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Anti-lesbian attack prompts locals to found Somerset town’s first ever Pride event

PETE STEVENSON tells a positive story of a community who fought back after a homophobic and misogynist hate crime in the harbour town of Watchet

IT WAS a sunny afternoon in July and two young women sat on a beach in Watchet, Somerset, near to their homes holding hands. 

It was a new relationship and they were in love. Suddenly they heard homophobic abuse and stones were thrown at them by a man who lived nearby. A stone hit one of the women on the head and the police were called.

A meeting was quickly called by friends and neighbours and it was agreed to form a Watchet Pride Group. 

An appeal was placed on social media calling for local people to come together not only to support the two women who were attacked but to promote the rights of LGBTQ+ people locally.

A group of 15 activists worked together in a co-ordinated way to plan a beach party on the site of the hate crime. 

Representatives from Unite the Union and the West Somerset Intercultural Friendship Group worked in partnership with local residents who displayed a remarkable range of skills. 

Three outstanding poster designs were produced in an outburst of local creativity. One women showed herself to be an expert in managing social media, another in craft activities and a local artist produced a remarkable painting called “Proud Phoenix Rising.” 

 A local artist’s painting called ‘Proud Phoenix Rising’
SOLIDARITY THROUGH ART: A local artist’s painting called ‘Proud Phoenix Rising’

It was an example of how ordinary people show extraordinary talents when they are motivated in the spirit of human rights.

An impressive letter of support for the idea of a beach party came from the chair of the town council, although it is concerning that some councillors questioned the need for such a group to be formed and for a beach party to be held with comments such as “Surely this sort of thing is best done in large cities like Bristol and London” and “As there is only one unpleasant person in our super town, surely a beach party is an unnecessary overreaction.” 

These comments clearly show a level of naivety on the part of some right-wing town councillors (the area has a Tory MP) and the need for training in the field of diversity and equality. 

The group’s Facebook page quickly filled with a multitude of positive comments, but sadly it also revealed support for homophobia from several local residents showing that the man who committed the hate crime is not alone.

In preparation for the beach party, the group entered the Watchet carnival waving rainbow flags, singing and dancing through the streets and an interview was given to BBC Radio Somerset, however the group rejected an offer from this radio station to conduct an in-depth interview with the two women who were attacked fearing a voyeuristic and gratuitous approach by the interviewer. The two women were central to this decision.

Sadly, the beach party was postponed because of the weather but a local publican quickly offered his premises and the West Somerset Hotel was the venue for a fantastic LGBTQ+ party for over 100 people including police officers. 

Eight musicians performed free of charge and rousing speeches were delivered by the mayor and representatives from Unite the Union and Somerset Lesbian Network. 

Children took part in a craft activity decorating pebbles from the beach, turning the stones from objects of hate to symbols of love.

Several local shops decked their front windows in rainbow colours and placed advertisements in the local paper. 

The initiative to form a Watchet Pride group has produced several substantial benefits. We recognise the increased loneliness and isolation that LGBTQ+ people are likely to feel in rural and coastal communities so to create such a group serves an important social need, new friendships have been formed, two young people have come out to their parents, possibly as a result of our initiative, but above all the group shines a beacon of light for human rights, linking the struggle for equality for LGBTQ+ people with the campaigns for peace, race and gender equality.

The beach party is planned to go ahead before the end of the summer with the date to be confirmed. Details can be found on the group’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/WatchetPride.

Pete Stevenson is chair of Watchet Pride.

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