'Hitchin is the only place I've felt accepted'

Kerrie Portman has spoken with the Comet ahead of North Herts Pride's Market event 

Kerrie Portman has spoken with the Comet ahead of North Herts Pride's Market event - Credit: Courtesy of Kerrie Portman

Following Pride Month, and in the lead up to Hitchin's first Pride Market, we spoke to director of North Herts Pride Kerrie Portman about the importance feeling safe and accepted in our community.

Kerrie Portman, director of North Herts Pride, is one of the people organising the event for September 17, North Herts' first Pride.

She spoke with the Comet about how safe and accepted she feels within the Hitchin community.

North Herts Pride, Hitchin's Windmill Hill

North Herts Pride, Hitchin's Windmill Hill - Credit: Kerrie Portman

At 23 years old, Kerrie is also a cheerleader, writer, researcher, and activist who is currently focusing on Care Leaver - an adult who has spent time in the care system - homelessness.

She started as director of North Herts Pride, due to her love of volunteering and helping people, shown in her plethora of volunteering roles over the years.

She’s volunteered for a variety of charities including Just for Kids Law, National Autistic Society, Mind, Orwell Youth Prize, Citizens Advice, Hitchin 10k, and National Student Pride.

Kerrie Portman has said Hitchin has been the only place she's lived where she's felt safe and accepted

Kerrie Portman has said Hitchin has been the only place she's lived where she's felt safe and accepted - Credit: Courtesy of Kerrie Portman

She said: “Volunteering at National Student Pride was my first experience in a queer space, and I found that, with my autism, I feel more comfortable being there in an organiser capacity.

"When I first heard about North Herts Pride, it immediately seemed like the perfect fit, and it’s through this I’ve met most of my friends and people I love.”

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As director of North Herts Pride, which was founded at the end of 2020 but became a listed CIC in April 2022, she sees friendships and social circles bloom from their events.

“Community is so incredibly vital and special. Even if you’re going through some really serious things, just having a friend there makes all the difference. And I think my favourite part of the job is feeling proud that I helped.”

Around only 46 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual people and 47 per cent of trans people feel able to be open about their orientation or gender identity to everyone in their family - and four in five anti-LGBT hate crimes and incidents go unreported.

North Herts Pride aims to create a space for those within the LGBTQIA+ community to feel safe, accepted and celebrated.

She told: “Growing up, I saw both overt homophobia in LGBTQIA+ people getting hit and harassed, alongside more covert homophobia. When I first came out I was told I couldn’t know I was gay and attracted to women unless I’d slept with a man.

“The second time I came out it was to someone in social services while I was in care - because I knew she was in the community too. She didn’t talk about it but just knowing she was normalised it for me.

"It helped me feel safe. I wish that there had been more times when it was normalised when I was growing up.”

Hitchin is home for Kerrie and it’s the place she feels safe.

“Hitchin is actually the only place I’ve ever lived where I’ve not felt frightened of being harassed or attacked and the only place I’ve felt accepted," she said. 

"I think it’s an issue all over the country and the world. That needs to change but I think home is a good place to start to make a change.”

Worldwide there are 70 countries that criminalise same-sex relationships and around a quarter of the world’s population believes that being LGBT should be a crime.

With a lot of events taking place in Hitchin, Kerrie hopes that the future of North Herts Pride will see more events in Baldock, Royston and Letchworth.

She also hopes the group will be able to rent somewhere to create a safe homely space and trained support or a peer-to-peer mentoring scheme, as well as a local version of Queer Britain.

For now, North Herts Pride is continuing their Pride Monthly Meets in the Granello Lounge on the first Tuesday of every month as well as picnics, like the one they held in Letchworth on August 13.

They also have #NHPride2022 event on September 17 which includes a Pride Market in Market Place, Hitchin, from 11am to 5pm and an afterparty at Pitcher & Piano that evening.

The party will include drag queen performances and music. Tickets cost £5 and can be purchased from Pitcher & Piano.

Kerrie added: "We’re really excited to be holding North Hertfordshire’s first pride to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community and the diversity and inclusion in North Herts.

"Having a safe space, support and local connection is incredibly important, something I think we’ve all been reminded of in recent years. It’s an honour to be part of creating that.”