Ali 1: Full Interview
Interview by Ross Horsley
7th March 2019
RH: This is Ross Horsley recording for the West Yorkshire Queer Stories project on the 7th of March 2019, and I’m here with Ali, who’s just going to introduce himself now.
ALI: He there, my name’s Ali. I’m a 41-year-old Asian gay male. Pronouns he/him. From Leeds.
RH: Thank you, Ali. Could I start by just asking you about your involvement in Leeds Pride and how that came about and what you now do?
ALI: Yeah, Leeds Pride – we started Leeds Pride 14 years ago, I always get confused – started in 200- the first Leeds Pride was in 2006, even though we celebrated our tenth birthday in 2016, which made it 11, but who’s counting? But yeah, we started Leeds Pride in 2006. It was Leeds com-, people who were involved in the community – LGBT community in Leeds – that set it up. At the time I was playing for the Yorkshire Terriers and I was like the social secretary, social person, so I got invited along to the first Pride meeting, which was at the old MESMAC offices up on Upper Basinghall Street, and from there was – got more and more involved in Pride, just due to my kinda background and the work that I kinda like do and I like to organise things so I got more and more involved in it. And then, in probably about five, six years after that, as Pride started to get bigger and bigger, we decided to set up a separate company, which was probably about 2011, possibly 2012. It was just so MESMAC didn’t have the financial burden of Pride in case it made a loss or anything like that. So, we set up a separate company, Lower Briggate Ltd, which now runs Leeds Pride, and this year, 2019, will be its thir- 14th year, yeah 14th year.
RH: So how has Leeds Pride changed over the years that you’ve been involved?
ALI: Massively! I keep telling people, the first Pride we had, there was 300 people. We were stood on the stairs outside the Civic Hall, there was no staging, no nothing. We had 300 people going down the Headrow waving rainbow flags, there was no one lining the streets to watch. There was a police van at the front, a police van at the back, and that was pretty much the parade. We got to Lower Briggate, like ‘what do we do now?’ Y’know, we could drink in the streets, because no one had any outdoor notices or anything. The venues got really full, people spilled out onto the streets, and that went on for – the year after we had a few more floats and stuff, but we didn’t have, we still didn’t have any streets closed off. The third year we got Lower Briggate itself closed off, so that was from like the Cosmopolitan Hotel, what is Revs De Cuba now, up to Nando’s – we got that little section closed off, we had the stage out there and the PA system, and, but then that excluded quite a few, three of the LGBT venues because at the time there was the New Penny, the Bridge, and over Leeds Bridge there was also Xibit, or it might still have been called Base, but I think it was called Xibit in them days, so there was the three venues and they were kinda like excluded. It took another couple of years before we could get the inner loop road closed off. And that’s where the event morphed and morphed and now we close off all the way down to Asda House, with the parade, like we said, the first year it was 300 people in it, no one lining the streets. Last year it was about 6,000 participants in the parade and tens of thousands lining the streets – the streets were lined all the way from Millennium Square, all the way down to Kirkgate Market and beyond. Two or three deep. It was fantastic to see how the event has kind of like grown over the last 14 or so years.
And it’s nice to see, it’s nice to see that more and more companies are getting involved in it as well. It’s nice to see more and more companies getting involved and more and more people wanting to be part of it. So we’ve got some fantastic partnerships with companies that have their head offices in Leeds and things like that, and companies that are moving to Leeds are always in touch with us, y’know, we have a good relationship with Leeds City Council and Visit Leeds, so any contacts that they have, new companies moving in, they always direct them towards Leeds Pride. So this week alone we’ve been talking to, well I’ve been speaking to Channel 4, about their move here and how they want to be involved in Pride. When The Ivy moved here they were in touch about how they want, wanted to be involved in Pride and stuff and they unfortunately opened in September and Pride was in August, so we’re working with them for this year.
