2020 marked the 25th anniversary of the first major Pride event in Scotland. We took a look back over 25 years and beyond of Pride in Scotland.
Pride Scotland ’95 wasn’t the first pride event in Scotland, nor was it the first time LGBT people marched for their equality, but it was the first major event of its kind. While we know of small ‘pride’ events that took place around Scotland through word of mouth, often as is the case with LGBT history, records of the event have been lost with time. In the National Archives there is a flyer from a Pride event in 1984, which took place in Edinburgh (Covid-19 has restricted our access to that document for now).
In 1991 there was a Scottish Pride event held in Edinburgh on the 22nd June. The march, along the pavement, went from Waterloo Place to the bottom of the Mound at the National Gallery. In the evening there was ‘disco dancing’ at the Wee Red Bar, a favourite haunt of many LGBT folk to this day.
There were also three pride type events, Lark in the Park, held in 1988, 89 and 92 in Edinburgh. The first organised as a campaigning event after the introduction of Section 28. just four days earlier. These events were well attended and had speeches from Ian McKellen and Peter Tatchell, amongst others.
In 1994 the first meetings took place that would lead to the first Pride Scotland event just a year later.
Event held in Edinburgh
It was on the 17th June 1995, twenty-six years ago, Scotland’s first major pride event took place. Over 3000 people marched from Broughton St, up the Mound, to the Meadows where the Pride festival took place. The march assembled at Broughton Place from 12.45pm and was led by Sheboom. The march went up Broughton St, Leith St to Princes Street, up the Mound and Bank St to George IV Bridge and then down Middle Meadow Walk to the festival site in the Meadows.
From 2pm until 8pm the festival took place (although we’ve heard it might have gone on to 9.30pm). It was compared by Huffty, Ernie Rossie & Brendan Nash. Afterward Joy on Calton Rd held the post pride party.
Event organisers Laura Norris and Duncan Hothersall remember the event 25 years on.
50 years ago, in 1970, 150 people marched through Highbury Fields in London to mark the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Two years later The Gay Liberation Front organised the first UK Gay Pride Rally, again in London, which attracted 700 – they were abused and harassed by the police but were determined to add an element of fun to a hugely political event by ending with a Gay Day in Hyde Park.
Fast forward another 20 years and Pride events had started being organised in Manchester, Brighton and Birmingham, and in London the UK Pride March was tens of thousands strong and the Gay Day had grown into a massive festival. The police were friendlier, the public less afraid, and we were at the start of what would be an unprecedented period of legal steps closer to equality.
The two of us were at university in Edinburgh, and we were good friends with some of the people who were running the Pride Trust in London, and we got a call for help – funding disasters, volunteer problems, any chance we could come down and lend a hand? We drove down talking through ideas for maybe doing some Pride fundraising in Edinburgh and Glasgow, maybe building a team of volunteers who could bus down and steward on the day. By the time we reached Watford Gap we’d talked ourselves into trying something a bit more ambitious.
We’ve said this many times since, but the honest truth is that the small band of people who set up Pride Scotland in 1994 and ran the first march and festival in 1995 only managed it because we were too stupid to realise it was impossible. If any of us had had any significant events experience, or any insight into how the commercial gay scene operated, or any inkling of the sheer amount of goodwill that needed extracted from all manner of public agencies and private organisations in those days to put on a successful Pride event, we’d have just ruled it out.
One of the earliest meetings we had was with Tim Hopkins, now well-known as Director of the Equality Network and the tireless architect of many of the legal advances LGBT people have made in Scotland over the last 20 years, but then, as it happened, one of D’s lecturers in the Department of Computer Science. So he was nabbed after a lecture, invited over for pasta, and quizzed about Lark in the Park (which he had helped organise a couple of years previously) and whether the idea of an actual Pride march and festival in Edinburgh – and then, we were determined even from the start, swapping to Glasgow every other year – was feasible. Yes, he said. And I’ll help. We were on.
