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Shetland Lives / Pride chairperson Gary Mouat: ‘Coming out is not a one-time thing’

For the second of our Pride Month features on LGBT+ Shetlanders, Shetland News spoke to Shetland Pride chair Gary Mouat ahead of the event this weekend

Gary is a native Shetlander, a self-described “toonie” having lived in Lerwick all his life.

“Growing up, [LGBT+ identities] wasn’t really something that I heard very much of,” he said.

He explained that whilst he didn’t have many negative experiences coming out as gay, LGBT+ people were rarely talked about in nineties Shetland.

Pride chair Gary Mouat. Photo: Gary Mouat

“Generally speaking, there was no positive role models growing up,” he continued. “School just didn’t have anywhere to go and certainly at home it was a taboo subject.

“With the way that Shetland is, you’d always hear when somebody came out and then there’d be all the gossip in the background.

“When you’re in the closet as well and you’re hearing all that stuff, it stops you from really exploring or trying to figure out who you are.”

Due to the lack of LGBT+ education at school and societal expectations, Gary wasn’t open about this sexuality until his twenties.

“I only came out when I was 23, 24…I went through a kind of finding out phase essentially that didn’t really happen until I’d left school. I had to go to uni to feel safe enough to come out.

“There’s still folk that have to move away to feel comfortable to be LGBT and that’s something we need to fix.”

Despite recognising his attraction to men, he ignored it for a long time.

“I just basically pushed those feelings aside, I dated lasses and that’s when I realised that this wasn’t for me.

“I genuinely felt like I had to go and tell my family, my friends, everybody…nobody really knew, I could manage to hide it pretty well.

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“When I look back on it now, I’m just like ‘why did that need to happen?’

“That is genuinely my advice to people these days… you just need to remember that you don’t need to tell anybody that you don’t want to.”

He also highlighted that coming out is not just a one-and-done event – it is something LGBT+ people have to do continuously.

“Coming out is not a one-time thing, it is an ongoing process that you just live through.

“Every time you meet new people, you don’t bring it up but there’s always talk about heteronormative things, and then you have to go ‘well I’m gay’…It’s something that you constantly do.”

Talk turned to this year’s Pride festival and why it is so important.

“Shetland is stuck a little bit in the past… [I once heard that] somebody thought that LGBT was a form of coffee,” Gary laughed.

“It is a very traditional population, so [the expectation] is man, woman, married, babies.

“The population is generally nice, I know there’s a bit of bullying in schools… it’s just ignorance, there’s no maliciousness.

“Some folk are a bit scared to speak to you about it… I quite like it when people come speak to me about [LGBT+ issues] because more often than not it’s a constructive and positive conversation.

“Over the last 10, 20 years with more people coming out there’s probably not one person in Shetland that doesn’t know someone that’s LGBT. That goes a long way to change an attitude.”

He is keen to build on the success of last year’s first ever Shetland Pride.

Hundreds of people participated in 2022’s Pride parade. Photo: Vaila Irvine

“It was so good to see so many people coming out last year and supporting them, being in the parade.

“I’ve never felt that level of support from the community since I came out ten years ago.”

Gary said that everything is “set and ready to go” for the event this Saturday and that he “can’t wait” to do it all again.

“I’m hoping that we get a really sunny day,” he added.

“I think it’ll be busy anyway and we are expecting it to be the same as last year, if not a little bit busier.”

As well as the parade, Pride village and performances on Saturday, the committee is running a pop-up shop in Loose Ends selling merchandise and workshops making signs in the Bop Shop throughout the week.

He also has ambitious plans for the future of Shetland Pride.

“We’re fully expecting to go bigger next year as well,” Gary said. “We’d love to make it a weekend thing.

“We’re hoping to put on a night time thing for the bairns to go to as well, so they can feel a bit more included.”

The evening entertainment at Islesburgh this year is over 18s only.

Finally, Gary emphasised that LGBT+ people in Shetland should be celebrated and involved in the local community all year round, not just for one weekend.

“Pride doesn’t just belong to us, the charity,” he said. “It belongs to the whole of Shetland.

“It would be great if all the pubs could have an LGBT night.”

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