Eight years after the iconic photo was taken by Stephen Benson, Queer Cumbria catch up with the young person in the back of the image, whose smile overpowered an army of prejudice. We wanted to hear, in their words, what was happening when the photo was taken and where life has taken them since. We also check out some of their cool flash photography they share on their insta page, cool cats and jungle bath tubs!

Hello, tell us a bit about yourself…

My Name is Gabe, I’m 25 and my pronouns are he/they. I’m currently based in Wales but I was raised in the Eden Valley near Appleby. I’m a pansexual transmasc nonbinary person.

How old were you when this photo was taken? What was happening in your life at the time?

My memory is a little fuzzy but I think it was September 2014 (it may have been 2015). I was either 16 or 17 and it was my first ever pride which I was attending with my first ever girlfriend. I had come out as liking girls about 3 years before and had come out as trans about a year after that so was pretty early in my transition but was living full time as a guy (at the time I was using he/him pronouns and identified more closely to a binary transman)

Why were you there and what’s happening in the photo?

The photo was taken in Carlisle City centre at that years pride event. A group of American religious protesters had shown up. We found out later that they had come to the UK to tour pride events and protest them. We felt that they were being incredibly hostile and saying some pretty vile things, especially to some young queer people, and had actually made a girl cry if I remember right. A small group of young LGBT people, including myself, which grew as the event went on, decided not to let them get away with it unchallenged and tried our best to drown them out. We climbed onto the statue podium behind them with signs (which we hastily made after sending someone into a nearby craft shop for supplies) and whistles, and yelled and sang to try and drown them out. The photo captured the moment when a happily married lesbian couple decided to share a kiss in front of the religious protesters in the ultimate display of not giving a frick what they thought.

What was the mood like?

The mood on the day evolved a lot. At the start we were all very angry. Our space had been invaded by people actively trying to hurt and upset us. But as the day went on we made new friends amongst the other queer people in the crowd and the mood changed. The moment in the photo was a big part in that shift, where queer joy and love and community overcame rage and hate.

Your joy in the photo is a really important factor in the image, what was going through your mind at that moment?

I think in my mind the photo was taken the moment that we won. It was the ultimate “fuck you” to the protesters. It was queer people just existing and happy in what was supposed to be there space.

What role (if any) do you think imagery such as this has in our path to equality?

I love the picture. To me images of love and joy and queer existence winning and outshining the hate around them speak volumes of our resilience and power.

How as life as an LGBTQ+ young person in Cumbria at the time?

It was difficult and I was bullied at school but I was lucky enough to have a supportive family which I think helped a lot. My mental health was pretty bad at the time but having friends who understood also helped a lot.

If you could have had three things back then what would they have been?

If I could have wished for 3 things it would have probably been:

1. More inclusive spaces for young queer people. 

2. Better inclusive sex ed for young queer people (I know a lot of queer people my age who don’t know how to have safe sex).

3. Less judgement when expressing myself.

Do you think Cumbria provides enough support for queer people now?

I’m no longer in Cumbria but one thing that is an issue for queer support nearly everywhere is disabled accessibility. The few years before I left I had to miss pride a few times as it wasn’t fully wheelchair accessible after I became a wheelchair user.

Any advice for young queer people in Cumbria?

My message for young queer people would be to be kind, to both yourself and other people.

What did you do in the years following the picture being taken?

Since the picture I went to college to study media (where some other people I met the day of the photo were in my class). My health sadly deteriorated so I use a wheelchair full time now. I met my partner a few years ago and moved to Wales to live with him. I’ve picked up a few fun hobbies and built an awesome circle of friends.

Tell us about your drag?

I love drag and love makeup. It took me a long time to be comfortable enough with my gender to be able to enjoy it fully without worrying I’m not “trans enough” for loving putting on makeup and dresses and a persona. My only issue now is I can never decide on a name for my drag persona as it seems to change monthly as I get new ideas for looks and styles.

We love your flash photography of your pets, can you tell us a bit about them?

I started doing photography in college. It’s one of my prefered forms to make art. The thing I love most about it is unlike paining or drawing where you can find a reference pic online to use as inspiration, with photography the hunt for a subject is a huge part of the process and thats really fun for me. Sometimes it’s something in my house, sometimes it isn’t.

All Images by Gabe.