It’s been tricky 25 years on to piece together exactly in what order things happened after that. There were certainly long meetings in various front rooms. There was definitely a public meeting in autumn 1994 in the old LGB Centre on Broughton Street – the room was filled with brilliant, motivated people, which blew us away and basically gave us our organising committee. There was a lot of bucket shaking at Fringe venues as a joint fundraiser for Crusaid and Pride. And there was a lot of bucket shaking every Friday and Saturday night in every gay and lesbian bar and venue that would let us in (which wasn’t all of them).
There were extraordinary kindnesses from public and political figures prepared to stick their necks out to offer support, and there were of course plenty of public and political figures ready and willing to condemn us in the strongest terms. For PR purposes, it turned out in retrospect, the latter were more useful than the former. The late great Margo MacDonald invited us onto her local radio phone in show and got her pal, the Tory MP Phil Gallie, to call in and decry the idea of the event. He needed little persuasion. It lit up the switchboard. An hour of outrage followed. Could we come back next week and she’d find someone else?
But most of the time it was just a hard, endless slog of negotiations with the council, contracts with caterers and tent suppliers and PA system suppliers and staging suppliers, pleas for sponsorship from gay venues (some of which were fabulously kind and supportive and some of which were… not) and endless calls to agents and acts to try to secure performances for nothing in front of a crowd of indeterminate size. We literally had no idea how many people might turn up. So we just, you know, lied.
We knew there had to come a point of no return, after which the financial commitments had to be made and there was no backing out. It ended up being late April. Bar collections were steady but not enough, sponsorships were good but not covering everything they needed to. It should have been a close call. But the committee meeting called to take this make-or-break decision was never going to hit pause. It had to happen now, even if it meant a few overdrafts around the table.
And we had another problem looming. There had been some low-level threats from the usual green ink brigade (they actually had to write physical letters in those days, not like your modern day lazy social media harassers) but then we received a couple of more worrying communications. Lothian and Borders Police events team, who were brilliant throughout, gave us calm and helpful advice, and we took the precautions they advised. It has to be said it does take away slightly from the fun of a day at Pride to have to pack a suit in your car to change into to do press in the event of loss of life. Thank goodness that, and other private contingencies made, never saw the light of day.
A whirlwind of preparations, steward training, begging, haranguing and sweet-talking later and it was 17th June 1995. The two of us were at opposite ends of the festival venue on The Meadows, in touch with each other and the rest of the festival volunteers by short-wave radio, wondering what had possessed us to get the tents erected so far apart because the space looked so vast and empty. Nobody was coming. It was raining. It was going to be a disaster. What on earth had we been doing with our lives for the last year and a half?
Meanwhile Tim was organising the march. The radios didn’t reach as far as Broughton Street, the setting off point, so we were also equipped with the latest in hi-tech, a mobile phone. Slightly later than scheduled Tim called to report, through a cacophony of drumming and whistles, that the front of the march had reached the top of The Mound. He said the police had told him there were about 3,000 people marching. And he said he was looking down the Mound and couldn’t see where the march ended. Those are the sorts of moments when you understand what “spine-tingling” actually means.
The day itself is a blur of half-remembered incidents, chapped lips, stress and elation, but that doesn’t matter really because the most rewarding thing, we have gradually come to realise in the weeks, years and decades afterwards, is hearing other people talk about how they were there or saw or heard about it, and what that meant to them. Because for all the endless debates about whether Pride is a protest or a party it is, when it comes down to it, about standing up and being seen. Seen not just by the bigots in whose face we want to assert our right to exist and our determination to defy their hate. Seen also by the quiet, frightened, unsupported LGBT person who now feels less alone. Seen by the bystander on the street who is encouraged to join in the dancing. Seen, 25 years ago, by the school child whose teachers could not support them because of Section 28, and had to look forward to an unequal age of consent, legally sanctioned discrimination, unfair sexual offences laws that criminalised love and zero possibility of legal recognition for their life partnerships. Pride means hope.
