Cornwall Pride 2023 Chief Exec: “Changing attitudes is more of a challenge in Cornwall”

Matthew Kenworthy Gomes models the 2023 Cornwall Pride dates on his T-shirt


Cornwall Pride 2023. It’s been going for weeks now and it’s already being seen as a massive success up and down the Duchy. Sure, there are two big Prides still to come (sadly Redruth Pride 2023, which was meant to be on Saturday 15 July 2023 is cancelled due to bad weather) but, with most of the marches already done for the year, it seems like a good time to check in with the charity’s chief executive to find out about this overwhelming success… and to ask him whether Cornwall is a tougher nut to crack than other places in our part of Europe when it comes to changing attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people.

Matthew Kenworthy Gomes, the chief executive of Cornwall Pride, is a passionate man. He has seemingly boundless energy. He is a successful businessman and a champion of Cornwall. And he has, along with every other team member and volunteer behind the annual event, made a difference in the Duchy. He’s too modest to say so but it’s evident that he’s a vital cog in a Pride that has emphatically raised awareness of so many LGBTQ+ issues in Cornwall over the past 16 years while promoting inclusion, safety and support for all.

But how much work is left to do? Cornwall, as we all know, is a rural area, so there is plenty of isolation in the countryside, with many people who live outside of the towns and city enjoying far less exposure to diversity, particularly with regards to sexuality, gender and racial diversity. There are also pressures from certain religions. Simply put, a more traditional way of life resides in many spots across the Duchy. So there must be lots of work for Matthew and the gang still to do to change hearts and minds in Cornwall, right? In short, how challenging is it to change attitudes here?

“Attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community in Cornwall have got better over the past few years,” Matthew tells Proper Cornwall. “But, to be frank, it’s still not great here. We still have a lot of work to do.”

Matthew continues: “I do feel that it is more of a challenge to put Pride on in Cornwall than many other places across the country. It’s more of a challenge to change attitudes here for many reasons. But we are working hard to do so and we believe there is a bright future for both Cornwall’s LGBTQ+ community and for Cornwall Pride as well.”

How is the Cornwall Pride team ‘working hard’ to change attitudes in the Duchy, though? How can it make this magical land safer for gay people, more open to diversity and more inclusive overall? Well, Matthew goes on to answer this and to announce how villages and hamlets in rural areas may well be the next targets for new Pride marches and events in the future. Read on for the full interview…

Matthew Kenworthy Gomes with a cute silver face painting image under his right eye. He is the chief executive of Cornwall Pride and poses here in a rainbow sweater
A face-painted Matthew in a rainbow sweater

A 16-year success story

Cornwall Pride has been going for 16 years, with the first one happening in 2007. For those who don’t know, this is an annual event that includes a colourful march and all sorts of other events taking place in a particular Cornish town or city that celebrates diversity, promotes inclusion and awareness, and just reminds us that everyone in any society should be treated equally, regardless of sexuality, background, race, gender, age or level of ability.

There’s also a bus tour across the Duchy before the Pride parties begin each year, plus the Cornwall Pride Conference 2023 closes out the year on Wednesday 20 September. In fact, check out all the remaining Cornwall Pride 2023 events: here.

Matthew Kenworthy Gomes says that Cornwall Pride has been a huge success over the years. “We had an incredible start to Pride 16 years ago,” he says, “when a group of people put on the first Pride march in Truro. It began the conversation and began strengthening the community in Cornwall.

“At the time,” continues Matthew, “the team made a Pride flag that was 40m by 10m in size and we later found out that this was actually the largest Pride flag in the world back then. It was completely homemade and it was marched from Lemon Quay to Victoria Gardens in Truro. It was fab. I performed there too and it was just an incredible way of connecting people in Cornwall.”

Matthew says that Cornwall Pride ‘has grown from there’. “It has certainly given strength to the LGBTQ+ community since then,” he notes, “and it is well supported today. As for me, I went away and spent time in Cardiff and London but I came running back to Cornwall as soon as I could because I love the place.”

