A charity is celebrating Scotland’s LGBT+ heritage and culture by bringing the community’s experiences to life with an oral history project.

Youth dance organisation Shaper/Caper is exploring the LGBT+ heritage and culture of Dundee through a project called Here Me Out.

Launched during Dundee Pride 2019, and in partnership with McManus Galleries, young people have used creative dance to connect with communities and explore social issues.

Originally called Here Me, the young participants added the ‘Out’ to show their intention of increasing the visibility of the LGBT+ community in the culture and heritage sector, both as artists and audiences.

And to Artistic Director Thomas Small, who does choreography, creates, and develops shows and artistic ideas, the Here Me Out project is very close to his heart.

"It was all about trying to capture the conversations I'd had as a gay man growing up, and with some members of our board and team who also identified as LGBT+,” said Small.

"We were all talking about our collective history and how lots of conversations about how LGBT+ rights have really moved on, but when your part of that community, in lots of ways, it feels like there's so much work still to be done.

"Yes, lots of battles have been, but there's still massive amounts of homophobia and transphobia that exist in the world that we experience daily.

"When I walk down the street in Dundee, I can't remember a day or a week when I've not had some level of homophobic abuse hurled at me, so we felt like there was some work to be done and we wanted our work to try and combat that.”

Ealing Times: Shaper/Caper embraces LGBT heritage and the communityShaper/Caper embraces LGBT heritage and the community

Shaper/Caper were awarded £36,500 by The National Lottery in 2019, with the funding enabling young people to attend world cafes and weekly hangouts at The McManus Galleries to share their experiences and ideas, engage with equalities officers in high schools, using workshops to provide access and support for other young people wanting to get involved, and collect oral histories and create a series of films.

Small said: "We thought that helping to tell people's stories about people's upbringings and the experiences that they had would be so beneficial.

"That led us to thinking about an oral history project, working with lots of people from lots of backgrounds and different ages, and maybe involved in the arts but maybe not involved in the arts, but just trying to capture their stories in their own words as an oral history archive.

"It felt like a real privilege to listen to some of those stories.

"The next step for us in our initial plan was that once we had those, we would then create some kind of digital artefact to try and bring those stories to life."

And throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Small and his team at Shaper/Caper had been able to continue to assist the LGBT+ community who needed help the most.

"We realised that this was a strand of work we really wanted to develop beyond the Here Me Out project, so particularly through Covid-19, we were thinking about all those people who we'd worked with on this project, and quite a few people were trans or not out.

"We knew that Covid was affecting that particular demographic of people in a way that was forcing people to be in home environments where they were not able to live authentically or be themselves for fear of reprisal or, in some cases, abuse.

"We were thinking about how we could support people through the pandemic, so we created another few projects – one called The In/Out Crowd that was supported by The National Lottery as well, which was a magazine show.

Ealing Times: Here Me Out welcomed drag queen Ellie Diamond to talk with LGBT youth in DundeeHere Me Out welcomed drag queen Ellie Diamond to talk with LGBT youth in Dundee

“It was an opportunity for people to watch online and allow them to feel like they have a bit of connection even though it's just through the internet.

“Some of the digital artefacts that we made as part of Here Me Out are now featuring as part of the OutFest programme. It felt like such a rich archive of resources that we want to make sure we get out there as much as possible."

Here Me Out and Shaper/Caper projects have been central to helping the young LGBT+ community in Dundee, and have also been supported by icons, such as Dundee drag star Ellie Diamond, who appeared on RuPaul's Drag Race UK.

Shaper/Caper’s Executive Director Yolanda Aguilar added: "Something we had never expected is the reaction from Here Me Out – for me I'm still in shock!

"One of our first speakers was Ellie Diamond and she was not that well known in Dundee at the time – she was just starting her career.

"She came in drag to McManus and gave a speech for the young people and was very inspiring for them to share their journey too.

“Then throughout the year, Ellie took her journey, and she was in Drag Race and became quite well-known.

"The McManus has now decided to take her costume as part of the collection, which is unbelievable. That was unexpected, and what a great thing because of the project.”

Small added: "It's no understatement to say that without The National Lottery's support, the project wouldn't survive. It's critical.

"When we look at our annual reports, funding from The National Lottery is a major part in that.

"If we had not had that support from The National Lottery, I'm not quite sure where we'd be at in terms of creating projects for LGBT+ people.

"It's also given us hope. We've still got this idea for this touring production once Covid's out the way.”

More than £30 million goes to good causes from The National Lottery across the country every week, making vital projects like these possible. To find out more about how The National Lottery supports good causes throughout the UK, visit www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk.