We will fly our Pride flags high!

Bringing the Pride march to rural Ireland

Buncrana recently hosted a hugely successful Pride march, the first ever in County Donegal. Leanne McBrearty is a member of the Inishowen Pride committee, which organised the event. A married mother with two sons, Leanne describes herself as a proud ally to the LGBTQ+ community.

Anglo-Celt: How did the march come about?

Leanne McBrearty: A local secondary school Crana College approached the businesses on Buncrana Main Street last June 2021 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 really vibrant with colour all through the month of June and it felt like a demonstration of how Buncrana was making great progress towards being an inclusive town to live and work in. It was this initiative that planted the seed for the Inishowen Pride committee to get together as we each felt like the time was right for Buncrana to have its own Pride.

AC: Was there any resistance to the march?

LMB: I’m glad to say there was no resistance to the parade happening in Buncrana, which really shows how the community has changed over the years.

We had been overwhelmed from the outset, not only by the words of encouragement we received, but by the appetite for the parade to happen, which was almost tangible. We had a fantastic response when the Save the Date was announced and, after inviting people to get in touch, we were contacted by local businesses, schools, council, local authority, sporting groups and the community and 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 RNLI, school groups, ATU, local soccer clubs, performance and dance groups, local council reps, youth groups and businesses all walking with their banners and flags in the parade.

AC: How did you feel when you saw the enormous turn out?

LMB: We were feeling confident that there would be a good crowd, partly because we had a large number of groups who registered to take part in advance and also by the engagement we had from the Inishowen Pride social media accounts. Then we had received messages of support from well known people like Clannad, David Norris, Eamon McGee, Nora Stapleton and Seamus Coleman, which we shared and that helped to get the word out that the parade was happening.

With that all being said, when the day came we couldn’t quite believe our eyes. 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 neighbours 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 realised the volume of spectators and allies. 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. They all came out to celebrate with the LGBTQ+ community, the atmosphere really was electric.

AC: Is there any single moment from the day that stands out in your mind?

LMB: Sunday, June 5, 2022 in Buncrana is a day that I will never forget in my lifetime and there were so many moments that I will cherish. When I watched 100 people carry the huge Pride flag as it left the grounds of Scoil Mhuire along the parade route, it was so special but what was most emotive for me in that moment was seeing the local soccer children with their parents who were part of the group carrying the flag. I thought about how Ireland has changed and the impact the gesture would have on the young people especially young people in sports. To me it was a really powerful statement to say ‘Sports is for All!’

AC: Do you think it is harder for members of the LGBTQ+ community to come out in rural towns than in cities?

LMB: Cities by nature have more diverse populations, which I guess presents LGBTQ+ people with better possibilities and opportunities to live their authentic selves. With this in mind I think rural communities need to continue building on the work that is being done to actively 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 organisations nowadays have diversity and inclusion policies in place however there is still work to be done to ensure they are implemented to their fullest capacity.

AC: Is rural Ireland becoming a more welcoming place for LGBTQ+ people?

LMB: I think rural Ireland is 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 last Sunday in Buncrana, LGBTQ+ people will feel more hopeful about their future. I feel I should add that although progress is being made, we are not perfect yet and still have a way to go before LGBTQ+ people feel fully safe and accepted to live their true selves in rural Ireland.

AC: What does Buncrana’s Pride march mean for other rural Irish towns?

LMB: I think it might give LGBTQ+ people of all ages who live in rural areas more hope about how attitudes are changing towards them. The success of this Pride might also speak to parents and guardians who may be fearful for their LGBTQ+ young person. Hopefully they will see that they are not on their own and reaffirm to them that their child is perfect just the way they are.

AC: What advice would you give anyone in a rural town thinking of organising their own march?

LMB: I would say to go for it! You will hopefully experience what we have in the run up to and on the day of our Pride parade in Buncrana last Sunday, June 5. Get your committee together and use a community led approach. Invite people from all corners of society to get involved to participate. Make sure to liaise with the local authorities and An Garda Síochána. We found that organising a Pride parade takes a lot of work, we had been organising our event for months, so allow plenty of time to plan and prepare. It will be worth the input when you see the joy on everyone’s face on Pride day.

AC: Will the Buncrana march become an annual event?

LMB: Yes! We will definitely be back next year with another colourful parade, we will fly our Pride flags high, sing and cheer once again in celebration of our LGBTQ+ people.