Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Plaid Pride

I didn’t know there was such a thing as National Tartan Day until last year. I was vaguely aware that there was a tartan for the lgbt community and discovering there was a Tartan Day gave me the impetus to find out more.

I’m no stranger to tartan. I have a kilt which I wear very rarely. It’s a Modern Hunting Stewart tartan. I’m not entitled to wear it by inheritance or clan association as I’ve no Scottish blood, or at least none later than 1166 (I had a Scottish uncle who was an Honorary Queen’s Physician in Scotland, but that doesn’t count). But many people these days wear tartan as a fashion item. Many members of the lgbt community do have family tartans of course, and I may start a new series on them next year.

Tartan Day began with a small event in New York City in 1982, but it was in Canada where there is a large proportion of people with Scottish ancestry that the present format for National Tartan Day was established in the mid-80s. Appropriately it was in Nova Scotia, the province specifically established for Scottish colonists and named after Scotland itself, that an official Tartan Day was first proposed. The day suggested was today, April 6th, the day the Declaration of Arbroath was signed in 1320. This brings the lgbt community right into the heart of National Tartan Day because the Declaration of Arbroath is one of the most significant events in the reign of Edward II, one of the widely accepted lgbt kings of England.

You’ll be familiar with the events prior to the Declaration of Arbroath if you’ve seen the film “Braveheart”. Even though history was distorted out of all recognition in the film (William Wallace wasn’t called Braveheart – Robert the Bruce was; he didn’t have a Scottish accent – he spoke like an Anglo-Norman baron; he didn’t paint his face blue – that was the Ancient Picts not the Medieval Scots; he didn’t wear tartan – he wore the same as the English; and he never met Princess Isabella – she was only 4 when he was executed; I could go on) the fight for independence from England was real. During the reign of King Edward II’s father Scotland had become a feudal possession of the English crown. The Declaration of Arbroath was an appeal to the Pope to support Scottish independence.

The idea of a National Tartan Day spread to other Commonwealth countries such as Australia and New Zealand who both chose a different date. Their Tartan Day is on July 1st, the day on which the ban on tartan was lifted in the UK in 1747. Canada didn’t choose that date because it’s their national holiday, Canada Day.

President George W. Bush signed a Presidential Proclamation in 2008 making April 6th National Tartan Day in the USA.

There are three official lgbt tartans which, unlike my Modern Hunting Stewart kilt, I can wear unchallenged. But what makes them official? In November 2008 the Scottish Parliament passed an Act creating the Scottish Register of Tartans. This consolidated the data collected by several independent private tartan registers that had existed previously and created a unified set of criteria for inclusion in the new register.

Of the official lgbt tartans on the Scottish Register of Tartans only one was designed by and for lgbt people. The others were designed by fashion companies.
This first tartan (above) is the most recent of the three. It was designed by John Chittock, the founder of a non-denominational spiritual movement called the Fellowship of the Rainbow Way. It was designed specifically for members of the Fellowship which had its HQ in Washington State, USA. It is unclear how many members of the Fellowship there are/were as it seems it was disbanded some time last year, according to the state’s list of charitable organisations. The tartan, however, was registered by John Chittock with the new Scottish Register in 2014.

The design, although predominantly blue, incorporates the Rainbow Pride flag in its stripes. Even if the tartan was intended to be worn only by members of the Fellowship of the Rainbow Way the description in the Register makes it clear that “this tartan is intended for use by all the LGBT community”.

The earliest lgbt tartan is the one below. It was registered by one of those other tartan registers before the founding of the Scottish Register of Tartans in 2009.
This tartan was designed in 2000 by Ronnie Hek, a fashion and gift design company run by an English husband and wife team living in the Scottish Borders. They specialise in designing tartan accessories and clan crest jewellery. They design new tartans to order and place them on the official new Register.

This tartan caused quite some controversy when it was first registered as number 2647 with the old Scottish Tartan Society. Some members of the society objected to any tartan being designed for the lgbt community. Some heated discussion went on after the Scottish media heard about the fuss, and it ended with the Scottish Tartan Society claiming Ronnie Hek tricked them into registering the tartan.

Finally, the third tartan (below) dates from shortly after the Ronnie Hek one. The Scottish Register of Tartan says the following is its registration notes: “The success of the Rainbow [tartan], Scottish Tartan Society 2647, demanded that a tartan was created that was more functional for kilt wear 2000”. Just how one design is more “functional for kilt wear” than another is not explained.

So there you have it, three tartans to wear on this National Tartan Day.

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