“When I came back,” continues the 38-year-old, “Cornwall Pride had a small team of people but they needed more help so I joined the team. That was eight years ago. I came in as a volunteer but I and the team understood that we needed to bring in a different kind of energy to Cornwall Pride. For a start, this is Cornwall so why were we only doing Pride in Truro? We wanted to move it around Cornwall, plus we realised it would be amazing to hold it on a beach because, again, it’s Cornwall! It eventually proved too difficult to do on a beach but Newquay Pride in Newquay was nevertheless born and that has been going strong now for the past four years.”

Cornwall Pride 2023 is going to be even bigger and better than Cornwall Pride 2022. Here, in 2022, people walk down a Cornish high street with rainbow flags and banners preaching love for all. Crowds of onlookers cheer this Pride parade.
Parading through the streets at Cornwall Pride. Image courtesy of Kai Greet Photography

The CIC is born

Matthew says that when Newquay Pride began, Cornwall Pride became a community interest company (CIC), which is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to improve both the lives of the people it supports and the people it employs. It meant that the team could provide a range of events year-round, as well as the extensive Cornwall Pride events calendar over the summer. It also meant that the team could work closer with all sorts of LGBTQ+ groups in the Duchy to create safe spaces and promote equality and diversity throughout the land.

“Being on the Cornwall Pride team is frantic,” says Matthew. “It’s volunteer-led and there can be a lot of burn-out from people as there’s so much work to do every year. So we have found different sources of funding over the past few years to make sure we grow. At Newquay Pride, for instance, we have had a lot of feedback saying that ‘this is the only day of the year I feel safe’.”

Matthew continues: “Over the past few years, we have realised that we need to get out across all of Cornwall to spread awareness and help create safe spaces everywhere. And thus the bus tour was launched. Earlier this year, we took Pride buses out across Cornwall and, again, this is a way that we are now involving the whole community. It’s been an incredible success so far, visiting so many towns and villages, promoting Pride, inclusion and awareness.”

As a businessman, Matthew admits to having ‘a lot of experience in HR and people surveys’, so ‘that’s what I wanted to implement into Cornwall Pride from the moment I joined the team’. “Put simply,” he says, “I wanted to know ‘what impact every year does this event have on Cornwall?’ And we have been trying to answer that question. The impact reports made by us over the past few years have looked at what has happened around Pride and what people feel about it.”

Matthew says that the Pride team has ‘been able to get further into what it’s like to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community in Cornwall’ over the past couple of years. He says: “We are aware that there is a great impact on the mental health and wellbeing of some members of the community in Cornwall. So much so that two years ago we became a charity. That’s when I became the chief executive.”

Matthew continues: “We accept donations as a charity. This is undoubtedly positive and allows Pride to grow and continue its work in the community. But it comes with challenges, not least the fact that I’m the only full-timer in the team alongside three part-timers. We basically do the work of eight full-timers. But a lot of energy and love goes into what we create and do. We have an amazing group of trustees and they fully support the volunteers and the team as a whole.”

Matthew Kenworthy Gomes, Cornwall Pride chief executive, poses with an acclaimed drag artist in Cornwall during Cornwall Pride 2023. There are crowds of people standing and watching behind them
Matthew Kenworthy Gomes poses for a selfie with an acclaimed drag artist in Cornwall

Why Cornwall Pride?

Why put on Cornwall Pride at all? Surely, after 16 successful years, attitudes in Cornwall have changed and there’s no need for Pride any more, right? Wrong. Of course that’s wrong, in fact, as Matthew quickly points out all the good that Pride is doing right now in 2023 and will be doing in the future across the Duchy.

Matthew says: “Why are we doing Pride? Well, that goes back to the feedback we have gathered over time. We have just started working with a third party hate crime reporting organisation and without promoting the partnership at all, the very next day after we began working together, people sent in some awful feedback on what it is like to be gay in Cornwall in 2023.”

“This is happening now,” continues Matthew. “Not every day and not to everyone but it is happening to some people, sometimes and this has a tremendous impact on them. It hurts. So when people ask ‘why do we need Cornwall Pride?’ that’s one of the answers: because there are still gay people in Cornwall who are hurting. Pride raises awareness and offers support.”

