“And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?” sang Talking Heads in their seminal classic from 1981, Once in a Lifetime. And these days, due to various things I’ve gotten involved with over the past few years, I increasingly find myself asking exactly that.
Walking behind a rainbow-liveried Massey Ferguson tractor (or Sassy Ferguson, as it was brilliantly rechristened for the day) through Birmingham city centre alongside my wife, daughters and friends from Agrespect at the recent Pride event, while being cheered every step of the way by 70,000 people, was very definitely one of those occasions.
See also: Farmers celebrate rural diversity at Birmingham Pride
I’ll also note at this point that just a few yards behind us in the parade was a very muscular man wearing nothing but a pair of very tight hotpants – more on him later.
If you don’t know what Agrespect is, it’s an organisation that was started by a group of farmers, including my fellow columnist and good friend Matt Naylor, to help the thousands of LGBTQ+ people living and working in rural communities to be open about their sexuality and to live authentic lives.
It’s about embracing and celebrating diversity while demonstrating that the countryside and agricultural industry can be a welcoming place for everyone.
Let’s face it, that hasn’t always been the case and, for most of us heterosexuals, it isn’t something that ever affects us.
But just think about it. Imagine growing up in a society that made you feel ashamed just for being attracted to someone; regularly hearing crass remarks and insults aimed at gay people, even from those closest to you, and having to keep the knowledge that you were one of “them” locked away inside.
Adolescence is hard enough as it is, without living with that level of confused fear and guilt.
I’ve talked to gay friends who lived exactly like this until they came out, and I know how desperately unhappy – and in some cases even mentally ill – it made them.
But “ah!”, you might say, “that was the past, so why do we need things like this now?”
Well, to that I would reply that you only need look below any Farmers Weekly social media post about Agrespect, and you’ll see homophobic comments ranging from the plain tedious to the genuinely hurtful.
I’m sure that I can’t write anything that will stop trolls being trolls, but perhaps they might consider the fact that a young person struggling to come to terms with their sexuality might read them.
It really isn’t that difficult to be a decent human being and respect the rights of others to be who they want to be.
So yes, that’s how I found myself there in Birmingham, surrounded by friends and family and enjoying a day where people of all sexualities, ages, backgrounds, ethnicities and religions came together to have fun and celebrate being alive. I loved every second.
But what was my single favourite thing about it all? I’ve now been able to inform my children that, unless they behave themselves impeccably for the next 12 months, I’ll follow the splendid example of that man I mentioned earlier and attend next year’s parade in tight hotpants.
Their horrified faces were enough to keep me laughing for weeks.