The advances that have been made in Scotland in the past 25 years since our first Pride have been amazing. They have improved LGBT lives immeasurably. And the visibility of Pride and similar events has played an important supporting role to the political campaigning which delivered change. But we are still on a very short arc of history. Go back another 15 years and gay relationship are a criminal offence, LGBT lives forced into secrecy and shame, and the idea of public expressions of Pride in Scotland anathema.
Progress is precarious, and that has never been clearer than it is now with the storm around transgender rights, the attempts to divide our community and pit LGB against T, and the think-of-the-children fear-mongering which echoes Thatcher’s original justification for Section 28. The reactionary forces that don’t want LGBT lives held in esteem have never gone away, and are finding new converts. There’s never been a more important time for our community to remember how we stood together in the past and to get ready to stand, and fight, together again.
We’re denied our public Pride events this year by a cruel pandemic, but we’ve never been more in need of the Pride ethos: stand up, be proud of who you are, and remember there are more of us than they think. When we get together we are unstoppable. Blow that whistle. Bang that drum. Happy Pride. And please put a donation in the bucket!
Event held in Glasgow
1996 was the year Scotland’s largest city got the chance to host its first, and Scotland’s second major pride event. It was held on Saturday 22nd June. Assembly for the march started at 10.30am in the city’s Blythswood Square, setting off at just after 11am. It took a route along West George Street, Renfield St, Union St, Jamaica Street, turning left along Clyde Street crossing the Saltmarket into Glasgow Green where the festival was held.
Joining the compere team this year was Karen Dunbar as Mary Kiani, Rubyfruit and Cicero amongst others took to the main stage. Also a special guest at the festival was Quentin Crisp who took part in a book signing at Waterstones book shop.
Chair of Pride Scotland Duncan Hothersall welcomed people to the event saying “Pride is one of the largest outdoor festivals in Scotland. We should not get bogged down, however, in the notion that Pride is just a big party for queers. It is also our opportunity to shout loudly in the faces of those who oppress us. Make no mistake, marching through the streets on Pride day is a direct political act.”
Event held in Edinburgh
Pride Scotland moved back to Edinburgh in 1997, with an event on Saturday 21st June. The march left slightly earlier than the 1995 event this year at 11.30am but followed the same route via George the IV Bridge to the Meadows.
On the Meadows the festival had this biggest line up yet, with Mary Kiani headlining with Labi Siffre (Something inside so strong). There were three performance areas, the Main Stage, the Women Within Tent, and the Virgin Dance Tent – Virgin megastores being a main sponsor.
One image you may recognise is the logo on the front of the programme and the banner logo at the front of the march, the ‘Equality For All’ logo used by the Equality Network since its founding in 1997 until 2017. The Equality Network was born from Pride Scotland, the organisers recognising that the event had so much potential to create change for LGBTI people in Scotland. Pride Scotland Chair Duncan Hothersall and March Organiser Tim Hopkins and many others set up the Equality Network in 1997, Tim Hopkins is the current Director.
Event held in Glasgow
1998 marked a new phase in Pride Scotland as the event moved back to Glasgow for the second time. Duncan Hothersall stepped back as chair and original co-founder Laura Norris became a co-chair with Alistair Dinnie. As with the previous year the march started from Blythswood Square but this year it routed through George Square and the gay scene area at Glassford Street on its way to Glasgow Green.
The festival programme this year highlighted a “very special guest” in the line up with artists Horse, Carol Laula and others. This turned out to be gay icon Jimmy Somerville who was a big hit with the crowd of around 5000. As well as a new top team Pride Scotland had earlier in the year held a competition for a new logo. A rainbow celtic knot winning to become the new Pride Scotland logo.
