THE colours of the rainbow flowed through Darlington’s centre on Monday, as the town’s first Pride march was held.

Hundreds took to the streets in a lively show of solidarity, vibrant with glitter, glamour and confidence.

The march saw people of all ages come together to stand as one, to make themselves known as proud members of, proud allies of, Darlington’s LGBT+ community.

“You can’t spell community without unity” were the words of organiser Andi Cull (Darlington ARQ), as he praised those who joined the march, from young families to police officers, charities and firefighters.

Mr Cull said the event exceeded his highest expectations, that he hoped it worked to let people know that the town’s LGBT+ community was supported.

It’s a shame that the support he refers to is somehow still not unanimous, that Pride events remain as vital as they have ever been.

Pride may appear, in its various guises around the world, to be a huge party but it has never been simply a celebration. It remains, first and foremost, a protest, a demonstration of the importance of awareness raising, of the impact and continuing existence of homophobia.

That its presence on the streets remains contentious is inarguable - there is never a Pride celebration that is not followed by an outpouring of prejudiced comments and Darlington’s was no different. The Echo’s report inspired one person to ask why “those sorts” were allowed the vote, while another spewed forth on the dangers of promoting lesbians, as though gayness was a contagious disease.Such comments are symptomatic of a society wherein the LGBT+ community is more visible than it arguably ever has been yet is still forced to regularly confront rampant homophobia, discrimination both systematic and cultural.

Last month, the Government set out an action plan in response to a survey of 108,000 LGBT+ people in the UK. The survey found that LGBT people experience prejudice on a daily basis, with more than two out of three people saying they avoided holding hands with their partners, with 23 per cent admitting that work had reacted negatively to their sexuality or gender and that more than half of those who accessed or tried to access mental health services waited too long. Five per cent of people were offered conversion therapy while 19 per cent had experienced bullying and harassment during their education. The survey also found more than nine out of ten “most serious” hate crimes went unreported.

Such statistics will come as no surprise to those who experience abuse as part of their daily existence, to those who may then turn to the life-saving third sector for support only to find that austerity cuts have destroyed that safety net, too (the recent closure of Gay Advice Darlington and Durham being an apt example).

Such statistics would be shocking, if they weren’t so believable, if they didn’t echo similar waves of abuse and discrimination around the world.

There is a long way to go until equality is achieved, even in the UK. Pride may represent a celebration of how far we’ve travelled but it must also be recognised as the protest that it is - as a symbol of the need to keep marching forward.