And we’ve got the big nationals, y’know, Sainsbury’s being a massive support of Leeds Pride. There’s a girl at Sainsbury’s called Gemma who, every participant that she has in the parade, she fills a form in for them and claims £10 back per participant and gives it to Leeds Pride. Last year alone we got £5,400 off them, so she had to fill in 540 forms in her own time, so it just shows how people have bought into Leeds Pride and how people want it to succeed, and from our point of view, we know Leeds Pride is always gonna be a free pride event. When it comes to the day that it gets that big or you need to charge or people insist on charging, that’s when we’ll walk away from it, cos we – we’ve always said, we don’t want people to come see a big headline act, we want people to come, enjoy the whole day, take in the whole day, and know what pride is about, kind of thing, it’s not just about a concert and all the rest of it, y’know. It’s about enjoying the whole day – going to the market stalls, picking up information, y’know, speaking to people that are there, seeing what other companies do. Speaking to other organisations like, say for example, Friends of Dorothy and getting information from the people that are involved in there, and some of the stories they’ve got to tell are absolutely fantastic, y’know, yeah. So it’s, it’s grown massively and hopefully it’ll keep growing, y’know.
Every year – in 2016 we had parade entries; 2017 we got an extra 33%, it went up to about 80-something and we thought, ‘this is fantastic!’ And then last year there was a hundred – it grew by another 50%, it was 124, and we were like, ‘where are we gonna put all these people?’ But it seemed to work, so why change the formula kinda thing?
RH: Does Leeds Pride differ from other cities’ Pride events then?
ALI: Yeah. So, we’re the final major city – so with regards to Leeds is fourth, we say Leeds is the fourth largest city in the UK, after Birmingham, Manchester, and obviously London, and they all – most of them cities charge, y’know as you’ve probably heard about Manchester’s controversy this year with the ticket prices more than doubling. Birmingham went down the route of charging probably about five years ago, and that charge started at £5 but now it’s close to £30. So, once you go down the route of charging, you need to get a better act on than last year to keep people coming. To get that better act on it’s gonna cost you more money, you have to increase your ticket price. So, it’s kinda like snowballs into something that you don’t really want it to snowball into, and that’s why we at Leeds have always said, we’ll always be free. Once we’ve covered our infrastructure, whatever’s left over we spend in acts and that’s how we do it.
Last year we had a big sponsor pull out and we were short of funds, so there wasn’t any major headline acts kinda thing. Instead of spending £30,000 on acts, we spent about £18,000 on acts, but it’s just that fine balancing act of what we’ve got and what we can spend kinda thing. We’re not gonna overstretch ourselves. We know the people are gonna come, we know they’re gonna enjoy the day, there’s so much on throughout the day, whether they want to see the entertainment on Lower Briggate, or whether they want to go to some of the satellite events that are happening around the city centre, we’re not the kind of people that say, ‘well we’re Leeds Pride and this is what we do’ kinda thing. If someone wants to have an alternative – there was an alternative pride going on in… I think it was Sheaf Street. We would quite happily support that kind of thing, y’know. If people want to go to that, it’s up to them. There might be things happening at the Tetleys, people can go and visit them, so yeah it’s all, it’s all up – we’re not, we’re not saying that if or you need to come to Pride, we’re not charging you if you come, enjoy the day, fantastic. If you don’t, you don’t enjoy the day, you’re free to do what you want – that’s the beauty about Leeds kinda thing, there’s nothing, we’re quite laid back, the whole city’s quite laid back so yeah, it’s quite good.
And with the support we have from the Council and stuff, it’s fantastic because – we worked hard with the Council to get them to buy into it and now they’ve 100% bought into it we’re always stretching the boundaries a little bit, so when they said the roads’ll be closed for 45 minutes last year, they were closed for two and half hours. Which they might tell us off about later on, but at the time let us off with a smile because they know how much it brings into the city. We’ve just completed last year’s impact survey and it brought in £4.3 million into the city, and that’s a conservative figure: of the 55,000 people attending we took 20% off, and we do that every year when we’re doing the impact survey just to kind of like give us more of a conservative figure. […]
RH: So, what are your highlights of Pride events over the years in Leeds?
