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Festival Fortnight returns to the Highlands as bid to break down barriers to LGBTQ+ participation in sport grows significantly

By Andrew Henderson

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Festival Fortnight, a two-week span of inclusive sports events designed to increase LGBTQ+ participation, has returned in force in 2024 with a greatly expanded programme in the Highlands.

Last year, there were four events on the calendar, but this year there are 16 different sessions on the schedule between June 18 and June 30.

The festival is run by LGBTQ+ sports charity Leap Sports Scotland, who provide funding to clubs and groups to help them put on sessions for the community.

Often that will take the form of taster sessions for people who may have little to no experience of the sport to try it out in a safe environment.

Inverness Bike Polo are one of the returning clubs putting on a session for Leap Sports Scotland's Festival Fortnight 2024. Picture: Chak Hin Leung
Inverness Bike Polo are one of the returning clubs putting on a session for Leap Sports Scotland's Festival Fortnight 2024. Picture: Chak Hin Leung

Gavin Hosie, project officer for Leap’s Highland-based project Out and About in the Highlands, thinks the growth of Festival Fortnight over the last 12 months has come about due to a number of factors.

“The grant application deadline was earlier this year, so maybe having that advertised meant that people got on with applying for that and planning sooner,” he said.

“It could just be that we have expanded our network. A few more have been added to our directory of inclusive clubs, like Inverness Craig Dunain Rugby Club, so that will have had an impact.

“Something that we’re really proud of is that we’ve got an event in Stornoway this year, a parkrun, and we’ve got events in Durness. Again, that is maybe down to a bit of networking from working with Highland Pride.

“We’ve also been working with sports providers that we already know. We started working with the Ledge in Inverness last year to put on climbing sessions, and we made them aware of Festival Fortnight so they got involved with that too.

“I think it’s really exciting to have more groups involved, and have new rural communities involved. I would love to see that expanded on more, and to see the whole of Scotland be covered on our map of Festival Fortnight events – even if there isn’t a specific Leap project covering that area.

“Hopefully we can build on the new relationships that we have built for this year, and have more variation of sports as well because the more sports that are involved, the more areas of interest for LGBTQ+ individuals we will have covered.”

Particularly pleasing this year will be the scope of events, with events taking place as far afield as Thurso, Durness, Stornoway and Dornoch as well as in the Highland capital.

Coming at the end of Pride month too, Festival Fortnight provides an opportunity to break down barriers in both directions between the sporting and LGBTQ+ communities.

“It is really important for LGBTQ+ people to have opportunities in sport,” Hosie added.

“There are some groups who have really found a community in the sports that they are involved with through these inclusive clubs.

“For me, growing up in the Highlands and having worked in the paddle sports industry, there wasn’t really a community like this, just maybe one or two people that I knew, so Cairngorm Paddling With Pride for example is a really good opportunity.

“Some clubs exist all year round, but they might not always be visibly inclusive. People might wonder how they will be received if they go along, but some of these events are being run by allies rather than LGBTQ+ people themselves which shows that there is support for LGBTQ+ people within the sports sector.

“It works quite well in that if a club wanted to do something for Pride month, this festival is here as a way for sports to show that.

“It’s not just about breaking barriers for LGBTQ+ people to come to the sports sector, it’s also breaking barriers for the sports sector to come to the LGBTQ+ community. Being in Pride month probably helps break the ice a little bit.

“It’s such an important month for LGBTQ+ visibility in general, and being the last two weeks of the month means it can be a way of celebrating all the clubs that work year-round with us.”

See the full list of Festival Fortnight events taking place in the Highlands here

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