Event held in Edinburgh
Pride Scotland 1999 took place on the 19th June in Edinburgh, The march used the same route used since 1995, this time assebling in East London Street before making its way via the Mound to the festival in the Meadows, but this year the route was contentious. Lothian and Borders Police had opposed the route and asked Edinburgh City Council’s licensing committee to approve a different route that wouldn’t include Broughton St and the ‘pink triangle’, but Regent Road instead. The committee met on the 21st April 1999, unanimously supporting the route proposed by Pride Scotland.
1999 saw one of the largest Pride marches in Scotland with some putting the numbers at 20,000. A much needed show of force for what was to come in 2000 – the campaign to repeal Section 28.
Event held in Glasgow
The year 2000 was a difficult year for LGBT people in Scotland. After the new Scottish Parliament proposed the repeal of Section 28 a wave of homophobia washed over Scotland in the form of huge billboards and leaflets from the ‘Keep the Cause’ campaign and their backers the Daily Record. LGBT people mobilised too and in June Section 28 was consigned to dust. This, and a split in Pride Scotland, meant that Pride had to be pushed back for the first time until the 2nd September.
The march took the now usual route from Blythswood Square through the city via George Square to Glasgow Green where for another first the festival was held inside, at the Old Fruitmarket where amongst others Hazell Dean and Mary Kiani headlined. We have located a programme for the event by unfortunately Covid-19 has put it beyond our reach for now.
Event held in Edinburgh
It was all change in 2001 as Pride Scotland moved back to Edinburgh, for what was to be the last Pride Scotland in the capital. This year to capitalise on the Scottish Parliament the march took a different route through the city, beginning in East Market Street to Market Street and past the then Scottish Parliament’s temporary home on the Mound, from there it headed along Princes Street to Leith St and dispersing on Broughton Street. Events were then held in the bars and clubs around the ‘Pink Triangle’.
Event held in Glasgow, satellite events held in Aberdeen, Dundee, Dumfries, Falkirk & Inverness
2002 was to be a huge year for Pride Scotland with not just a main event in Glasgow, but also satellite events held around Scotland. It was also to be its last.
Pride week was to kick off in Dundee on the 14th June with events around the city, in Aberdeen they held a ‘petite pride’ in the city’s Duthie Park on the 15th before heading to Inverness on the 17th where there was a pride party at Sleepers Bar, next to the Railway Station, as well as performing arts and workshops at Eden Court. There were also small events in Falkirk and Dumfries.
The main event took place on Saturday 22nd June amidst torrential rain in Glasgow. A combination of the rain and the headline act Atomic Kitten being held up on their way to Glasgow meant that the first ticketed pride event didn’t achieve the numbers it needed to break even and unfortunately Pride Scotland went into liquidation.
Its legacy however was 8 years of pride events in Scotland that raised the visibility of the LGBT community at an important time. 2002 also lit the spark that created the Highland LGBT Forum, still working to this day and running the pride event in Inverness as Highland Pride; and also a new pride event outside the central belt in 2003.
Daniel Mackenzie-Winters wrote of his experiences in helping create a pride event in the Highlands for the first time in Undividing Lines Magazine:
A bunch of us got together thanks to Reach Out Highland, which was the only LGBT-affirming organisation in the Highlands at the time. They were really ground-breaking and had an office in Waterloo Place (which was later taken over by the Terrence Higgins Trust and subsequently Waverley Care as they each successively got the sexual health contract from NHS Highland). Various groups used the premises and the staff were very supportive of LGBT issues. In 2002 the organisers of Pride Scotland (which used to alternate between Edinburgh and Glasgow) decided to do some satellite events in other places and so we set up a small working group in Inverness to brainstorm ideas. We had a Pride Party in Sleepers bar by the station as it was known to be gay-friendly in those days and 350 people turned up for it which exceeded our expectations. We also had a day of films and workshops at Eden Court, including an LGBT history project, followed by some lesbian singers for an evening in Sleepers. As we had to get some of the stuff from Eden Court to Sleepers, about seven of us carried the rainbow flags and banners across town, so it was a kind of impromptu march. I remember one woman had a rainbow umbrella and we got several supportive hoots from car drivers on the way.
