Warrington’s Golden Square Shopping Centre turned rainbow coloured on Saturday to launch the town’s Mardi Gras festival.
A host of visitors to the centre dressed in a myriad of colours to publicise the event, including a Festival Ball on Saturday July 18.
The programme of events has been drawn up by the Mardi Gras Foundation, a gay-straight alliance (GSA) set up six months ago to promote inclusion, equality and diversity in the community.
Those involved have extensive experience of working within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and providing training and support services.
And the week’s activities were launched by the area’s best-known drag queen Penny Slotz.
The Runcorn-based performer, who appears regularly at her venue Penny’s Arcade, cut a ribbon to mark the beginning of the week’s activities.
“I’m pleased that something like this is being done and that LGBT matters are being given such prominence,” she said.
The programme includes a performance of the Coming Out Monologues, based on the successful Vagina Monologues show, in which people read real-life experiences of ‘coming out.’
Golden Square Shopping Centre director Ian Cox said: “We as a centre are strong supporters of inclusion, equality and diversity in the community.
“We were delighted to host the launch of the Mardi Gras Festival, and hope that it will become an annual event for the town. I wish the team behind it every success.”
The Festival will see movie buffs dressing up for a sing-along-showing of The Sound of Music at the Pyramid Arts Centre on July 17, plus a dog show in Birchwood and a picnic in Bank Park on July 25.
The Foundation Ball on Saturday will be held at the Showbar and will feature Penny Slotz herself, hostess Leorell Diamonte, Warrington BSL Signing Choir, who have translated a song into sign language for the show, and other special guests.
Tickets for the ball were on sale on the stand at Golden Square but the Foundation also took advantage of their presence to spread word of its many other activities in the community.
Barry Heap, the Foundation’s director of welfare, said one of their key aims in addition to promoting equality and inclusion was to provide fellowship and friendship for people who might find it difficult to discuss their sexuality openly.
Sarah Barnes, the Foundation’s chief executive, said the middle-aged and elderly often found it more difficult to socialise and to discuss their situation and their anxieties.
“We are able to offer them somewhere they can relax and feel confident,” she said. “There is one person who comes along who had not been out for eight years.”
The Foundation’s volunteers come from a variety of fields but all have experience of training in schools, colleges and businesses on basic terminology, use of homophobic language and hate crime.
“Throughout the year we will run events to bring awareness of the issues that affect the LGBT community,” said Sarah.
The support from national and local businesses who had donated prizes for the raffle had been superb, she said.
“The management of Golden Square have also been fantastic, giving us this prime spot in the centre, and the stall has attracted a lot of interest from young and old.”