Glowing with Pride
As Drogheda gears up for its third annual Pride Festival, organiser Peter James Nugent tells Alison Comyn that the town is embracing diversity and the LGBTQ community
Not that Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann 2018 needs a warm-up act, but if it did, it couldn't ask for a livelier one than the Pride Festival in Drogheda!
From Thursday August 9th right up to the start of the Irish music festival on August 12th, the town will be under a rainbow of pride, as thousands flock to events organised by the Drogheda LGBTQ community, but enjoyed by all.
Positively brimming with enthusiasm ahead of the three-day event is founder of the local festival, and current Mr Gay Louth, Peter James Nugent!
'It's hard to believe we only started three years ago, with about 40 people in the Westcourt Hotel and last year we had over 1,000 people packed into McPhail's one night, and there are many more expected this year to join in with three days of fantastic fun,' says Peter, who works for TUI in Majorca, but will be flying back in to his hometown for Pride 2018.
'The LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community in Drogheda is growing by the day, and while the town can be quite seclusive, through support and education, lots in the largest town in Ireland are now focusing on diversity and embracing difference.'
As well as founding the Pride Festival here, Peter James started the Drogheda LGBT Support Group which meets weekly to provide information and support to those who are still finding their feet in the community.
'We have two groups that meet, a Youth group which meets in the Barbican Centre on Tuesday's from 2pm to 4pm during the summer and 5pm to 8pm during the winter, and an older group which meets on Thursday nights from 7.30pm to 10pm upstairs in Donaghy's, so we can enjoy some wine and tapas,' he explains.
'Whether people are struggling with their sexuality, thinking about coming out, or would like to meet up with like-minded individuals, it's always a very relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.'
Kicking off Pride in Drogheda this year, will be an LGBT night in Odd Mollie's bar on the bank holiday Sunday August 5th at 9pm, where there will be music from the amazingly talented and critically acclaimed Dublin based band State Lights and a fantastic raffle on the night.
'On Friday August 10th at noon, Cllr Joanna Byrne will officially open Drogheda Pride Festival at Millmount Museum, which will be followed by raising the Pride flag,' he explains.
'Later at 2.30pm- 5.30pm we have a family fun day at the Barbican Centre where this really is a fantastic day out for all the family. We will have face painting, balloons, games and much more.'
At 8pm Odd Mollies bar will have Drag Bingo with the fabulous Belfast drag queen Onya Becks as she will play drag bingo and perform.
On Saturday morning, Stockwell artisan foods will hold a Pride Breakfast from 10am, to celebrate pride, meet your pride team and make new friends.
'We're hoping people will then head over the St Peter's Church, where everyone can join in with the Samba Band, and then make it to the main event that night in McHugh's,' adds Peter James.
'This night is huge for the LGBTQ community, with some big names this year like Matthew Nolan, Why-Axs, "RuPaul" Paul Ryder and Sophia Harte, plus a full night of fantastic entertainment bringing you into late hours where our after party will be in Fusion Nightclub.'
Peter James hopes everyone will get on board and show their support, even if it only putting a rainbow flag, balloon or sticker in their window.
'We get amazing support from some traders and businesses, and they really embrace the few days and make everyone feel welcome.
'What we have been very surprised about how a lot of the older generation is the town has been so supportive too.'
Peter James puts this down to a lot of changes in the Irish society too.'The attitude is changing towards LGBTQ in Ireland, and the passing of the Same Sex Marriage Referendum was a difing moment in the country.
As the county's first Mr Gay Louth, he is making it a goal to change more attitudes through education.
'While I'm from Drogheda, I see my role as an ambassador for the whole county. As a LGBTQ activist and now Mr Gay Louth I think it's my responsibility to educate people to stay safe and protect themselves,' he explains.
'Through the Drogheda LGBT Support Group, we want to help young people who still find it difficult to 'come out' to their parents and families, Youngsters can still feel very uneasy about the whole aspect of coming out to their parents as they don't know what reception they will get. Some parents will be absolutely fine while others can't deal with the situation so both the young people and their parents need to be supported.'
Peter is also calling for the roll out of a free rapid testing service for HIV/STIs, pointing out that the latest statistics show a 35% in HIV cases in the country.
'There is a need for a free confidential service so that people can get themselves checked out,' he says. 'HIV Ireland come to Drogheda on a monthly basis to carrying out tests. It's free and confidential and while people can go to their GP, there is a cost involved.'
He is campaigning to have the service go to Drogheda twice a month and to visit Dundalk once a month so that the whole county is covered. For the moment, he is all consumed by this year's Pride Festival, which is hard to do from a distance!
'I work with TUI in Majorca, so it's not that easy to organise everything but I have an amazing team on the ground in Drogheda,' he says with a laugh.
'If it wasn't for Christopher Loughran, Justina McGuirk and Jeff Nilsen, it would be much more difficult, and I have to thank them for all their hard work.'
Ahead of this year's packed festival, he has one piece of advice for anyone who is worried about joining in.'There is always someone to talk to in Drogheda, and we only have one life to lead, so we should live it!'