In August 2022 I was invited to participate in the Brighton Pride parade, a celebration of inclusion. At the time I was working in the People team for the high street retailer The Body Shop. The Global Head of Inclusion and Belonging was visiting from the States. She emailed a little while afterwards to ask how I found the experience, and this is my reply to her, which I choose to share. Its a reminder of what connection, collaboration and belonging can look and feel like, both remotely and in person, both one to one and also in a huge crowd. 

Dear Nykeba

You asked me what I thought of Brighton Pride, where we finally had the chance to connect in person. You asked did I enjoy myself, what did I think, what was the experience like for me? I have taken some time to reply, and in my response I want to do justice not only to the event (short version – it was great!) but also to the context - the collaboration we have enjoyed over the last couple of years, the learning I’ve done as a result and the impact that has had.

Pride is probably the biggest social event of the year here in Brighton. I have lived here for 22 years and never attended, even as a spectator. I struggle to articulate why that is the case, except to say I was wary of taking up space to which I was not entitled. Then there was the ‘rainbow washing’ concern, where I didn’t feel inclined to support brands that may be inauthentic, that had a great divide between showing up for the party but not truly delivering an inclusive culture in the everyday. In short, even turning up for Pride this year was a little intimidating and I was nervous.

I often come across as bold and confident. It’s often true, but I’d say it’s easy in a space where I feel I belong and am understood. Luckily I have had the chance to meet and talk to many colleagues who belong to the LGBTQIA+ community, and I’ve had time to listen, think, ask my questions, do more learning. To a person, they unanimously welcomed me into their space and to the Pride event. That’s why I showed up; yes, standing by what I believe and what matters to me, but mostly it was about the people – as it so often is.

Its a powerful experience to be in the minority. I’m an English-speaking, university-educated, cis-gendered, straight white woman, wife and mother. In my part of the world I epitomise ‘mainstream’. As such, sometimes I (have to) go out of my way to get uncomfortable, not just in what I read, watch and listen to but by travelling to places where I am the only white face, or being in rooms where I am the only woman. What I don’t have is a full appreciation of what it means to live that ‘minority’ feeling all the time, every day, as normal life. Walking to meet you on a beautiful, sunny morning, with my face full of rainbows, I reflected on what would happen if I were to cross someone who didn’t appreciate my appearance that day. But that’s how many of my colleagues and friends feel every day, stepping out to meet the world. 

I was so thrilled to finally meet you. And yet, the real joy has been in two years of being connected, asking your opinion, listening to your wisdom, occasionally letting off steam in a frustrated moment, and creating new pathways. Meeting you 'in real life' reinforced for me the richness of connection and collaboration that we can achieve remotely, due not only to the pandemic but also across geographical, language and cultural divides. 

The event was great, of course. Is this what I have missed out on all these years?! It was LOUD. I rather like a happy crowd, but this was off the chart and I was exhausted after a couple of hours. I loved it. I was happy and proud to be there, for myself, as well as for the organisation. It felt like the ultimate moment to be present and visible as an ally. I did not feel as though I were taking up the wrong space. I felt welcomed and that I belonged. Job done, The Body Shop. I will always be grateful for that.

What was the experience like? It was fun, noisy, exciting, exhausting and illuminating. It was a chance to belong, in an unexpected setting. It was probably the only chance I’ll get to participate so fully in the celebration itself, and for that I am grateful.

I shall miss working with you, and I know you will continue to have a wonderful impact on your team, colleagues and the world. I will carry forward the inspiration from you and from Pride and take it with me wherever I land next.

Thank you.