ALI: Well, as it’s grown, I’m up at 5am closing the streets off and I don’t finish, I don’t hand my radio back and the streets aren’t open ‘til midnight. So, enjoying the day’s a bit difficult, you’re running around. Last year, I covered, I think it was 32 km during that day kinda thing just running about. Yeah, it’s a long day, but there’s been some fantastic highlights – for me personally, the parade is always the big highlight, I’ve always, from day, from day one of Leeds Pride I’ve been the parade safety manager, so I’ve always pushed that. Before becoming Director of it, it’s always been about the parade for me cos that was my little baby kinda thing, yeah, and I absolutely love it.
Other highlights include we had, we’ve had some great acts on, we’ve had like Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Heather Small; we’ve had… girl from Girls Aloud. And we’ve had Alexandra Burke. But for me personally, it’s two highlights: first having Martha Wash from the original Weather Girls – absolutely brilliant. Y’know, she was so quiet backstage and then she gets on that stage and she belts out a tune. Another highlight: probably having Angie Brown on, a ‘80s, ‘90s star kind of thing. We’ve had her on that many times we’re actually quite close friends now, so it’s actually a friendship’s come of it, she just turned up to me birthday, my 40th birthday party and started singing, and it’s actually getting, building that friendship with her as well, that’s quite nice. And you wouldn’t think that’d come from a Pride event cos everyone just after getting a slot and getting paid for it kinda thing, but there is kind, there is that community there that you can kinda like fall back and kind of rely on a bit to get you out of tricky situations. So, if there’s ever any shortfall or anything, you know there’s people just a phone call away that will come in, step in at the last minute and help you out.
Other highlights yeah include – the work we’ve done with the Council, like previously mentioned, kind of thing, getting them to buy into it as opposed to us being a satellite even that happens. They’re 100% supportive of it now, so that’s good. And yeah, it’s just actually how the event’s developed over the years, y’know, it’s difficult over 14 years to say, ‘that was the best moment of Pride’; it’s always, every year there’s something new that happens y’know. I remember one year I hired a trike, how I had two drag queens on the back of it, which was like… fantastic kind of thing y’know to be in the parade. That was probably the last time I was in the parade, so that’s probably about eight years ago. Since then it’s got too big so, y’know I remember in the earlier days we was that short of equipment and stuff. So, we’d have the equipment on the stage at Millennium Square, and then as soon as the last song was over, we’d have an army of about 20 people dragging that equipment onto the first float, wiring it up very quickly within 10 minutes so we could set off the parade and off we went, so there was some music around, and now, seeing the effort that some people put into their parade – into their float, sorry, it’s absolutely amazing. I know a company that spent, I think, about £14,000 just doing their float up because they wanted it to be the best one there. So there is, yeah, companies are putting a lot more effort into it and buying into it so, that’s a nice thing as well.
So, there’s so many highlights over the years. Y’know, you could pick different ones from each year, kind of thing, and we’d be here all day, so… yeah there’s so yeah. It’s, probably the main thing is, is to see how the event’s grown and highlight being from 300 people to 55,000 and it becoming a Leeds fixture, so whether you’re from the LGBT+ community or just a Leeds resident you know when Pride’s happening, and you want to attend it, which is fantastic.
RH: So, what route does the parade take, and has that changed over the years?
ALI: Yeah, the route – the parade route’s changed three times over the years. So, when we first started the route, when we first started, sorry, Pride, it was – Leeds United wasn’t quite as low down in the leagues as they are at the moment, shall we say, so Leeds City Council had a para- had a route in in case Leeds won the Champion- the Premier, the Premier League, and cos they were still in Europe and stuff. And so we adopted that route because the route started at the Town Hall, came along the Headrow, along Vicar Lane, down The Calls, along Call Lane, and then back up Sovereign- back up towards the train station and back towards Town Hall, that was their route. So, we cut that route in half and stopped it on Lower Briggate, which was fine for us. But then, when we closed off The Calls – the first couple of years we’d send the parade vehicles through there, but they were just too congested to get the vehicles through the crowds, the crowds of people, so we changed the route four years ago, and sent them down – as they came down Boar Lane we turned off onto Kirkgate by the Markets and went along Wharf Street for the first year, and then sent the vehicles away and sent the people into the Pride area. So, the Pride area there was no vehicles in it at all, but then we found that Wharf Ch-, Wharf Street was cobbled and wasn’t fully accessible.
