2015 has been an excellent year in the Highlands, with the main community group achieving great things and with various other cultural initiatives taking place.
The vast area, dispersed population and poor transport links have not inhibited us but, on the contrary, have inspired groups and individuals to look at different ways of working. The Highland LGBT Forum has taken account of some of the logistical difficulties by using video conferencing for many of its meetings, particularly useful as many of its committee live outside Inverness, the main centre of population, and some live over 100 miles away. It held formal consultations with people throughout the Highlands, and much of its activities have been based on the outcomes. It has excellent links with council officials and politicians, with Highland based businesses, with health providers and with other voluntary organisations, and regularly has stalls and provides speakers for events throughout the region. Its website not only provides pages of information and news, but also has a message board where people can exchange views and ideas, ask questions and seek support or just have a chat. This can be particularly useful for those who feel isolated and alone in small villages a long way from Inverness.
Its work was recognised nationally when it was shortlisted for two awards: the Equality Network LGBTI Community Group of the Year and the LGBT Icon Community Spirit Award.
From his remote west coast croft house, activist David Downing set up a new Highland LGBTI magazine in 2014. Available free of charge and sent to the email addresses of subscribers, UnDividingLines has now reached three issues, has become even bigger and better and has subscribers not just in Scotland but throughout the world. It provides an outlet for writers and artists, as well as publishing in depth essays on a wide range of issues historical and contemporary, reviews and interviews. David’s enthusiasm and commitment, along with those of regular contributors, was recognised when it was shortlisted for the 2015 LGBT Icon Media Portrayal Award. David is already planning the next issue, which is due out in March 2016.
2015 also saw the Highland LGBTI Writers Group increase its membership, which comes from across the region. The group, which is led by Kevin Crowe, meets several times a year and has a closed Facebook page and a closed blog where members can share work and receive constructive criticisms. Members are encouraged to enter competitions and send their work to magazines and periodicals, and members’ work features in UnDividingLines. Poets, songwriters, short story writers, novelists, dramatists and others have found the work of the group useful, and the group is currently planning activities to coincide with LGBT History Month in February 2016.
The Writers Group took part in History Month events in 2015. The convenor of the Pink Castle Philosophy Club, Morgan Cowley, had organised an arts event in 2014 and expanded it in 2015. People were encouraged to produce works of art to be displayed at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness. For the whole of February LGBTI communities took over much of the theatre, with the art exhibition taking up two floors. The exhibition was launched at the beginning of the month, with drinks and nibbles and with local musicians, poets and writers performing their work. Scottish Queer International Film Festival (SQIFF) agreed to organise a short film festival to take place at Eden Court during the month, and Eden Court itself booked the one person show “Wilde Without the Boy” in which actor Gerald Logan performed Gareth Armstrong’s dramatisation of Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis” and “Ballad of Reading Gaol”.
Sadly, the LGBTI group the Pink Castle Philosophy Club closed towards the end of 2015, after several years of organising debates on a wide range of philosophical issues. However, most of its members remain active.
A Highland activist has for the past year been engaged on an LGBTI history project, and he is continuing to collect material with the aim of creating a community archive.
There is much else going on, including informal groups based on location or gender or age or interests, and many of these have continued to thrive. In a region like the Highlands, such small informal groups can be a lifeline to those who are isolated and lonely, and those who have experienced prejudice.
There is still much to do, but we have excellent foundations on which to build.
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