IN the 41 years since Scotland decrimalised homosexuality life has got considerably easier for LGBT+ people.

Same-sex marriage is legal, now. ­Edinburgh and Glasgow are ranked among the top 10 cities in the world for LGBT+ ­acceptance. And this year Scotland will host at least four new Pride parades, stretching from Arran to Lerwick.

But progress is never straightforward. As much as Pride can often feel like a celebration of acceptance over prejudice it also serves as a reminder that rights still need to be defended even after they are won.

Indeed, Scotland is still a country where the reality of transgender existence is dismissed as “ideology” by campaign groups and political parties.

Where plans to provide children with LGBT+ ­inclusive sex education are reviled as “vulgar” by conspiracy theorists and the reporting of hate crimes aggravated by sexual orientation are on the increase.

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To truly understand the significance of Pride in Scotland, particularly the events springing up outside of the largest cities, it is necessary to acknowledge this and to look back.

Not to dwell upon the historic cruelty or ­contemporary ignorance that continues to impact the lives of LGBT+ people, but to comprehend how one of the world’s most successful movements for ­social acceptance made victories in a country formerly known for its religious fervour.

This is the story of how Scotland got – and strives to keep – its Pride.

It was half past four in the morning when James Kerr was found unconscious in a park in Perth.

He had been there all night, injured so severely that his airways were clogged with blood.

After being taken to Ninewells ­Hospital in Dundee his injuries were found to ­include lacerations to his head, hands and fingers, bone fractures, and brain damage. He would remain unconscious until his death later that same day.

This occurred only 15 years ago in April 2007.

And, in some sense, the specifics don’t matter. They don’t illuminate any hidden motive or provide any comfort to those who knew Kerr.

He was killed for being gay. It’s that simple.

He came into contact with a young man late at night, who then called two of his friends. Together they proceeded to hunt Kerr down, brutalise him, and leave him in a pool of his own blood.

Perth, like many smaller towns and cities at the time, wasn’t a place where gay people were ­particularly visible.

The South Inch – a moderately-sized park which connects Perth’s city centre to the residential area of Craigie – was, at the time of Kerr’s death, a ­well-known cruising spot for gay men (though the murderers admitted Kerr made no sexual advance towards them).

In a city with no gay bars and in a time before dating apps facilitated safer connections between LGBT+ people, cruising was a risky necessity for some men in search of physical intimacy. Yet it also came with the risk of one’s own death.

Yet just over a decade later a procession of ­hundreds of people celebrating Perth’s first Pride, led by Sir Ian McKellan, would pass through that very same park.

The National: Sir Ian McKellen led the first Pride parade in Perth in 2019Sir Ian McKellen led the first Pride parade in Perth in 2019

How did Perth go from a place where LGBT+ ­people existed only discreetly to one where they felt empowered enough to march through the streets ­being led by Gandalf himself?

“The LGBT community has always been in Perth,” said Dougie Scott, the chairperson for Perthshire Pride. “It’s just that for a long time it was essentially hidden.

“We are in the land of Brian Souter, after all.”

Even before the murder of James there was another aspect of Perth that made it feel like an ­unlikely place for a Pride parade.

One of Perth’s most successful and richest ­progenies is the bus tycoon Brian Souter. He made a name for himself by co-founding Stagecoach ­alongside his sister Ann Gloag.

However, he garnered a level of infamy by ­spending £1 million on Scotland’s first privately funded postal referendum in 2000.

The cause? His attempt to keep Section 28 (or Clause 2A as it was known in Scotland) on the ­statute books.

The callousness of discouraging teachers from ­mentioning homosexuality in school is well ­understood in hindsight. But, according to Scott, Souter’s involvement also resulted in the ­perception that Perth wasn’t a welcoming place for LGBT+ ­people.

“Which is why having Pride here felt so vital to me,” he said. “It was important for Perth to show people that it’s OK to be who you are in a city where it maybe didn’t feel that way for a time.”

When he and a few others organised the first ­Perthshire Pride in 2018 they were expecting around 300 people to turn up. In the end over 3000 flooded the streets of Perth.

“It was a few more than we expected!” laughed Scott.

This mimics the story of Scotland’s first major Pride event, which took place in Edinburgh in 1995.

Though a few smaller events had occurred as far back as the mid-1980s this was Scotland’s first ­full-scale march and festival. Organisers expected 500 people to attend and were surprised when ­police told them that 3000 were marching towards The Mound.

This was a time when Section 28 was still in place, equal marriage was nothing but a pipedream, and the age of consent was higher for homosexuals than it was for straight people. The mere act of ­appearing in public as an openly LGBT+ person was radical.

Yet while Perthshire Pride seems to emulate and continue the work of those who organised that first ramshackle and community-focused event, the ­modern iteration of the capital’s Pride has been accused by some of losing its way.

It is an oft-repeated maxim that “Pride is a protest”. But nowadays it feels more accurate to say that some Prides are protests.