So, two years ago we extended the parade to go all the way down past the bus station and then come up past the parish church, so it’s a fully accessible route now. It’s a bit longer – there’s not a great deal that happens towards the bus station, but we’re hoping that will get better. So, last year we had a big screen down there and we had a brass band there as well, so it’s a learning thing for us as well because no one, we’ve not done that route so it’s actually trying to get it to work. I know it gets a bit sterile down that end and people have mentioned that before, but it’s the only way to get the vehicles and all the people through the checkpoints and away from the event space safely, or into the event space where the people are concerned and the vehicles away from it, in the safest possible way.
RH: Have you ever had to deal with any negative attitudes from people about the event in the past?
ALI: Yeah, we’ve always – well, for the first four, five years we always used to have the protesters on, standing on the corner, the usual, y’know, ‘it was Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve’ banners and all that kind of stuff. And – we’ve always had mainly the church protestors there, they’re the only ones that really protested to it. There’s no one else that has protested to it on the parade itself. We did a sponsorship deal with Leeds United last year; there was lots of negative feedback on their official Facebook page about them being involved in Pride, and you could see people’s anger, which we were quite shocked about, but then that is the football environment. The – just going off-piste – Man United had, on theirs, when they changed, when the Rainbow Laces campaign came out and they changed the logo to rainbow coloured logo I think they had best part of half a million homophobic comments on their Facebook page. So, it just yeah – we had that with Leeds United.
You get the odd – we don’t get it directly to us, but you’ll get the odd, you’ll see the odd negative comment online and stuff, you can’t get away with it with the way social media is now. But the thing is if people don’t want to go attend a Pride event they don’t have to. We’ve had other venues, not part of the LGBT community… a certain venue put something really homophobic on their Twitter about five years ago. That was soon taken down, kind of thing, I think it was one of the managers so – you do get that. It’s not direct, y’know you won’t get someone commenting on the Leeds Pride Facebook page or anything like that, because people that like that page are there for a reason. But you’ll get it, you’ll see it on social media on other people’s Facebook pages and stuff like that, so. You’re always gonna get that. It doesn’t matter how far forward we move as a society, homophobia’s always gonna be there. It’s a bit like racism, y’know, it’s, it’s always gonna be there, whatev- what form it takes, y’know – say, for example, with on the racism side, y’know, there’s the hate speech from, the inner racism from say the Tommy Robinsons and the [?] of the world, you’re gonna get that with homophobia as well. They might not directly say it, but y’know what they’re meaning.
RH: Is it a team that works on organising Pride?
ALI: There’s two of us, so there’s two Directors of Leeds Pride, myself and Alex, that do it. She works for Leeds City Council full-time as well. She does more of the community stuff, cos we have a community grant scheme that we do, which is – we’re probably the only Pride that does that, whereby we give money to community organisations to put on their own events, because there’s only so much the two of us can do. We don’t know what every single organisation wants, so we have a process in place where they can bid for a pot of – it’s £3,000 we put into the pot; we limit it to £300 per organisation and they can bid for money for events that they want to put on. And we ask that they put on, either the week leading up to Pride or just straight after Pride. And that, yeah, she deals with that side of it, and she deals with like the market stalls and stuff. I deal with the main logistics; sponsorship; infrastructure; going to boring all agency meetings with the police and all t’Council and all that kinda stuff, so yeah it’s a good team, cos she’s more community kinda like focused whereas I’m more on the events side, getting the logistics and that side of it sorted.
RH: And can I ask you, what is it like being Muslim and so visibly associated with a Pride event?
