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Gay Orangeman Josh Cuddy says Mid-Ulster Pride march has helped unite the community

Gay Orangeman Josh Cuddy says Mid-Ulster Pride has helped unite the community.

While protesters gathered to demonstrate against the first ever Pride march in Cookstown last year, local people applauded to drown them out.

And this year's march will bring together even more opposing groups.

"The Free Presbyterians are going to be joined by the Tyrone Catholic Action group," says Josh.

"No one else has done so much to bring the communities together. We are building bridges and people are coming behind us and burning them.

"We may have to bring umbrellas because they are threatening to sprinkle us with holy water for our lost souls."

The 30-year-old from Dungannon says people may be surprised to learn that he's a panto dame, a postmaster and a proud Orangeman.

"The Orange Order is a group of men who prefer to spend time in the company of other men and once a year they have a big parade. Oh no sorry that's being gay," says Josh.

He prefers not to name the lodge where he's been a member since his Junior Orange days, but says he's largely been welcomed.

"It's all a big boiling mass of contradictions. The fact that I'm still there is the biggest acceptance I can ask for.

"As far as I'm concerned our lodge has always been quite progressive and I'm quite lucky to be part of a more forward-thinking group.

"Things get said sometimes in moments of tension and the issue has been raised in a non-official way, but my particular lodge has been very accepting of me."

Josh is also the chairman of this year's Mid-Ulster Pride, which is preparing for its march in September.

Last year the Pride committee allowed a film crew to follow their work for a new BBC documentary as they prepared for their first ever march in the area.

Their numbers had to be scaled back to just 15 because of Covid regulations but the new movement has ignited a spark in the community.

"We are getting a lot of messages of support from people asking how they can get involved and suggesting community events," he says.

"I never thought I would see the day there would be any kind of Pride parade or expression of rainbow community in Mid-Ulster.

"We're starting to see people who would have bitten their tongue about LGBT issues starting to speak up."

The fledgling movement has received support from across Northern Ireland, but Josh believes local people understand local attitudes and it can only work as a grassroots group.

He says the committee is grateful for the support of the Rainbow Project and Northern Ireland Queer Heritage which have backed the Mid-Ulster group.

"They are behind us all the way and the best thing is none of them are clamouring to take over.

"It needs the people from the area.

"Down here you are still governed by religious feeling. The church in rural areas has always been the heart and soul of the community.

"Hopefully we can find some form of mutual agreement."

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