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Community / Shetland Pride: a celebration of identity but ‘first and foremost a protest’

AS SHETLAND gears up to host its first Pride event on Saturday, performers and tourists have been arriving to be part of this momentous occasion that is set to raise the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community in Shetland.

Scotland’s youngest MSP Emma Roddick, representing the Highlands and Islands for the SNP, is expected to make a speech at the event.

She said she was “really excited” to have a role in Shetland Pride, and added: “Queer people exist everywhere, and I know that growing up in a place where the community is less visible can make you feel like you’re all alone or somehow broken.

Roddick highlighted the importance of Shetland Pride for the LGBTQ+ youth. She said: “Young people in Shetland considering coming out or looking to meet other LGBTQ+ folk will, this year, be able to don a rainbow, feel accepted and happy with themselves, maybe for the first time at home.”

Roddick was also appointed the co-convener of the LGBT+ cross party group in Holyrood.

Drawing attention to the first Pride, she said: “Pride is a protest, and sadly one that’s still necessary. Societal change is slow, and one celebration doesn’t make it alone. But don’t underestimate the meaning of events like a local pride for people in the LGBTQ+ community who have been feeling isolated.”

The first ever LGBTQ+ Pride was held in New York City in 1970, and was a gay liberation march to demand more civil rights. This came after the initial event in 1969, when there was a riot after the police raided a popular NYC gay bar, The Stonewall Inn. Thousands of people marched the streets demanding better rights and celebrating their own identity.

Two drag queens, Lily Minogue and Ru Jazzle, have meanwhile arrived from Glasgow, alongside a burlesque dancer, Roxy Stardust. They will be in the parade and performing at the evening event held in the Islesburgh Community Centre.

Despite equipment failing to arrive due to fog, Shetland Pride made a live appearance on Channel 4’s ‘Steph’s packed lunch’ on Friday. Left to right: Lily Minogue, Beccy Roberson, RuJazzle, Kerry Meyer and Skinnie Minnie. Photo: John Waters

Ru Jazzle calls themselves “somewhere between gorgeous and ridiculous”. They said they were “excited to be performing at Shetland’s first Pride”.

They added: “As a gay person and a drag performer, I’m passionate about fighting for LGBTQ+ equality. Pride events, other than being a celebration are first and foremost, a protest.

“Pride celebrations are all about visibility for the LGBTQ+ community, continuing the fight for equality and having a big celebration of queer culture. In rural communities like Shetland, it’s so important to have Pride events to validate the existence of the LGBTQ+ in the local community, especially if there aren’t many spaces for them.”

Ru Jazzle hoped the celebrations “were a way to give the community a chance to express themselves authentically”.

Harry Whitham has returned to Shetland this July to exhibit his costume designs as Fancy Boy London. He creates intricate outfits and designs often modelled on Cheryl Hole, an English drag queen who featured in Ru Pauls Drag Race UK Season 1.

Whitham grew up in Whiteness and moved to London aged 17. Since then, he’s managed to come home around once a year, and said he was “incredibly honoured” to return to Shetland to showcase his work and be part of Shetland Pride.

“I wish Pride had been here when I was growing up. It would have helped me feel more seen and accepted,” he said.

Whitham was openly gay as a young teen and called the experience “challenging” as he didn’t feel as though he fit in with the wider community.

He added: “I found solace in creative groups like Shetland Youth Theatre, and Maddrim Film Club. They were places where I was encouraged to be exactly who I was.”

He explained this was a huge part of why he wanted to leave Shetland: “I always love coming back, and now there is a Pride event it helps me feel like I’m fully accepted for all parts of me.”

With regards to young people and pride, Whitham added: “I hope that the young people growing up see Shetland Pride happening and feel confident to explore their gender and self-expression. Hopefully, they not only feel accepted in the community but celebrated for being true to themselves.”

Roxy Stardust meanwhile said she was “excited and honoured” to perform at Shetland’s first Pride event.

She added: “I think Pride is extremely important in rural communities. It’s often overlooked for various reasons like lack of transport, or an assumption there won’t be much interest. That feels like an excuse. Even if three or 300 people attend, those people are valid and deserve to be celebrated.”

Pride kicks off with a parade leaving from the Market Cross at 11am on Saturday morning and will host a Pride Village in Gilbertson Park all afternoon. The event will end with an evening of entertainment at Islesburgh Community Centre, with additional performances from The Dirty Lemons, Zdenka and The Fiction.