ALI: For me it’s not an issue, but when we go to say for example, we’re part of the UK Pride Organisers Network, which is pretty much every single Pride in the UK, and you walk into that room and there’s not many people of colour in there whatsoever. No one from the like BAME community or anything like that. So, it just shows that, there’s not a lot of people from the Muslim or the Asian community that are involved within their LGBT communities, y’know. I played football for many years for the Yorkshire Terriers. There wasn’t many Asian people – I think up to about 2008 I was probably the only Asian person in the league. I played rugby for the Leeds Hunters, again not many Asian or people from the BAME community were in the rugby clubs. So, it’s nice to be kinda like there doing it, almost kinda like – trailblazer sounds like a horrible word, but it’s kinda like saying, ‘yes if you want to do it, you think, you can do it’ kinda thing, y’know what I mean? If I can do it, anyone can do it kinda regardless of your background. So, that’s important to me because there is – from a personal point of view – there is a complete lack of the BAME community within the Leeds LGBT scene, for some reason. There’s more involved in Leeds Pride cos we try to get the minority groups involved in it. There’s cultural reasons why they won’t be involved in it. There’s also reasons that they don’t feel comfortable on the scene, and that kinda stuff, so there’s lots of reasons why they aren’t involved in it. But for me it’s really important to be visible and if any, just say look, regardless of your background, regardless of your religion, if you want to do something, you can do it. It’s just, y’know, you have to break down them barriers.
For me it’s probably a little bit, I’ve always been quite confident, quite chatty. I’ll always fight my corner. Hence why I fall out with a lot of people. But that’s life, y’know what I mean, you’re not gonna get on with everyone all the time kinda thing. But you’ll always get on with people that are likeminded and want to help the community move forward and kinda like encourage more and more people to come onto the scene and make the scene more and more diverse. But – like we were talking earlier, y’know, if you want a drink it doesn’t mean you have to go onto, if you’re from the LGBT community, it doesn’t mean you have to go onto the scene to have a drink. Leeds is such a tolerant city. You could go, you could go anywhere, y’know, any city centre venue to drink with your mates kinda thing. That’s what’s changed quite a lot over the last 15/20 years that I’ve been on the scene, which is really nice to see.
But then, also, the world’s, the world’s changing whereby you don’t need to go onto the scene to meet likeminded people cos you’ve got social media now, you’ve got all the various apps to meet people and all the rest of it. You don’t have to go to the LGBT community to actually meet likeminded people, so it’s good in a way, but then, you just feel like there’s not that many people there kinda like talking to each other and sharing their experiences and stuff like that so – a bit off-piste, but it’s gone on to a different direction than the question you asked but yeah. They just, y’know, it’s really important that the community shares their experiences and stuff like that kinda thing, without being divisive or having a conversation is completely different to putting a Facebook status or a Twitter, or a tweet or anything like that, y’know. You’re always gonna get the keyboard warriors who’ll pounce on it straightaway, but if you’re having a conversation in a room you tend to turn people around to various views and stuff like that, they’re more sympathetic towards your views kinda thing whereas on social media it’s a lot harsher, it’s like this is it.
RH: Has your sexuality caused you any difficulties with regards to relationships with your family, for instance?
ALI: Not, not really. I didn’t come out to my family for a long, long time. I came out to me brother about five years ago. I’ve always know deep down, always know deep down that my family know that I’m gay kinda thing so it’s never been really discussed, but back in 2005 I got married, I had a marriage of convenience to an Asian lesbian and that went on for eight years before we separated. And then two years ago I did something on the local Look North about marriages of convenience. My sister saw that and were quite shocked by it. I got a nasty message of one of my sisters saying, ‘keep your filthy lifestyle to yourself, we don’t want to know’, whereas that were the perfect opportunity for me to say, ‘this is who I am: you either accept it or you don’t accept it, it’s completely up to you. Y’know, if you wanna be in my life, I’d love you to be in my life. If you don’t wanna be in my life, you don’t have to be in my life’ kinda thing.
