedal in ensuring the direction of travel remains resolute and let Jersey use its small but not insubstantial voice to show how quickly progress can be made.

It could be the hope someone none of us ever meets in a country far away gets to hear about. It may be the reason they’re able to raise a smile in their darkest hour. So, anyhow, there’s my sales pitch for Channel Islands Pride.

It reminds me of a column I penned a few years back which resulted in those ‘below-the-line’ commenters on social media to ask that glorious question ‘why isn’t there a straight Pride?’ My response then was quite simply: if you want one, organise one, there’s nothing stopping you.

Thankfully, since then, I think we’ve almost all matured in our understanding of a range of social issues and that we can *all* choose to be a part of Channel Islands Pride, whatever our sexuality. And so, ‘retirement’ rumbles on. A cruise that wasn’t to where I expected. A Pride that isn’t in the format I expected. But, who cares? These twists and turns allow serendipity and surprises to step in… including stepping in the mythical footsteps of Finn McCool who legend says created the Giant’s Causeway after a fight. As you do. If you get the chance to do so… go.

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