As both a politician and a gay man, Paul O’Kane is acutely aware of the dangers of a divided and polarised society. Whether it be abuse or threats he has received due to his political views and status, or the discrimination many LGBTQ+ people face, he is well aware of how our society can be divided and the importance of Jo Cox’s message that ‘we have more in common than that which divides us’. Paul believes that by showing empathy and acknowledging our differences, we can unite around what we have in common.
“it’s not about politics, it’s about everyone coming together to have a chat and find out more about each other”Paul O’Kane MSP
That’s why, each year since he was elected, Paul has hosted a Pride Picnic with the aim of bringing together the LGBTQ+ community and for the whole community to unite and show solidarity. This year, he made the event a Great Get Together in the hope that it wouldn’t “just be friends who are attending but also some political opponents”. As with previous picnics, the focus was not only on “acknowledging LGBTQ+ history and showing solidarity with the community, but also an opportunity for us to come together across party politics and share what we have in common” says Paul.
The key to running a successful event, according to Paul, is simplicity. Making it easy for people to attend, to connect and enjoy themselves. It was key to make it clear that the event wasn’t political, he explained “it’s not about politics, it’s about everyone coming together to have a chat and find out more about each other”.
The principle of simplicity extended to the organisation of the event as well; he put out social media posts about when and where it was happening, invited some local organisations like LGBT Youth Scotland, made a large order from Greggs for food and simply offered an open invitation for anyone to attend and have some food and a chat.
The result was that dozens of people came along to chat and connect, many of whom hadn’t met before so it offered a fantastic opportunity to break down barriers and make new connections. Local Police officers who were just passing by even stopped to join in and mix with the community. The event offered people the chance to connect across generations, whether that was with Paul speaking to the younger people from LGBT Youth Scotland and relating their stories or older attendees sharing their experiences with the younger local people.
Paul says he plans to continue growing and developing the event each year, bringing together politicians from across the political divide both in Holyrood and Glasgow, as well as ensuring a continued focus on Pride. While it isn’t always easy to get people together, he says “it’s always worth it to help us build a stronger, inclusive society”.