I’ve always been quite independent from my family and, y’know, they’ve all come around to it, y’know. It took a couple of months kinda thing, a few awkward moments at me mum’s house when we were all there. But now, it’s fine, y’know. I speak to my sister quite often and only three months ago I got a text message off her (cos we normally kinda like speak on the phone), I got a text message off her, I read the text message, she was like, ‘I’m after this new car, I’ve seen this Range Rover that I want, can you look at some prices for me cos I know you’re really good at that’. And then I read the text message before that, which was the one that she sent me just after the news thing, I know we’ve been talking for a long time on the phone and at me mum’s and stuff, but it just felt so strange like this was such a lovely text message, like, ‘you are good at this, can you do this for me’ and the one before that was like, ‘keep your filthy lifestyle…’, so it just shows how people kinda like do come around. Yeah, it might be a shock to ‘em to start with, but I think it was more a shock of the marriage of convenience cos she was the one that put all the – I wanted a low key ceremony, turns out there was 6,3-, 3,600 people there in the end kinda thing, y’know, they invite- the family invited everyone and she did all the, paid for the staging and all that kinda stuff and I were just, I wanted it low key get it done and dusted kinda thing cos I knew it was a marriage of convenience. But I think she was more upset about how much effort she’d put into it for what essentially was a sham marriage. And so, but yeah, she’s round. My nieces absolutely love Leeds Pride. The last two years they’ve been right at the front of the parade. One of ‘em thinks she bloody runs Leeds Pride, y’know, she’s like, ‘no! You’re going too fast! Slow down!’ Telling you to slow down, you’re going too fast, so she takes control of that. She’s just like me kinda thing so. It’s lovely to have, yeah it’s lovely to have ‘em there. I’ve had sister-in-laws come and be in floats and other nieces come and be in floats and stuff so yeah, my family are more accepting now.
But then, y’know society’s changed so much, even in the 14 years since I’ve got married, y’know, society’s changed so much. Whole new generations about – I’m 41 now. I’d class mys- I’d class myself as a third generation of Asians in the UK, even though me father was a first-generation, there’s an 18-year gap between my brother and me cos I’m the youngest of six. So, I class that generation as the second generation and I fall into the third generation with some of my elder nieces, cos some of my nieces are only four years younger than me because of the age gaps within the family. So, I’d say I’m third generation, we’ve got the fourth and the fifth generation – the fourth generation are – well, the third generation are pretty much all born in the UK, educated in the UK; the second generation possibly born in Pakistan, possibly born in the UK, but still had that Asian upbringing. But now, the fifth generation don’t even speak the mother-, the mother tongue, so some of my younger nieces and nephews can’t even speak to me mum or understand what they’re saying cos the whole language is English in the house now. So, y’know, they’ve lost the Urdu, they’ve lost the Hindko, they’ve lost all that kinda stuff.
Two of my nieces went to Pakistan for the first time last year and they were just mesmerised by it all. And they came back and said, y’know, ‘yeah, that is our background and yeah we hear about Pakistan, but having seen it ourselves, we never realised the poverty that was there on our doorsteps kinda thing’. It’s fine living in big houses and stuff, but next door there’s someone living on the street and it’s nice for them to see that and keep in touch with their Pakistani heritage as well, even though the language might, the language barrier might be an issue. And more and more of my family that haven’t been are wanting to go over and actually see where their great grandparents came from or their grandparents came from and stuff like that. So, the cultural thing will always be there, y’know it doesn’t matter, I’ll always say I’m British-Pakistani. With regards to religion, I’m not very religious but you still call yourself Muslim, because that’s the upbringing you had kinda thing. I don’t pray, I don’t go to the mosque, unless it’s for like funerals or weddings kinda thing, so it’s but you’ll always have that identity of being Pakistani, British and Muslim.
And, I think, yeah it’s… it’s difficult to balance at times, but society’s changing y’know. What the kids are learning these days is completely different to how what our upbringing is kinda thing so, yeah. And the young generation can be who they want to be without having the barriers of parents that were born in a third world country, cos their parents were born and educated in the UK, and they understand the UK culture and the English way and all that kinda stuff. Society is changing, I think it’s becoming easier to be from an Asian background and be part of the LGBT community, or I should say LGB community cos the trans stuff is completely different because that’s been going on on the Indian subcontinent for many, many years. I wouldn’t say it’s accepted but it’s tolerated, if that makes any sense, and it’s known about. So, the LGB stuff and the trans stuff, from the Indian subcontinent side, are two completely different things. One’s about sexuality and one’s about gender identity, so yeah, it’s, the trans stuff is accepted. But the LGB stuff’s getting more and more accepted now y’know. I know a couple of people that, from the Asian background, are completely open and out to their families and stuff so, and yeah, they’re fine with it.
