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By Jackie DarbyshireJuly 4th 2022

Shetlanders came together to celebrate the first Shetland Pride festival and demonstrate widespread support for the LGBTQ+ community ...

Hundreds took to the streets of Lerwick and later danced the night away to celebrate the first ever Shetland Pride.

Organisers of the event – Britain’s most northerly Pride – said they had been overwhelmed by the response and hailed it an “incredible success”.

Shetland Pride got under way with some 800 people taking part in a loud and rainbow-coloured parade made up of floats, dancers, emergency services vehicles and the Lerwick Up Helly Aa Jarl's Squad – complete with a Viking galley.

Shetland Pride – Procession

Photos by May Graham

More than 2,000 then enjoyed an afternoon of entertainment at the Pride village in Gilbertson Park.

And a sold-out evening event at Lerwick's Islesburgh Community Centre, with revellers from as far afield as Australia, rounded off the celebration with live music and performances by drag artists.

Founder Kerrie Meyer, 74, of Bigton in South Mainland, said the festival was a tribute to her wife Diane, who died in December 2020.

Together they had run a LGBT group in Hastings for 10 years before moving to Shetland 14 years ago. In 2017 Kerrie set up an LGBTQ+ in Shetland and a website and entered floats into the summer carnival in 2018 and 2019.

Kerrie said: "Diane always said to me, 'Why don't you set up Shetland Pride?'."

Kerrie did just that, setting up Shetland LGBTQ and in May 2021 deciding to launch Shetland Pride, which became a registered charity that September.

Due to uncertainty over Covid restrictions, it was only in January that the committee decided the festival would go ahead.

This is for all people to come together and celebrate their life without prejudice.

Robin Beckett

Shetland Pride – Festival Village

Photos by May Graham

“Everybody is so delighted because it’s something that Shetland really required and Shetland was lacking,” she said. “We’ve now joined 27 other Prides in Scotland.”

She added: “I cannot believe the support we’ve had from the community.”

Kerrie’s partner Robin Beckett is on the committee and described himself as a “general helper”.

Originally from South Wales, Robin moved up to Shetland last October.

“As an outsider it's really great to see Shetland having its first Pride event and I feel quite proud that I have helped in any way I could,” he said.

“This is for all people to come together and celebrate their life without prejudice.”

He said he hoped the festival would “prove to the LGBTQ+ community that they don't have to hide away” and they should “be proud of who you are.

Gary Mouat, aged 33, of Lerwick, said that as a gay man who grew up in Shetland he felt it was important to him to help organise Shetland Pride as it’s an “issue that’s very close to my heart”.

His role has included organising the team of volunteers needed to make Pride happen.

“When I came out I realised no one really had an issue with it,” he said. “You realise it’s just all this stuff that has built up in your own head.

“I think Shetland in general accepts the gay community.”

He said no one should feel they have to announce their sexual orientation.

But he added: “The best thing about me coming out was that I went from being really worried about what everyone else thinks to ‘I don’t care what people think’.

“I think that not caring and having that feeling of liberation makes the gay community so loved by a lot of different people.”

He said if it hadn’t been for the Covid pandemic the festival may have happened several years earlier and that an event of this scale “is what Shetland has needed”.

“Acceptance, understanding we’re totally getting there in terms of Shetland,” Gary said.

“But in terms of stigma, there is still a massive amount to be done. And the more visual we can be, the more we can show people it’s not a bad thing and you don’t need to categorise yourself as gay or bisexual.”

He said he had been really pleased to see how many people had visited the pop-up shop - Pride HQ - in Commercial Street, Lerwick, in the lead up to Pride.

People went in to buy T-shirts for all the family ahead of the parade, dropped in to show their support, and also just to relax with like-minded people.

“It totally makes me feel that we’re definitely doing the right thing here,” he said.

Gary added: “I’m really hoping the message we can send is there is so much support for the LGBTQ community up here.

Shetland Pride – Evening Party

Photos by Dave Donaldson

Treasurer Matthew Lawrence, of Tingwall, described the inaugural Shetland Pride as a “momentous” day for Shetland – and one that he was excited to be a part of.

New Zealander Matthew moved to Shetland in 2005 and has been running a ballet school for 14 years.

He put his skills to good use in the parade, organising the dancers who added to the carnival atmosphere.

Matthew said it was through his background in dance and theatre - which has seen him working across Europe – that he had made a lot of LGBTQ friends.

He had friends who have died of Aids and he has seen people ostracised for expressing who they are.

“Everyone has a right to freedom. They shouldn’t be dictated to by government or individuals,” he said.

Becky Robertson said her involvement in Shetland Pride was about recognising how lucky she has been – as cisgender and straight – not to have to question whether friends and family would struggle with her sexuality or gender identity, or consider the laws of holiday destinations for fear a relationship was illegal.

I hope the event shows the LGBTQ+ community that they are loved, safe and very much accepted by the wider community

Becky Robertson

Becky initially got involved to design the logo and some pictures for merchandise.

But her role evolved and she has been involved in all aspects of the day, from planning and setting up Pride HQ through to stall bookings and running the social media pages.

“I hope the event shows the LGBTQ+ community that they are loved, safe and very much accepted by the wider community,” she said.

“I just really feel that the message we are trying to convey is one of love, of all kinds. I’d like for young people in Shetland to see that and feel empowered to be themselves, unashamedly!”

Becky, aged 40, of Weisdale, grew up in Shetland.

“The very fact it’s even plausible to have Pride in Shetland shows a massive progression from where we were when I was growing up here.

“And that is definitely cause for celebration.”