On 5 June, County Donegal saw its first Pride parade, organized by the Inishowen Pride committee. I spoke to Leanne Mc Brearty, a member of the organizing group, about what it took to host a Pride parade in rural Ireland and what the response was from the community.
By Alexandra Kuenning
How did you become involved in Inishowen Pride, and what has been your role in the organization?
I was born and still live in Buncrana, County Donegal. I am married with two sons and am a proud ally to the LGBTQ+ community. In addition, I have friends and family who are members of the LGBTQ+ community and have always felt it necessary to stand firmly with the LGBTQ+ people in my life.
The Inishowen Pride committee is comprised of local working people, some from the LGBTQ+ community and others who are allies. We all share the same values concerning LGBTQ+ issues. We are a small community group who started to meet at the beginning of this year to organize County Donegal’s first-ever Pride parade. Inishowen Pride came about after an initiative last year whereby the local businesses got on board to fly the Pride flag during Pride month. Each of us on the committee actively planned and coordinated this year’s inaugural Pride parade. We were involved in several roles, including liaising with the local authorities, An Garda Siochana, and the wider community to organize the event.
What was the impetus for starting Inishowen Pride?
A local secondary school, Crana College, approached the businesses on Buncrana Main Street last June at the start of Pride month, inviting them to fly the Pride flag outside their premises. The businesses got on board with the idea and put the Pride flags up. Buncrana Main Street looked vibrant with color throughout June, and it felt like a demonstration of how Buncrana was making great progress towards being an inclusive town to live and work. This initiative planted the seed for the Inishowen Pride committee to get together as we each felt the time was right for Buncrana to have its own Pride. We all knew each other in some capacity, as Buncrana is a small town, but it was when pictures emerged on social media of the Pride flags flying from the businesses in the town last year that we came together. One of us had commented on a picture suggesting that maybe Buncrana could have its own Pride parade, which got us messaging about it, and we organized the first Zoom meeting a short time later.
What was the process like for organizing the Pride Parade? Did you face any difficulties?
We weren’t expecting many difficulties, and I’m glad to say there was no resistance to the parade happening in Buncrana, which shows how the community has changed over the years. We did find that organizing a Pride parade takes a fair bit of work. We started by contacting the local authorities to get permission for the event and notify the public that the parade was happening. We also had regular meetings with An Garda Siochana regarding traffic management, road closures, and health and safety arrangements for the parade. We had been planning the event for months, and it was worth the input when we saw the turnout of crowds. On the day, the atmosphere was electric in the town, it was really amazing.
What was the response from both the LGBTI community and local residents?
We were overwhelmed from the outset by the words of encouragement we received and by the appetite for the parade to happen, which was almost tangible. We had a fantastic response when the ‘Save the Date’ was announced. After inviting people to get in touch, we were contacted by LGBTQ+ groups, local businesses, schools, council, local authorities, sporting groups, and community & voluntary agencies within the locality who wanted to get involved. On the day itself, there was a great variety of groups who participated in the parade, including the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, school groups, universities, LGBTQ+ groups, local soccer clubs, performance & dance groups, local council reps, youth groups, and businesses all walking with their banners and flags in the parade. We were confident that there would be a good crowd on the day partly because we had many groups who registered to take part in advance and the engagement we had from the Inishowen Pride social media accounts. Then we received messages of support from well-known people like Clannad, David Norris, Eamon Mc Gee, Nora Stapleton, and Seamus Coleman, which we shared and which helped to get the word out that the parade was happening. With that all being said, we couldn’t quite believe our eyes when the day came. The crowds gathered from the starting point at Scoil Mhuire to walk along with us in the parade. Some people helped carry the huge Pride flag that we had on loan from our neighbors at Foyle Pride. It took 100 people to carry the flag and we had no problem getting the numbers to make it happen. As the parade left Scoil Mhuire at 3pm, we soon realized the volume of spectators and allies. People young and old were lining the side streets where the parade was passing to cheer and wave their Pride flags in solidarity. When the parade turned to go up Buncrana Main Street, we were greeted by crowds of people lining the two sides of the street.
How would you describe LGBTI rights in Ireland? Is there a noticeable difference between more rural regions like Donegal as compared to Dublin?
Cities, by nature, have more diverse populations, which I guess presents LGBTQ+ people with better possibilities and opportunities to live authentic lives. With this in mind, I think rural communities need to continue building on the work being done to challenge the inequalities, homophobia, and prejudice that LGBTQ+ people still face. There are some very good initiatives, such as the Safe and Supportive Schools programme that was developed by BeLong To with the aim of creating an environment that is fully inclusive of LGBTQ+ students in secondary schools. Most organizations nowadays have Diversity and Inclusion policies in place; however, there is still a way to go to ensure they are implemented fully and authentically. Rural Ireland is slowly becoming a more accepting place for LGBTQ+ people to come out and I would hope that, by seeing the many allies who turned up to support on Sunday 5 June in Buncrana, LGBTQ+ people will feel more hopeful about their future. Although progress is being made, we are not perfect yet and still have lots of work to do before LGBTQ+ people can feel fully safe and accepted in rural Ireland.
What about between the Republic and Northern Ireland, especially as the latter only legalized same-sex marriage in 2020? As a border county, did you see any attendees from Northern Ireland?
It is true that marriage equality in Northern Ireland took longer due to it being blocked in the Assembly. However, Northern Ireland has a rich and vibrant LGBTQ+ culture, in which all sections of the community engage with. There is still division regarding transgender people, however, but this isn’t specific to Northern Ireland.
There were a lot of people who came from different parts of Northern Ireland to the Pride parade in Buncrana. We are a neighboring town to Derry City, so there were a whole lot of visitors from Derry on the day, as well as our friends from Foyle Pride who were there to celebrate with us. One group traveled from Belfast, and we spoke with a few people who took the journey from other areas in Northern Ireland to see the parade. Some media outlets in Northern Ireland also picked up on the event and interviewed some of the hosts and spectators the day after to talk about its success.
How can readers support your work?
We will be returning the parade next year, 2023 and are gratefully accepting donations to support the event. Donations can be made by contacting us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can follow us on social media
Instagram & Facebook @inishowenpride
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