RH: When you say that trans people are more accepted within the community, does – would that include say here in the UK?
ALI: It – I don’t have any personal experience of that so I can’t, I can’t say that. But y’know, when I say they’re accepted… they’re known to be there, kinda thing, the y’know, on the Indian subcontinent u-, the trans people used to provide the entertainment at the weddings and stuff like that kinda, they were all the flamboyant kind of – they call ‘em the hijra girls and stuff like that. So they lived within, they live within certain communities, but y’know – I’m not saying they weren’t persecuted or anything like that, but the majority of people accepted ‘em. Y’know, you’re gonna get people attacking ‘em, whether it’s physical or verbal or, all the time kinda thing, but they were visual and they were out there to be seen kinda thing, they weren’t hidden away. Whereas sexuality you can hide away, but the trans stuff, especially on the Indian subcontinent, was quite visible. So, there might be a difference between acceptance and visible, yeah. They would probably, they would probably say they’ve had a hard time, y’know, but I’ve no experience of that, but I have seen ‘em at weddings and stuff like that in Pakistan, so that’s where the visual side of it kinda like is there. Whereas the LGB stuff isn’t as much.
RH: Right, I’ll ask you one more question if I may. I’d just like to go back to your marriage and ask about how you met your wife and what it was like living that lifestyle?
ALI: I met her on a website called Gay.com or Gaydar.co.uk, it was one of the two, there was a funny period in them days where one was about to go and the other one. We chatted on there for a coupla months, then we met up at Hartshead Moor Service Station, we chatted about it more, and then we spent a few years trying to get know each other, see if it would work out and if we were compatible to live as friends and also have that public face when we go to family events or go to visit families and stuff. And then we decided to get married. That went on, like I said, for eight years. So, when we were going to see families or weddings and stuff, we’d go together, but I lived in Leeds, she lived out towards Manchester with her partner, and she’d come over to Leeds every now and again. When we first got married we spent three weeks at me mother’s house, which was really difficult for her because I was going out to work and stuff but she was just kinda like sat there meeting new people every day, cos it’s the Asian culture kinda, people come to see the new bride for weeks and weeks, one of them kinda things, so it was a lot more difficult for her.
But, with a year or so doing it, within probably two years of doing it, I became more confident cos I’d only just joined the Yorkshire Terriers, I’d only just got involved with Leeds Pride, I was only just getting involved with MESMAC. And within three or four years of getting married I was at a complete different level to when I got married to where I was three years later in my personal life and I felt a lot more confident about me and my own sexuality. And then that’s when I started regretting doing what I did. But she wasn’t in a position to kind of, in the same position as me, so it took another four or five years before we were abs- points in our life where we could get a divorce and we wouldn’t be pressured to get married again. And so that’s why it took so long. But I’ve chatted to people about it, I’ve chatted to Asian people about it from, who are thinking about doing it, and every single person I’ve said, y’know, from my personal experience, I would never, ever go down that route again if I had the choice.
If I could turn back time, I wouldn’t have done it. It’s, you’re living a lie on top of a lie and the pressure just gets on top of you. So, you’re living a lie being gay, but then you’re living a lie of this false marriage and it’s just a horrible situation to be in, and the pressure does get to you, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. But it’s an experience that I went through and learnt from, so, and hopefully I can help others when they come to making that decision about it so advise ‘em possibly not to go down that route. But again it’s up to the individuals of how they want to live their life, all you can be there as a peer, almost sort of at 41 I am elder statesmen of the community kinda thing, y’know what I mean? It’s, yeah it’s really important to pass on your experiences to others going through it kinda thing, otherwise what’s the point of going through that hardship if you can’t help others with it? Which sounds really cheesy, but it’s, it’s, y’know what I mean, you’ve gone through it, you’ve broken down a few barriers and you’ve done things that might help others, you might as well share that experience with ‘em and hopefully they’ll take some advice from it and make the right decision for themselves.
RH: Brilliant, thank you very much Ali. Is there anything else that you wanted to mention while we’re still recording or?
ALI: No, I think that pretty much covers everything.
RH: Fantastic, thank you so much for taking part.
ALI: No problem.