The people making a difference: meet the founder of the UK’s first Trans Pride

The night before the first-ever Trans Pride Brighton in 2013, Sarah Savage was so nervous she couldn’t sleep. What if nobody turned up? What if the weather was awful? What if the performers flaked?

She needn’t have worried: 27 July dawned bright and clear, and hundreds of trans, non-binary, intersex people and their allies filled the streets of Brighton for the UK’s first ever Trans Pride. It kicked off an ongoing series that, for Savage, a 40-year-old author and co-founder of Trans Pride Brighton, feels is not just an event but a homecoming.

“I found my home in Trans Pride,” she says. “It has become my raison d’être. People never took me seriously before. But with Trans Pride, I’ve realised what I’m capable of.” She has made many friends through the events, and every year they’re roped into helping out, whether by decorating pubs and bars or managing crowds during the protest march.

Savage came from a “really insular” community in Jersey. “I had never met another trans person until I transitioned,” she says. “I didn’t know non-binary people existed. My family disowned me entirely when I came out. My transition was about loss.” Trans Pride, she adds, is about rebuilding a sense of community and chosen family. “The years after I transitioned were about finding that family. I’d never done anything as part of a community before.”

Every year, someone comes up to her at the festival and tells her, tearfully, that this is the first time they’ve ever left the house dressed according to their gender identity. “Those are the kinds of moments I want to create in people’s lives,” she says.

Savage and her fellow organisers had a clear vision of what Brighton Trans Pride should be about. “We didn’t want to sell out to corporations,” she says. “We wanted our event to be free and trans- and non-binary-led.” Trans Pride has run every year since 2013, except during Covid lockdowns, and each year it pulls in a bigger crowd, all waving pink, blue and white flags. They gather in central Brighton, then enjoy arts and craft workshops before a big night out at participating bars and pubs.

That is not to say there haven’t been hitches. “One year I forgot to order the electricity generator,” groans Savage. And after anti-trans protesters demanded to be part of London Pride 2018, she and the other organisers were wary. They asked for volunteer stewards to help if their march was taken over. “In the end,” she says, “we had over 200 applications from cisgender allies and people wanting to stand up for the community. It was so cool.” Everything worked out, although Savage “was up all night, stressing”.

Savage sees Brighton Trans Pride as a necessary corrective to transphobia in UK politics and media. “Almost every day we see stories in the press that are not honest about trans people and not honest about the rights we don’t have,” she says. “But every year interest in Trans Pride Brighton grows. Creating this space for people to find their community is the best response to the anti-trans climate, because we can block out all the noise and, for one day, have the most amazing time.” Savage welcomes cisgender allies. “It’s really important that cis people show up for trans people,” she says. “These visible displays of allyship are so moving and important to us.”

“Sarah is different,” says jane fae of Trans Media Watch, a longtime admirer of Savage’s activism. “She rolls up her sleeves. She gets things done. And there is never a sense that she is too big or important to give you her time and attention.”

As Trans Pride has grown, so have Savage’s ambitions. During lockdown, she says wryly, “I found I am really good at applying for grants.” Along with her fellow organisers, Savage is opening a community centre in central Brighton for trans and non-binary people. “It’s going to be so good,” she says. “We’re calling it the Trans Pride Centre. It will be a hub for trans organising and support.”

Savage tends to dress down, but with this new role, she wants to update her style. “I’ve realised my grunge/ex-goth-chic style isn’t exactly professional,” she jokes. At our request, Benefit Cosmetics sends her a big gift box of makeup, and Savage and some friends spend an afternoon playing around with mascara, eye pencils, bronzers and face tints.

“I haven’t put on makeup for a long time,” she says. “I’d forgotten how much fun it is. Now I have the swanky stuff – I didn’t know how good it could be.” The makeup will give her a confidence boost as she prepares to open the community centre.

“I’m moving from this voluntary role into something more professional,” says Savage. “This will help me feel good about myself.”

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