Others, in fact, are large ­corporate-backed events that act as useful platforms for ­businesses and politicians to proclaim their dedication to equality even while actively impeding it.

Of course, the truth is that most Prides – particularly ones in big cities – take place somewhere on the spectrum ­between sincere dedication to the ideals of equality and their bastardisation by economic interests and the clamour for good PR.

Nowhere was this more apparent than this year’s Edinburgh Pride.

Just over a week before this year’s ­parade activists condemned the ­organisers for accepting funding from the oil giant Exxon Mobil.

Rainbow Greens, the LGBT+ wing of the Scottish Greens, alongside other ­campaign groups, then penned an open letter calling on the organisers to ­publicly apologise for accepting the money and for the comments made by marketing director Jamie Love during an interview on GB News, which they said failed “to adequately show trade union solidarity”.

The organisers did not apologise. So, while the event went ahead as scheduled, an alternative march was planned.

One, its organisers said, which more ­accurately reflected the true ideals of Pride.

Beth Douglas, co-convener of ­Rainbow Greens, was “blown away” by the ­response.

“It was fantastic to see an actual ­protest where it was about ­solidarity ­between marginalised people rather than ­celebrating inclusive employers who also happen to be oil barons” she said.

A central focus of this alternative ­parade was the linking of numerous ­social causes. Not only did the ­protestors join the RMT picket line at Waverley ­station, they then proceeded to head to the US Consulate to denounce the US ­Supreme Court’s decision to repeal Roe V Wade.

It wasn’t just about the rights of LGBT+ people. It was about the rights of anyone who has felt institutionally ignored and belittled.

“Intersectionality is massively ­important to Pride because without it, it starts to lose its identity.” said Douglas.

“You don’t need big sponsorships from unethical people to hold a Pride parade. That’s a fallacy and t’s also not honest to the integrity of Pride’s origins.

“There seems to be a complete ­disconnect between the actual ­organisers and the rest of the community. Where are the public meetings? Where are the more community-focused, democratised aspects of the organisation?”

In a strange turn of events, it appears that Scotland’s oldest Pride could learn a thing or two from some its newest ones.

Take this year’s inaugural Arran Pride, for example.

Michael Gettins has been visiting ­Arran for nearly 60 years, though he moved to the island just five years ago with his husband.

“Arran is often described as being like Scotland in miniature,” he said. “Despite having a population of only 5000 Arran is well-used to people from all airts and pairts coming to visit.

“And because of that I think it’s ­always been very welcoming and inclusive place.”

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But during the pandemic he ­realised that there were probably a ­disproportionate amount LGBT+ people on the island – some of whom were living in very isolated places.

“So, I posted on the Arran ­Community Forum Facebook page asking the ­question: Is it time that we had an Arran Pride?

“Over the next two to three weeks there 487 comments, every one of them positive. That’s approximately 10% of the whole population!”

What followed was over a year of ­community organising, which included recruiting volunteers, raising money, and even dealing with a small amount of pushback.

A few days after one volunteer was told they could not pin up their poster on a community notice board in one of Arran’s smaller villages, Gettins took it upon himself to speak to the woman who had denied the request.

“I don’t know if you’ve heard of Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists” he said. “But I believe her objections were related to that.”

Indeed, the last few years have seen a growth in anti-Pride rhetoric coming not from fundamentalist religions or ­right-wing extremists but self-defining feminists who view transgender equality as a threat.

Their opposition to reforming the ­Gender Recognition Act in Scotland, which would make the process of ­legally changing gender quicker and less ­bureaucratic, has been fierce.

They fear that this legal streamlining would somehow embolden predatory men and result in more sexual assault and harassment – despite similar ­legislation in other countries showing that it makes no significant impact on crimes committed against women.

The rhetoric surrounding the issue has become so inflammatory that many view the Pride flag as a symbol of the enemy.

Regardless, Gettins returned to the town with a new poster. “And I said to her: As this is a ­public community notice board, isn’t what you’re doing a form of censorship?” he said.

“Her response was aggressive, hostile, and downright rude. But I must say in her defence that the poster went up.”

They were forced to inform the police after rumblings of a counter-protest were made known to them.

However, on the day such a protest was nowhere to be seen. Instead, ­hundreds of revellers marched through the streets of Brodick, cheered by the community spirit the event had ­engendered.

By their very nature Scotland’s more rural Prides are not exclusive events. There’s no tickets or entrance fees. If only LGBT+ people turned up then they would be significantly less busy.

What makes them is the solidarity ­people show. The effort it takes to turn up and signal to complete strangers that you care about them may seem small but it’s certainly not insignificant.

Life for many LGBT+ people in ­Scotland may be far better than it once was, but it still only takes one ­prejudiced comment or angry bigot to ruin ­someone’s day.

It is easy to become blasé about events that occur year after year. In some sense it’s probably inevitable.

But Pride – for all its gaudiness, ­corporatism and outright debauchery – provides proof that LGBT+ people not only exist in Scotland but are valued.

And that’s always going to be a message worth repeating.