Why is it more of a challenge to put Pride on and change attitudes in Cornwall, though, as Matthew said earlier? “For starters,” he says, “there’s a brain drain in Cornwall. That means that a lot of people in the LGBTQ+ community in Cornwall run off to a city or go off to university and don’t come back, often because of the discrimination they fear they will get back here. I know people who have had a traumatic time in Cornwall as a gay person and they just don’t want to come back. So, in Cornwall, we have lost many LGBTQ+ people to other places and that is a challenge to overcome.”

“Secondly,” continues Matthew, “we have only now in Cornwall, over the past 18 months, started to realise what the impacts and the benefits are of inclusion. For instance, if you have an inclusive workforce and you create safe, positive spaces for that workforce then you can get a 35 percent return on your business. We know that now. So we are focusing on inclusion across Cornwall, be that in a business or otherwise. That’s in the hands of everyone in Cornwall. It’s about talking to people, listening to them and doing something positive and inclusive.”

Matthew says that Cornwall Pride is ‘limited by people’ so ‘we are always on the lookout to grow the team and volunteers’. “There are now 11 Prides across Cornwall,” he notes, “so, under our Community Prides project, we are looking for ambassadors in each of those towns so we have more support on the ground in those places.”

“A lot of people and governance and overall structure have to been in place for each Pride,” continues Matthew, “so it’s a lot of work. The team has previously been burned out for Bude Pride, for instance, but having local ambassadors and more volunteers will be a way to prevent future burn-out and help share the work. If you are interested in becoming an ambassador for your town, let us know!”

Two big rainbow flags are held aloft by Matthew Kenworthy Gomes, the chief executive of Cornwall Pride 2023, and his partner. They are both covered in green paint and stand next to the sea in Cornwall
Matthew and his partner proudly hold rainbow flags aloft in Cornwall

“Can Kylie perform at Newquay Pride?”

The Cornwall Pride team receive all sorts of requests every year, according to Matthew. “For instance,” he says, “we’ve been asked in the past why we don’t have stars like Kylie performing at, say, Newquay Pride. Can you imagine the cost? But actually, in 2023 people seem to now get it. They get what Cornwall Pride is all about. You don’t need big stars to put on an incredible Pride event.”

“We are working so hard to raise awareness of the LGBTQ+ community and many other communities that need support in Cornwall,” continues Matthew. “We are starting and furthering conversations about LGBTQ+ issues across Cornwall. We stand in solidarity with people in Cornwall who are not able to live their best lives due to attitudes towards them or many other issues.”

“We work with Black Voices Cornwall and refugee groups as well,” adds Matthew. “In fact, we share an office with Black Voices Cornwall. We all have to stand together and raise our voices for those communities who need it and look to do things differently in the future together.”

Of course, the Cornwall Pride events are big parties as well as moments for serious fact-finding about the Duchy’s gay and marginalised communities. But, says Matthew, they don’t answer the question of ‘why’. “Why do we need this level of awareness spreading still today?” he asks. “Well, 52 percent of LGBTQ+ people have experienced depression in the past year compared to 25 percent of other groups combined. We’re talking about a minority group that’s around three and a half percent of the population so that is a high percentage. Why, in 2023, are those numbers so high? It’s because society is still not inclusive enough. Inclusion is so important and Pride is all about inclusion.”

“In Cornwall,” continues Matthew, “we have to have to continue conversations around sexuality and gender identity because it may be here that a lot of LGBTQ+ people are hidden. For instance, it’s known that some gay people hide their sexuality in the workplace to avoid telling their bosses and colleagues. This may be happening across Cornwall, where people may be too afraid, even now, to come out or seek help. What sort of a life is that? These people may need help right now and, again, Pride raises the awareness of these issues.”

“Cornwall is such an incredibly innovative place,” Matthew tells us with pride. “Historically, we are on the cutting edge of innovation here. I believe we are also on the cutting edge of change here too. Pride has its place but society is changing overall. And I believe it will become more inclusive in the future.”

Pez the angel speaks to the crowds during Cornwall Pride 2023. She has a microphone in her hand, stands on a stage and has a set of rainbow-coloured angel wings on her back
Pez the Angel speaks to Cornwall Pride. Image by Kai Greet Photography

A fab 2023… so far!

