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New Perthshire Pride co-chair says Dundee’s vibrant gay scene puts Fair City to shame

Jack Simpson says Perth is 'behind the times' while Dundee boasts gay bars, clubs and cafes.

Jack Simpson says Perth needs to improve its gay scene to become more like Dundee. Image: Jack Simpson.
Jack Simpson says Perth needs to improve its gay scene to become more like Dundee. Image: Jack Simpson.

One of the new co-chairs of Perthshire Pride says Dundee’s thriving gay scene puts Perth to shame.

Jack Simpson, 24, has taken on the leadership position jointly with Marysia Macfarlane, 53.

Together they will promote and support the LGBT+ community and organise the annual summer Perthshire Pride festival.

Jack, who came out as gay when he was 16, has only not lived in Perth and Kinross when he had an 11-month spell in Dundee.

This experience has informed his aims for the new role.

“Moving to Dundee my eyes were opened a little bit,” he said.

“When I grew up I didn’t have any bother with being gay but that’s probably because of my personality – I wouldn’t take it anyway.

“But I know a lot of other people struggle with it in Perth especially.

“What we need to do is work on getting a more inclusive city.

“How many businesses in Perth display a pride flag? One or two. And they will be LGBT-owned.

“Whereas when I moved to Dundee the flags were in every second shop.”

In this article Jack makes further comparisons between the two cities, reveals that doing the splits ended his dance career and hints at big changes for this year’s pride event.

Had to be sure before going public

Jack says it came as little surprise when he came out as gay towards the end of his time at Perth High School.

“It was apparent when I was younger kicking about in my gran’s high heels when I was six years old,” joked Jack, who grew up in Abernethy.

“I used to walk around the house in high heels all the time but being a dancer it builds your calf muscles so I had an excuse.

“Nobody really said anything when I came out. I can’t tell you one time I had an issue at school.”

Having 100% certainty before going public was important, Jack says. Image: Jack Simpson.

Having 100% certainty before going public was important, Jack says.

“You need to make sure because you are just a kid,” he said.

“I dated girls at school because it’s like driving a car – you need to test-drive before knowing it’s right.

“It is a lot harder for gay women because there is such a stereotype on them.”

Focus on teaching after painful injury

After leaving school Jack began working at Kisa’s restaurant in Perth’s Mill Street.

His passion away from work was dancing and he is trained in commercial and contemporary.

But his performing came to an abrupt end due to a terrible accident four years ago.

“I was auditioning for a musical in Edinburgh and I dropped into the splits,” he recalled.

“Because I hadn’t warmed up correctly I tore my quads and hamstrings.

“I was on crutches for three months and it has just not healed correctly.”

Jack became a dance teacher after injury ended his performing career. Image: Jack Simpson.

However, Jack made the best of a bad hand by turning his attention to teaching and choreography.

He taught dance at Pirrie Performing Arts in Perth’s Ice Factory and, in conjunction with the Scottish Qualifications Authority, worked with primary schools and helped them in competitions.

His teaching has been put on the back-burner as he focuses on leading Perthshire Pride.

Hosting on the pride stage

Jack’s background in modern music and performance made him an ideal candidate to contribute to the Perthshire Pride festival.

He helped organise the 2020 edition – cancelled due to Covid restrictions – and coordinated a relatively low-key offering in 2021.

But last year, when the event returned to normal and attracted more than 8,000 people, he hosted on the main stage.

Jack also booked the acts and created the line-up.

Standing on a stage in front of thousands comes easily to Jack. Image: Jack Simpson.

“I was stage manager and host,” he said.

“I have done stuff in dance competitions where you have to get up and speak and have also done lots of television auditions so I am used to speaking.

“I would honestly rather speak to 2,000 people than do one-on-one. It is easier.”

Perth club ‘didn’t want customers put off’

For the past year Jack has worked as a car salesman at Peter Vardy in Dundee.

But he is now back living in Perth after a spell in the City of Discovery that he says has been educational.

And Jack is also aware of major differences in other UK cities.

Jack is determined to make Perth a more LGBT-friendly city. Image: Jack Simpson.

“There are no LGBT bars in Perth,” he said.

“In Dundee there are gay bars, gay clubs and gay cafes you can go in and have a coffee. Perth doesn’t have that.

“In Dundee there’s Kandy, Pout, Salty Dog – there’s loads.

“In Perth we tried to collaborate with a certain nightclub – that cannot be named – but were told that they didn’t want to put their normal customers off.

“So you don’t want to host a gay pride event because you will put people off?

“Gay life in London is a different kettle of fish. In Manchester they have a whole gay village.

“The temptation to move is ridiculous. I have friends who live in Manchester and London.

“But here is my home. Why move from your family when you can make the change here?

“We are not going to get to the level of London, Manchester and Glasgow.

“Certain work needs to be done and it is not where it needs to be. Perth is a little bit behind the times.”

Dundee ‘has a different vibe’

Not everything in Perth’s gay scene is bad, Jack believes.

He points out gay-themed quizzes in the Fair City’s Brewdog branch and Perthshire Pride backing from the Ovo and Aviva corporations.

And he hopes to make further inroads.

“We’re in discussions with businesses,” he said.

“I want to walk down Perth High Street and see rainbow flags in windows.

“I have had gay people ask me what bars are LGBT friendly and I don’t actually know.

“Perth needs to look at other cities in Scotland, such as Edinburgh and Glasgow.

“Dundee is 25 minutes along the road but it’s a different vibe for the community.”

The Perthshire Pride event has potential to be better and more inclusive, says Jack. Image: Jack Simpson.

He believes consumer demand is there.

“I was one of the only gay people in my year at school,” Jack said.

“At one point I was the only openly gay person in the school.

“Now you get two, three, four per class in Perth.

“This also includes non binary and transgender.

“Every second or third person you meet now will either be gay, non binary, bisexual, pansexual or asexual.

“There is a lot still to be done in terms of how people view the community, particularly in Perth, because a lot of the older generation are stuck in their ways.”

This year’s pride ‘will be different’

Even for someone in his mid 20s, Jack is surprised at how much has changed in such a short period.

“Gender is more of an issue now than sexuality, which is weird because I never thought we would ever be in this situation,” he said.

“I can understand why people are confused about the transgender thing but nobody chooses to be these things.”

Planning is underway for this summer’s Perthshire Pride, which usually includes a parade and event stage on Mill Street.

Since the event began in 2018 it has included turns from actors Sir Ian McKellen and Alan Cumming, and stars of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Jack Simpson with Demi McMahon at the 2022 Perthshire Pride. Image: Jack Simpson.

Music has been provided by the likes of Perth Amateur Operatic Society and Dundee singer Demi McMahon.

“This year will be a little bit different,” Jack said.

“We are looking to move away from what we have done before.

“I want to make it the best and more inclusive pride we have ever had.”

Marysia Macfarlane is the other co-chair of Perthshire Pride. Image: Marysia Macfarlane.

Jack believes the 29-year age gap between himself and Marysia will help them become a great team.

“The age gap is good because you have someone with double my life experience and then you have myself, at 24, who is in touch with younger people,” he said.

“So we both offer something different.

“Me and Marysia want to create a more inclusive environment across the city and throw a mental party at the end of it to celebrate!”