It was high time for some gay pride in Stornoway

This is a loud and proud shout out to An Lanntair for putting on LGBT History Month in the arts centre this month — the first time it has ever been celebrated in the Outer Hebrides, a place that has not, historically, enjoyed the best reputation for its attitude towards the gay (and lesbian, bisexual and transgender) community.

I probably only have to say ‘High Church’ and ‘gay minister’ together in the same sentence for you to know what I mean. The tolerance for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people has not been particularly high – especially when you add religion into the mix — and time for it to improve.

So well done, An Lanntair, for putting on this programme. They have been taken aback by the positive response to it on social media, with lots of likes and shares for events, but at the same time have come under fire from some people who don’t like it.

I was chewing this over with Shen — a former chairman of An Lanntair as well as a retired GP — who said that wasn’t entirely unexpected.

“It’s challenging for the community because there are still fixed attitudes but people should open up their minds and develop a tolerance and understanding and be less condemnatory,” he said.

“It’s important to challenge attitudes. I don’t think we are as tolerant as we should be and we are very ready to judge. But ‘judge not that you be not judged’.”

‘ABOMINATION’

He recalled the time when Eddie Izzard played the Town Hall. They had sold six tickets but then the Gazette carried an article by a minister describing the cross-dressing comedian as “an abomination” — and then it sold out! Shen remembers Izzard delighting in this, shouting “I’m an abomination! An abomination!” on stage. It was a brilliant night, apparently.

I’m not saying the Lewis community is homophobic. Far, far from it. But the large influence the church has on the prevailing mood and ideas of what is acceptable or supposedly ‘normal’ is not LGBT+ friendly. In fact, I don’t think it’s particularly tolerant of anything ‘other’ (watch this blog later in the week for an exploration of the Sunday swimming problem — yes, I am feeling brave at the moment).

Being unable to be yourself — whatever that means — is not good for mental health and if recent events have shown us anything it’s that mental distress is extremely dangerous and more powerful than anything else, even faith.

We’ve come a long way in terms of gay rights in Scotland in recent decades, from decriminalisation in 1980 to the approval of same-sex marriage in 2014. But there’s still a way to go, even nationally – who was it said ‘Scotland doesn’t do gay’? — and I think An Lanntair’s decision to mark LGBT History Month is an important step forward.

CELEBRATION

The programme itself is part of an annual nationwide celebration of LGBT+ culture, described as an opportunity to “discuss, promote and celebrate the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights”.

They put together a diverse programme which finishes on Friday night with a showing of the LGBT cult film, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, followed by karaoke in the cafe bar. But the two events before that are the ones I’m really looking forward to.

Local artist Andrea Ingram is giving a talk and a zine launch tomorrow night (Wednesday). Andrea has been documenting life on the Outer Hebrides for 10 years, capturing local personalities and landscapes using a variety of vintage film cameras and techniques.

Then, on Thursday night, Gaelic poet Marcas Mac an Tuairneir will be giving a reading and a Q&A. He will be reading from his latest collection of poems, Lus na Tùise (Lavender), which are written in Gaelic with his own translations into English.

I’ve read this collection, published by Bradan Press, and I really like it. I also really like Marcas — he sung beautifully in this year’s Gold Medal competition at the Mod, by the way, and will be doing a few songs on Thursday with friends — although I haven’t yet met him in person.

Marcas’s book of poetry is named after the ‘lavender generation’ of interwar gay right activists and he writes from his almost unique position as an openly gay Gaelic poet.

HONEST

His poetry addresses gay issues and identities and the Gun Ainm (‘Unnamed’) cycle of poems, written from the perspective of a man writing to his lover fighting in the First World War, are particularly special and poignant.

An Lanntair describe Marcas’s work as “refreshingly honest” but I would add to their description. I also found his work to be unapologetic, sensual, heady and evocative. It’s proper literature with a passion that’s palpable.

There’s a particular line in one of his poems (Triangle) that I liked a lot — “draw a line through my body, from heart to mouth” — but my favourite poem was probably the eponymous Lavender. Here’s an excerpt:

Lavender was growing in the front room… 

With that sweet humidity, spreading through the house 

And the smell of you; intoxicating,
like wormwood, 

Sultry,
from the sofa, to the kitchen, to the bedroom. 

All-pervading,
like consecration incense. 

Another one I liked a lot was ‘Today’.

Because of you,
I wrote a lovely ode today, 

Instead of a rant of
hate or regret. 

Like Andrea, Marcas is not a native islander. He’s not even Scottish, hailing instead from York. It does make me wonder where the LGBT+ Hebridean artists are. But I think Andrea and Marcas should both be applauded for standing up at An Lanntair and getting the LGBT+ party started.

I know Marcas was delighted to be asked to take part as we were speaking at the weekend.

COMPLICATED

He also said: “I think An Lanntair have been incredibly brave to not only programme it but to have publicised it so unabashedly. I take my hat off to them.”

He added: “I think the issues in the Western Isles are extremely complicated when it comes to LGBT but there is that vein of Free Church presbyterianism that runs through culture and consciousness.

“The community has a relationship with religion that’s a lot closer than in other parts of the country. Whether people believe or not, it’s part of daily life and in a lot of ways that’s a good thing – but it does present a kind of stumbling block for people who identify as LGBT.”

Marcas said he personally had “encountered very little prejudice from Gaelic or island communities” — adding “none of my friends give a monkeys” — but added he had probably been “dealt a different hand” as he is not from here originally.

He knows of gay men in the Gaelic community “who are still in the closet and probably always will be”, adding: “I think the overriding thing is silence around the issue. It’s taboo. It’s not discussed. It’s something that’s not necessarily celebrated in any way.

“Until that silence is broken I don’t think that integration will be complete but what An Lanntair is doing is powerful because it takes the lid off and it raises the question.

“It opens dialogue and it’s out of that dialogue that the silence is broken and misconceptions on both sides will be broken as well.”

Sponsored content: This blog post has been supported by An Lanntair. All views and opinions are entirely my own.

Katie

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