“So far,” Matthew says, “2023 Cornwall Pride has been brilliant. The Prides began at the end of April with Falmouth Pride 2023, which saw up to 10,000 people enjoy the celebrations and there were great fringe events and after-parties and all sorts happening in Falmouth. For me, I love Camborne Pride 2023, which was in May. It’s my favourite one. Camborne really celebrates the occasion.”

“Newquay Pride 2023 is next up,” continues Matthew, “on Saturday 22 July 2023. This event will particularly focus on transgender rights this year. We then take a break before Truro Pride is the last Cornwall Pride 2023 of all on Saturday 26 August. You’ll see Lemon Quay and Boscawen Street closed off and there’ll be the Farmer’s Market, two stages in Lemon Quay and in Boscawen Street and, well, lots more besides. It’s going to be really exciting.”

Proper Cornwall asks Matthew which of the final three Prides this year are worth hitting up. “Well,” he says, “for the final two Prides of this year, if you want a boogy then go to Newquay. If you want to see an incredible march and be part of what Cornwall Pride has become, then go to Truro. But, in reality, go to both. They’re both going to be fab.”

“I’m a bit of a party animal, actually,” confesses the chief executive. “I love dancing. It’s my favourite thing to do. In fact, we would like to announce with the help of Proper Cornwall that the official after-party at this year’s Newquay Pride 2023 is none other than the Sailors Newquay nightclub. A massively famous, internationally known venue supporting Cornwall Pride. This is great news and I can’t wait!”

Matthew says that ‘when you go to a Pride, you meet people and you see people and you talk to people’. He tells us that it ‘may be that you may see them again in that town long after Pride but this time you may talk to them again if you spot them in the street’. “This is how Pride gives people confidence,” he adds. “Confidence to talk to others at any time of the year.”

A huge rainbow flag is laid before a bus for Cornwall pride 2023. Hundreds of people hold it as the Cornwall Pride Bus stands and waits
A bus-load of support at Cornwall Pride. Image courtesy of Kai Greet Photography

Cornwall Pride in parishes and hamlets soon?

Cornwall Pride has been a great journey so far, Matthew tells us, but ‘we are now looking at what comes next’. And here’s the news we mentioned at the start of this feature. “The journey has taken us from one city to 11 towns and a city over 16 years,” he says. “We know what Pride looks like in these 11 towns and city but now we are focused on what it could look like in Cornwall’s parishes, villages and other towns in the future. We are connecting with parish and town councils to find out what can be achieved in all sorts of areas across Cornwall. All places in Cornwall can come together to celebrate inclusion in the future.”

“As a charity,” continues Matthew, “we can get funding for parishes and villages who want to be a part of Cornwall Pride from here. We urge people to let us know where they would like a Pride. Anything is possible. For instance, we we are talking with the Scilly Isles right now to see if a Pride could be put on over there in the future.”

Matthew says he ‘would like to see Pride in villages, towns and hamlets across Cornwall’ in the near future. He believes it is more than possible too. “We have the energy and drive and we recognise there’s a need for it to help promote inclusion, awareness and everything else that Pride does for communities,” he tells us.

“It’s been a strong 16 years since it began,” adds Matthew, “but the future looks even rosier for Cornwall Pride. For now, though, enjoy the Newquay and Truro Prides coming up and let us know if you have any feedback at all or want to join us as a volunteer. If you have free time in your town, village or city and you are interested in the future of Pride and want to get involved as a volunteer, then please do get hold of us now. We need more volunteers ahead of Cornwall Pride 2024 and we would love to have you on board!”

To register your interest, email the team at info@cornwallpride.org or send them a message on the Cornwall Pride Facebook page. In fact, the Cornwall Pride Facebook page is a huge source of information for upcoming Pride details and for places to go if you need help or support. Also take a look at the cornwallpride.org website for further information.

For all the remaining dates and details of Cornwall Pride 2023, please see: here. We will update you with the Cornwall Pride 2024 dates as and when they are announced later in the year.

Until then, enjoy the final three Pride events and be safe in the knowledge that there are people like Matthew Kenworthy Gomes in Cornwall who are putting their boundless energy into making the Duchy a more inclusive, fairer, more supportive and safer place for all, despite the fact that some attitudes may be more challenging to change. Love each other and, of course, love Cornwall.

Interview by Matt Fleming