Scottish island prepares to host hundreds for second ever Arran Pride

When the first London Pride parade was held on July 1 1972, it was like throwing a stone into a pond, Michael Gettins says.

‘Sometimes it takes a long while for the last of those ripples to reach the shore.’

The founder and chairman of Arran Pride was speaking a few days before the event was set to be held for a second time. It took almost exactly 50 years for the ripples to cross the deep waters of the Firth of Clyde and arrive on the island Michael calls home, which sits about 14 miles off the west coast of Scotland.

With a permanent population of fewer than 5,000 people, Arran might seem like an unlikely place to be holding a Pride march.

But for Michael, who moved across the water with husband Kenny five years ago, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The small population grows significantly in the summer when people come to stay in their holiday homes, while hundreds of thousands of tourists make the ferry crossing every year to explore the island known as ‘Scotland in miniature’.

That diverse, dynamic culture is a key reason why Michael, 63, felt it should get a Pride. He said: ‘It was quite early on when I realised that Arran has a reputation as quite a popular visiting place for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Pride Month 2023

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This year, is exploring the theme of family, and what it means to the LGBTQ+ community.

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‘Because it’s safe and because it’s very inclusive, and because we have this kind of cosmopolitan, constantly moving sea of people.

‘Folk are walking hand in hand going down the road and feel quite safe, it doesn’t bother anybody and why would anybody bother?’

And far from being an outlier, Arran is among a group of Scottish island communities that have started celebrating Pride in recent years.

The ripples from London made it to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis in 2018 when Hebridean Pride was held for the first time, and reached Shetland last year when the UK’s most northerly Pride was first celebrated.

It is a significant shift for areas once considered among the most conservative in Scotland. The evangelical Free Church of Scotland, which opposes same-sex marriage, has traditionally played a large role in the culture of the Inner and Outer Hebrides.

Even Michael, who may be better acquainted with Arran’s LGBTQ+ community than anyone else, was surprised at how last year’s event panned out.

‘We thought there would be six of us,’ he said.

‘The committee, with a flag each, gathering at the Calmac pier and then walking up the promenade – the A841 as it’s called in the official books – and gathering at the back of the Brodick Hall to have a picnic in the park.

‘Let me tell you: we had to get someone to count, because you have to do this for Police Scotland to say how many folks in your parade, so we had somebody count as the parade left the departure point at the pier office.

‘And there was 260 folk.’

This year, an idea conceived at the height of lockdown in a Facebook post has become even larger, developing into a month-long celebration of the island’s diversity.

Today, the march along the promenade will be held once again, and followed up with another alcohol-free picnic and ceilidh. Tomorrow, there will be a barbecue, a dook (group dip in the sea), and a ‘festival of music’ – which will involve karaoke at a pub in the village of Lamlash.

Then, on June 16, Kilmarnock-based drag queen Miss Sasha Blaze will take the ferry over from Ardrossan to host dinner and a bingo session at the Glenisle Hotel.

And throughout, Pride flags will be hanging from lampposts along the Promenade.

For Michael, it’s all a perfect opportunity for noise, colour, vibrancy and fun. But a moment three weeks ago reminded him exactly why these celebrations are held in the first place.

‘I sat with some young folk from Arran Youth Foundations,’ he said.

‘When I was asking them what they thought – did you like it, what did you think? – they said things like, it was the best day of my life.

‘I have lived here, and I’ve never been able to be me, and I just felt… safe.

‘If ever there was a reason for doing something like Arran Pride.’

He continued: ‘To paint a picture, last year that ripple landed here and we had our first Pride. And it was utterly remarkable.

‘It was a joy. It filled my heart with joy.’

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