The final preparations are underway for the very first LGBT ‘Pride’ parade event to be held in the Outer Hebrides.
Hebridean Pride takes place in Stornoway on Saturday, 6 October – the same day as the Proud Ness parade, the first one to take place in Inverness for 15 years.
Organisers of the event say they have received a lot of support from organisations including NHS Western Isles, Stonewall, the Equality Network and An Lanntair. Funds will be raised on the day for the local branch of the Penumbra mental health charity and political support has also come in, with organisers receiving a number of warm messages from MSPs and political groups.
It’s all happening on Saturday and the Pride march will begin at 12noon from the forecourt just outside An Lanntair. Those who will be taking part should be there shortly beforehand.
Flags and balloons will be available for people to carry, children are welcome, and shop windows are going to be decorated in honour of the occasion.
The walk will follow a route – all on the pavements – through the Narrows, to North Beach, around the Town Hall and to the Carlton, where there will be light refreshments and entertainment, including a performance from drag queen The Duchess.
There will be stalls on mental health and sexual health, crafts and baking.
Then, in the evening, Era Nightclub will be holding an LGBT Party Night, from 10pm till late, in honour of this first ever Hebridean Pride event – and organisers hope that everyone will join in the “be loud, be proud, be fabulous” party spirit.
It is an opportunity to dress up and hit the dance floor to many of the anthems.
Stornoway resident Susanne Erbida, who is a member of the organising committee along with Era owner Carl Easton and others, said the group had thought it was “time for the Western Isles to show support for the local LGBT+ community, especially in light of recent events”.
She explained: “It should be a celebration of acceptance and tolerance, a happy, peaceful and positive event. Everyone is welcome to our march, young and old.
“We want to show that it is ok to be different, that LGBT+ people do not have to be afraid to go public with their sexuality. That there is nothing wrong with being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and anything in between.”
Maree Todd, SNP MSP for the Highlands and Islands, was one of the first to get in touch with the organisers to express her support for this very first Pride event in Stornoway.
“I am absolutely delighted to see this big step forward happen,” she said.
“I am also delighted to see the Highland Capital joining many other cities in Scotland with the first ever Pride march in Inverness happening on the same day as your event.
“Due to our very geography, topography and sparse population, here in the Highlands and Islands, it is easy to feel isolated – so hopefully this will provide a much needed space to bring people together to experience unity and strength.
“To me, these events in both Stornoway and Inverness are about freedom of expression, being proud of your identity, and telling everyone ‘You are Welcome’ here in the Highlands and Islands. I know just how important that is for all of us, but particularly for children and young people.
“I’m sorry that I can’t join the march but I’m delighted to see the power of protest being used to create meaningful positive change in our own community.”
Sending “love and solidarity to all those taking part”, she added: “I’m sure it will be a fantastic occasion.”
In another expression of political support, Matt Bruce, chair of the Western Isles Labour Party, wrote to say the group had agreed at their recent AGM to support the event. “Equality and happiness for all, not just the many!” he said.
Elly Fletcher, An Lanntair Chief Executive, said she was “delighted” the arts centre could support this Pride event, here in Stornoway.
“This event, and the strong community-driven movement of love and acceptance behind it, feels like an important moment for the islands.
“It’s a chance for us all to come together to raise awareness, and celebrate LGBT+ people and diversity across our communities.”
Explaining why he got involved in helping to organise the event, Steve Ferguson said: “I have seen too much hatred and objection aimed towards LGBT groups and individuals, especially here in the Highlands and Islands.
“Equality is something everyone deserves regardless of sexuality. Although I am straight, I have gay and bisexual family and friends, this event will not only celebrate them… it will celebrate tolerance, acceptance and love.”