Interview : We talk Grampian Pride with Justine Smithies
Justine Smithies, Grampian Pride Co-Chair | All photos taken by Thomas Anderson
Justine Smithies is a friend of Inclusive Networks and we’ve featured a few interviews with her over the years. She’s one busy lady and since we last caught up with her she’s only gone and become Co-Chair of one of Scotlands newest LGBT+ Pride events, Grampian Pride – taking place in Aberdeen on Saturday 26th May 2018. This is all on top of being one of Scotland’s most visible transgender campaigners and role models. Our Founder Thomas Anderson sat down with Justine to find out more about Grampian Pride.
How did you turn the idea for Grampian Pride in to a reality?
Following feedback from the LGBT+ community in November 2016 it was clear there was a strong appetite and need for a Pride event in the area. Grampian Pride was then established as a sub-committee of the North-East LGBT+ Community Development Group. The founding partners of the group are Four Pillars, Pink Saltire, Grampian Regional Equality Council and the North-East LGBT+ Community Development Group.
Was it difficult to get things off the ground?
In principal it sounded really easy to be able to turn Grampian Pride into a reality. How hard could it be? But if we’re all truthful, it has been a steep learning curve for us all. I’ve never seen so much paperwork! But we’re not letting this beat us and Aberdeen will host Grampian Pride 2018.
One of the hardest challenges that we’ve faced was getting people to volunteer their time to help us put on an amazing event for the city, and an event the area deserves. I think people think that if they volunteered then they’d miss out on the goings on during the course of the day. We need lots of support so if you’re reading this and you can spare some of your time on 26th May then get in touch with us. It’s going to be a fun day!
Why is Grampian Pride needed?
For one, Aberdeen is Scotland’s third largest city, after Edinburgh and Glasgow, and it’s the only one of the three that didn’t have an annual LGBT+ Pride event – up until this year. Everything LGBT+ related in Scotland always seems to be focussed on the central belt but there are so many more communities further north that constantly miss out on events like this. Not everyone is in a position where they can travel to events outside of their local community.
It’s also needed to bring the LGBT+ community together and to give us all the opportunity to show the Grampian region that we exist and that it’s ok to be yourself. Homophobia, transphobia, biphobia and other prejudice are still big issues and affect lots of LGBT+ people in the area. I hope the event will help educate those that need to be educated, you’re not going to miss us in the parade, and support making the region even more inclusive.
I also hope that if there is someone feeling isolated or lacking a support network, that they see Grampian Pride as being an opportunity to come and meet like minded people.
A lot of our sponsors are major employers in the Grampian region and they too wish to show that whoever you love or however you identify that they have your back and fully support you too. You can be yourself and be happy and successful.
“It’s also needed to bring the LGBT+ community together and to give us all the opportunity to show the Grampian region that we exist and that it’s ok to be yourself.”
What has the reaction been like from the local LGBT+ community?
The reaction from the local LGBT+ community has been absolutely amazing. We’ve had loads of comments that this has been needed in Aberdeen for a long time. Grampian Pride is long overdue and 2018 is the year we put the region on the map!
How is the event coordinated? Can people get involved to help out and support?
The event is coordinated by a team of approximately 100 volunteers who are extremely important and vital to the success of the event – without them it just wouldn’t be possible. They are led by members of the core Grampian Pride team – who are also volunteers.
People can indeed get involved as we need more volunteers, even if you’re only able to spare an hour or so throughout the day. We have various roles available and you can obtain more information by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org It’s a fantastic opportunity to support a local community event. We’re a friendly group of people!
What do you have planned for the day?
Where to start! We have so much packed into this one day, it’s unbelievable. The Pride Parade starts at the top of Union Street on Albyn Place and will get going at 10:30am with those taking part making their way down the full length of Aberdeens Union Street, ending at the Castle Gate end. There will be floats too and the amazing Annie Wallace, star of hit TV show Hollyoaks, will lead the parade – I’m really proud about this.
Once the parade ends everyone will be invited to attend various events around the city centre. The Grampian Pride Village opens at Beach Boulevard at 1pm and we have loads of local acts and keynote speakers taking to the stage throughout the day. I’m excited that we have a well known local artist headlining the event, none other than ‘I Wish I Was A Punk Rocker’ star Sandi Thom – she’ll take to the stage at 4pm. I’ll be putting flowers in my hair!
