History was made on 25th September with Omagh’s inaugural Pride parade. A colourful, vibrant and cross-community march of around 500 people made its way through the town centre, with hundreds more lining the route to cheer the participants on. The event was organised with strong Covid-safety measures in place.
It was an emotional day for local LGBTQ+ people, creating a sense of acceptance and belonging. Many LGBTQ+ people in the past have felt the need to move away from Omagh and other small towns, fearing backward attitudes and harassment. This hasn’t disappeared, but the overwhelming support for the Pride celebration underlines the important changes which have taken place across society in recent years. There was a real sense that the parade was an important event for the town which would have a lasting impact.
The event was initiated by local queer poet Cat Brogan and her friend Lorraine Montague, and pulled together in three months by a team of volunteers, both LGBTQ+ people and allies. Local Socialist Party activists are proud to have played their part. The Socialist Party had probably the largest political contingent on the march, leading chants in favour of trans rights and against LGBTQ+phobia which got a huge response from both marchers and onlookers. After the march, attendees were treated to an excellent line-up of performers and speakers, including headlining punk band Cherym, who correctly reiterated that “Pride is a protest!”
Local Socialist Party member and trade union activist Amy Ferguson addressed the crowd, speaking about the victories which have been won through struggle in recent years – marriage equality, adoption rights, the lifting of the ‘gay blood’ ban – but also the need to fight against lingering stigma, for full trans and non-binary equality, and against the capitalist system in which oppression breeds. Speaking of the need for solidarity between LGBTQ+ people and the broader working-class movement, there was an uplifting cheer when she referenced the legacy of local LGBTQ+ and socialist activist Mark Ashton and his role in launching Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners.
Of course, the march also faced opposition. A number of evangelical churches took out ads in the local papers opposing Pride. LGBTQ+phobic posters and Bible tracts appeared around the town on the morning of the march. Comic book reactionary Susan-Anne White protested the parade – and physically recoiled when a Pride flag came close to her – while the ultra-Catholic fascists of Síol na hÉireann stood in the town centre, saying decades of the rosary and veiling a statue of Mary as the march passed by. This underlines the ongoing battle against bigotry which needs to be fought, including demanding LGBTQ+ inclusive sex education in all our schools. However, these reactionaries were massively outnumbered and roundly rejected.
The first Omagh Pride was a huge success and congratulations are due to the organisers and everyone who took part. Undoubtedly, the event will grow and thrive in the years to come. The spreading of Pride events from the cities to towns like Omagh, Cookstown and Larne is a profoundly positive development, and reflects the progressive attitudes of the large majority towards LGBTQ+ rights, including in rural areas. But Pride isn’t just about marching once a year – the fight for liberation is an ongoing struggle, and linked to the fight against the capitalist system which thrives upon and creates oppression and inequality.