The press coverage beforehand was not particularly favourable but this was mainly in the local letters pages when the religious factions got wind of the news that Pride Scotland had asked Highland Council to fly the rainbow flag from its HQ. It wouldn’t have caused a stir in Edinburgh or Glasgow of course as the councils there were already doing it each year. At first the Highland Council refused but quickly back-tracked when they realised it would make them look homophobic. The Free Church of Scotland got up a petition to stop the flag being flown from the council HQ and the letters page was full of really diabolical stuff. It was so bad that I decided to write a letter myself as it was so one-sided and I’m glad it was published. I only had one bad response to it – a photocopied tract posted to me from Edinburgh all about Sodom and Gomorrah, and burning in hell.
Ultimately, getting together for Pride is what led to us setting up the Highland LGBT Forum, and then in 2003 we got a lottery grant to host a conference on LGBT rural issues with Beyond Barriers which was the first event of its kind in Scotland.
Events take place in Aberdeen and Edinburgh.
Scotland got two new pride events in 2003, one to replace Pride Scotland, and the other, the first major Pride event, in Aberdeen.
Its Saturday the 2nd June 2003, after the success of Aberdeen’s ‘petite pride’ from 2002, Aberdeen gets its own Pride event. Event organiser Matt Middler takes up the story:
At the ages of 18 and 19 I had the privilege of being the event organiser for Pride in Aberdeen 2003 and 2004, the first large scale Pride events in the North East of Scotland. With very little experience but bags full of passion and enthusiasm, the organising committee took a chance on me and for that I’ll be forever grateful.
After the ‘petite pride’ event, a satellite event for Pride Scotland in 2002, when a few hundred people came together together at Duthie Park on the 17th June, and featuring not much more than a sound system set up in band stand with local acts and speeches throughout the afternoon and various community stalls, the feedback from a group of young people from LGBT Youth Scotland who’d travelled from Edinburgh was that they liked the ‘festival’ feel of the event.
The organising of Pride in Aberdeen 2003 was then taken over by the volunteer committee of the North East LGBT Forum, of which I was the youth representative. With some funding from Aberdeen Council, the forum was able to pay for me to be the event organiser and I was given a desk in a spare council office. The funding and extra capacity allowed for increased marketing, staging and entertainment and sourcing of corporate sponsorship etc allowing for the event to be scaled up.
The 2003 event was again held in Duthie Park with no Pride March but again focusing on community performances, speeches, a beer garden from the local gay bar, gazebos for community stalls and additional performances.
There were reports of Neo Nazis handing out offensive filers at the park entrance, but this was dealt with swiftly by the police. My personal approach to organising the event was for it to be a celebration. We were delighted at the time to see not only the LGBT community come forward, but lots of allies as well. Parents, siblings and friends of LGBT folks came along to celebrate Pride in Aberdeen. The estimates were that over 3,000 attended the event that year. Nae bad!
With Pride Scotland now gone, Pride Scotia becomes the new pride organiser in the central belt, maintaining the commitment to alternate between the capital and Scotland’s largest city each year.
The event took place on Saturday 25th June with the march starting in East Market Street, moving up Cockburn Street and up the High St, down the Mound to Princes Street, Leith St to Broughton Street. Events were then held around the ‘Pink Triangle’, with a sports day in Gayfield Square and a Health and Community Fair in Club eGo on Picardy Place.
Events held in Glasgow and Aberdeen
Pride Aberdeen took place once again in Duthie Park on Saturday 6th June and Pride Scotia took place in Glasgow on Saturday 19th June with a march and festival event in the Arches.
Events held in Aberdeen and Edinburgh
2005 marked the 10th anniversary of the first Pride Scotland. This was marked at the Pride Scotia event on the 25th June taking the now traditional route from East Market Street to Broughton Street. Once again events were held around the Pink Triangle with the main community fayre held in Club Ego.
In the North East the third Aberdeen Pride took place, it was to be the last major pride event in the city for over a decade.
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