In the Pride Village itself there will be a Kids Zone (it will be totally secure) that’ll have bouncy castles (I promise to take my heels off!), face painting and lots more family friendly fun. No one will be able to bring alcohol into this area and we’ll have security on the entrance to make sure children don’t wander off without their parents, carer or guardian. This is all really important to me and the rest of the team. This is an event for all the family!
We’ll have a massive marquee which will host the Youth Zone and loads of charity stalls too (grab your freebie pens). After the march and other activities we’ll all need to get our energy levels back up. There will be drinks and yummy hot food available from Codonas of Aberdeen. What’s more, if you show your free Grampian Pride wristband you’ll get discounted entry into their fairground across the road.
Every person wishing to enter the Pride Village, including children, must register for a free ticket at www.grampianpride.org We have a safety limit of 5000 people set for the village area.
The village then closes at 8pm and various bars and clubs around the city centre will be holding after parties. If you have a Grampian Pride wristband you’ll benefit from discounts at a number of these venues too. You’ll probably see me with a well earned G&T!
What are you most looking forward to on the day?
I’m actually looking forward to the parade as I’m going to be lucky enough to take part in this – I am going to be running around for the rest of the day. I’m sure it’s going to be amazing and I cannot wait to see thousands of excited and proud faces in the parade and those looking on and supporting us all along Union Street. Afterwards I’ll be heading off to the Pride Village to help with the finishing touches before it all opens at 1pm. It’s going to be a busy day but I really can’t wait to see all our ideas and planning take shape.
What do you hope the legacy of the first event will be?
I hope that the community will remember this Pride for years to come and that Grampian Pride will return to Aberdeen every year, just like in Glasgow and Edinburgh. I also hope it shows those people who may be finding it difficult to be themselves for whatever reason that it’s ok to be you. Be proud and know there are other people in the same position and you don’t have to be alone. We’re here for you. After all, we are only here once and as our tagline says, “Just Be Yourself”.
The event has received lots of support from local and national businesses too. You must be so happy with the reaction?
We’re extremely happy with the support that we’ve received from the local community and national businesses. Without this help and support, and from the Grampian Pride team, none of this would be happening. As well as time, it costs a lot of money to host a Pride event.
“Be proud and know there are other people in the same position and you don’t have to be alone. We’re here for you.”
There are 11 Pride events taking place in Scotland this year, a big increase on previous years. Why do you think this is?
I think it’s because Scotland has lagged behind in celebrating it’s LGBT+ community for far too long – especially above the central belt. There are also more and more visible role models out there giving others the strength and confidence to go out and set up Pride events in their own local communities. It’s a fantastic year for showing our Pride around the country and it’s exciting to think what 2019 will bring. Good luck to everyone involved in arranging a Pride event this year and if you’re heading off to one, have an amazing time!
Congratulations on being shortlisted for a DIVA Award
Thank you so much. I was absolutely stunned when I heard that someone had nominated me. I still haven’t discovered who put me forward as a nominee. Then it went onto voting and somehow, god knows how, I’ve been shortlisted for the ‘Community Champion’ award alongside absolutely amazing role models such as Claire Harvey and Michelle Partington.
I’m beyond excited to be attending the awards at the Hilton Waldorf in London on 8th June. I’m going to get to rub shoulders with lots of people I admire and some familiar faces too. I’ve heard whispers that Clare Balding, Denise Welch, Sinitta, Sue Perkins and Sandi Toksvig will be attending. Expect lots of selfies on my social media accounts. I’m really under no illusion that I’ll win but just being shortlisted and getting to attend is my prize.
What are you most looking forward to once the hard work and fun of Grampian Pride 2018 is over?
Maybe putting my feet up for a little while, but we all know that I won’t be able to sit still for five minutes. I want to continue my work as a transgender campaigner and role model, speaking in schools and at community and corporate events around the UK. This is what really matters to me most. If I can help just one person at each event then that’ll be my reward. I want to be that person I didn’t have.
Say cheese! Justine and Inclusive Networks Founder Thomas Anderson