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Meet the Volunteers: Gilly

With June just around the corner, we want to shine a light on our fantastic Dublin Pride volunteer force.

Posted on Tuesday, April 6, 2021 - Back to News Stories

Volunteers donating their time and skills are the backbone of many non-profit organisations. However, they too often remain anonymous. To recognise and acknowledge their contributions to our community, we want to shine a light on some of our Dublin LGBTQ+ Pride volunteers.

Last year, we sat down with Gilly (she/her) to chat about volunteering with Dublin Pride, the wider LGBTQ+ community and her love for body art.

How did you first become involved with Dublin Pride?

“In the early 2000s, while I was living in the UK, I decided to visit as many Pride Festivals as I could. Throughout the years, I’ve volunteered and marched in the Manchester, Brighton and Soho Pride Festivals. You could call it my tour de pride.

I didn’t have the easiest experience coming out, and doing the tour de pride was definitely part rebellion, a little bit of trying to catch up and understanding and becoming part of the LGBTQ+ scene. The rest was trying to do something for queers still in the closet, so they wouldn’t have the same experience I had.

After taking part in all these Pride celebrations in the UK, I wanted to check out the growing efforts here. I moved to Ireland after marching in the 2006 Dublin Pride Parade and joined the organisation as a volunteer because I felt that I could contribute to the festival.”

What has it been like volunteering with Dublin Pride?

“When I joined Dublin Pride in 2007, I was an ordinary festival volunteer in the Pride Village. Over time, I climbed the ladder of positions available to a volunteer to being partly in charge of organising several events for Dublin Pride.

In 2011, I was appointed Deputy Chief Marshal in charge of all the events as well as a member of the Dublin Pride secondary pride. I later took on a position on the voluntary Board of Directors. After years on the Board, I took a break from Dublin Pride but soon after was asked to oversee the parade as Chief Marshal. When I resigned from my position as Chief Marshal in 2017, I really intended to leave Pride. Turns out that’s easier said than done!”

This year, the Pride Festival & Parade moved online due to COVID-19 restrictions. What was that like for you?

“I have to say, being part of the “lockdown parade” this year was definitely a very unconventional experience. We couldn’t host the normal parade with our usual 50,000+ attendance of people from all across Ireland representing every part of our wonderful community.”

What’s the significance of Pride parades and festivities for the LGBTQ+ community?

“Pride will always be important to LGBTQI+ people as it is an opportunity to express yourself as a member of the community but also to advocate for the causes you support. As a community, we are continually growing and diversifying. As we become better educated about language and lived experiences, it is vital that everyone feels they have a space to be seen, heard and represented. 

Over the years, we have grown from being a community for LGB (Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals) to a more inclusive community which represents people who identify as LGBTQI+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning and Intersex).”

What advice would you give to someone who was considering volunteering for Dublin Pride?

“Dublin Pride volunteers are ordinary people who are passionate, awesome at what they do and willing to lend a hand or give advice to a fellow volunteer. They become like your second family.

I think if you wanted to join the team, communication is essential to any role, and while sometimes the voices at the top might seem to be the most dominant that you shouldn’t be afraid to speak up, ask the hard questions, and send an email if you think something needs to be changed.”

What has been your most memorable moment while volunteering for Dublin Pride?

“There have been so many great memories! I think the most memorable moment as a Dublin Pride volunteer has to be my first year as Chief Marshall of the parade and to feel the entire parade waiting with excitement for you to start the march through Dublin City.

I nearly freaked because I was sure that everyone was just waiting for me to drop the flag. This tremendous feeling hasn’t decreased, and it’s what I feel every year as the parade waits to begin its march. When I left my role as Chief Marshal in 2017, I remember stopping as the parade finished and looking at the crowd as they danced and celebrated. It was a sight to behold; all this energy from such a small community.”

Can you describe what it has been like to work beside the volunteer team in Dublin Pride?

“These people have stood with me at some of my lowest moments and been there to cheer me through some of my best times.”

Outside of LGBTQ+ advocacy, I know that you are passionate about tattooing and burlesque performing. Can you tell me a little bit more what they mean to you?

“The tattoo and burlesque scenes in Ireland are growing significantly, with both being seen as forms of self-expression and autonomy. There is also a growing acceptance of both fields within the general community. Where tattoos were once seen as a sign of questionable morals, they are now seen more as a sign of individuality and creativity.

While it’s true that just like with every demographic there are some elitists, as a whole, both communities are very welcoming and very supportive.

The performance sector in Ireland as well is generally very supportive, and there are incredible teachers from pole to burlesque, belly dancing and even circus skills. Not only are the sense of community and the flow of energy while performing empowering, but there are also aspects of dance that you can apply to the outside world, such as posture and breathing. They can really improve your overall health and confidence.”

How has burlesque and cabaret performing influenced your life?

“Even though I have been on stage in front of thousands of people, and I’ve had several thousand people following me in the parade, I suffer from social anxiety and very low self-esteem. 

Working with burlesque and cabaret groups, I have been fortunate to feel welcomed, accepted and valued. It also made me more confident in my skills as a stage manager and event coordinator. The biggest lesson I learned from it is that you can often find your stars – with all their sparkle and grace – backstage going through routines their anxiety routines. They’re all just regular people.”

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become involved in burlesque and cabaret but maybe lacks confidence when it comes to performing?

“There are so many ways to break into the scene. With so many shows going on, my first advice would be to go to a show, watch it and completely take it apart in your mind. Pay attention to the stage, the lights, the acts, the cues, the host. Have an act ready that you could pop out in the middle of Aldi, should the fancy strike you. Something you know inside out. Most importantly, speak to the producers. If you can’t get a hold of them straight away, talk to other people behind the scenes like the stage crew or performers. Someone that might introduce you to the right people, or if you can’t get a hold of anyone, look them up online. Groups like The Dirty Circus, Sideshow Dramas and Undercurrent are always very open to new things.” 

What is your stance on the significance of “meaningful” tattoos as opposed to getting tattoos-for-tattoos sake?

“I think this will remain an open-ended question in tattooing. There is an increase in the number of ‘story tattoos’ being commissioned. Be it something associated with a place you travelled to or the memorial of your dog. For me, all of my tattoos have been designed with a specific meaning in mind that will never be tattooed on another person in this way. That said, I don’t consider them any more or less individual than folks who pick an image off a flash sheet. I think, ultimately, whether a tattoo is a custom job or not, every tattoo is in some way part of your personal story. Tattoos are a commitment; no one gets a tattoo that they’ll remove a year later. So there has to be an attachment to the content of the image.”

Gilly’s is one of many stories to be told. Stay tuned for more volunteer profiles such as hers and to learn more about the volunteers behind Dublin LGBTQ+ Pride.

If you are interested in joining the volunteer team, please fill out this form.

Photo credit: Gilly Halpin

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