Birmingham Pride 2021

Our canals and rivers run through diverse communities, and we want everyone who uses them to feel safe and welcome. As allies for the LGBTQ+ community, we showed our support by attending Birmingham Pride 2021.

Birmingham Pride 2021 Birmingham Pride 2021

West Midlands heritage & environment manager Audrey O'Connor explains why we must act as a vehicle for social change.

Supporting diverse communities

It's important that the Canal & River Trust attends Pride events because our canals and rivers run through diverse communities. By having a presence, we're showcasing that our waterways are safe spaces. They’re welcoming to everybody, and we want everyone to come and use them.

We are wellbeing charity after all. We need to represent all community groups. We’ve got so much potential to support, especially the harder to reach groups.

We have boaters on our canals who are part of LGBTQ+ groups, for example, and it’s brilliant because they’re not isolated. That’s a key message. To know that we can provide spaces for inclusion, and whoever you are, you are not on your own.

Our waterways are safe spaces. They’re welcoming to everybody, and we want everyone to come and use them.

It’s important that people know this when they come to our canals or are thinking about working or volunteering with us. That they know we’re an organisation that is diverse and welcoming.

Helping to drive social change

Being at Pride is one way that the Trust can use its status as a large organisation and encourage social change. For some people, LGBTQ+ equality isn’t on their radar, and they need us and other big companies to have a presence so they can realise there’s a need for societal and behavioural change.

The more we shout about our inclusive values and beliefs, the more likely people will want to get involved and help break down barriers. It can only be a good thing.

Staff and volunteers at Birmingham Pride 2021 Staff and volunteers at Birmingham Pride 2021

Inclusive, inside and out

We are an inclusive employer. It’s important for new staff members coming in, and younger generations looking to start their careers, to know that the Trust is a safe space. After all, you can’t be your full, authentic self unless you’re comfortable in the environment you work in.

Internally, we have an LGBTQ+ forum, and a Rainbow Allies group which has over 100 members. We’ve had some really lovely messages from employees who are relations to an LGBTQ+ individual expressing that they want to show their support to them by joining our Rainbow Allies group. It’s wonderful.

You can’t be your full, authentic self unless you’re comfortable in the environment you work in.

As an organisation, there’s always more that can be done to stand by and deliver our inclusive values. Attending Pride is just one way of doing so publicly. We also connect with other organisations, like the Environmental Agency, and learn from them, because actually, we’re quite new to all of this.

Coming together as a collective

As individuals, being at Pride is so important. You’re coming together as a collective. 

People may think that because marriage is legal and LGBTQ+ individuals have equal rights in the UK that there’s less of a need. But you still come across discrimination, be it online, in person or in the press. For me, it’s important that I play my part, that I go out there and show up, so to speak.

It’s still a protest movement and we shouldn’t forget that. By demonstrating, you’re showing that you’re fighting for equal rights and permissions that haven’t always been there for the LGBTQ+ community. I speak from experience. I was turned down years ago for a mortgage because I was in a same-sex relationship. If you think about that now, that’s scary.

Walking through Birmingham at Pride 2021 Walking through Birmingham at Pride 2021

It’s important for us all to continue to raise awareness and demonstrate that the tide is changing but not yet fully turned.

Bigger and better for 2022

Being at Birmingham Pride, the only Pride event in 2021 that wasn’t cancelled because of covid, was absolutely amazing, far beyond my expectations. I was still smiling for days later.

It was such a magical experience because it was the Trust’s first time marching in Birmingham. We were at Manchester Pride before the pandemic, and to take to the streets in the diverse city of Birmingham 3 years on was really special.

It’s the 50th anniversary of Pride next year, a biggie. Hopefully, with more people feeling comfortable attending events, we can pull out all the stops.

Birmingham Pride 2021 Audrey at Birmingham Pride 2021

Get involved

We’d love to get more LGBTQ+ volunteer groups along our canals and come on board with us on this journey. I know it's a bit cliché, but it is a journey. We know that not everybody starts at the same point, but we can help them by being open to questions, concerns, and comments.

We want to build a really inclusive organisation for staff, volunteers and canal users, and challenge those people that are not on board, in an empathetic way.

We want to build a really inclusive organisation for staff, volunteers and canal users, and challenge those people that are not on board, in an empathetic way.

If you're reading this and think you'd like to get involved in the Trust in some way, then get in touch. We have a rainbow@canalrivertrust.org.uk email address, so drop us a message and let us know who you are, and we'll be happy to see how we can collaborate.

Last date edited: 12 October 2021