In a special Pride Month instalment in our Humanist Society Scotland interview series, we speak to a member of the humanist community whose work combines two causes very close to our hearts. Firstly, Ali Kerr is a humanist celebrant, who was inspired in particular to take up this role by a desire to see more meaningful funeral ceremonies. She’s also been head of partnerships at LGBT Youth Scotland since 2021, helping to remove barriers to achievement and fulfilment for LGBT+ youth around the country. She is particularly committed to this work because, as she tells us, growing up as a member of the LGBT+ community in Scotland during the 1970s-80s, “pride wasn’t a thing.”
Can you tell us a bit more about how and why you became a humanist celebrant?
I have always been a lover of stories, and fascinated by their ability to make us feel. When I went to my first funeral, I realised that they give us an opportunity to tell stories with an emotional purpose – celebrating what we can about people we love by telling their life stories and giving us an emotional outlet when we need it most.
But I found myself routinely disappointed in those first, religious funerals. They seemed to me to be very impersonal. People’s life stories felt like they were being moulded into a very rigid format and often a version of their story was told which didn’t feel respectful or authentic. I became a celebrant after my closest friend asked me to conduct her funeral and, terrifying though that was, it gave me the motivation to train. So it is all her fault!
What about your work with LGBT Youth Scotland? Can you tell us a bit about that?
The great thing about being a self-employed celebrant is that (for now) I can still also carry on my other work, at LGBT Youth Scotland (LGBTYS). Two jobs I love – ridiculously lucky!
LGBTYS is Scotland’s largest organisation for LGBTQ+ young people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and a positive plus to include all other sexualities and gender identities). It is a real privilege to work somewhere whose vision is for “a Scotland where all young people can flourish and thrive.”
Life can be challenging for any young person but LGBTQ+ young people face additional challenges and barriers, so it feels important to be part of achieving their vision: as a member of the LGBTQ+ community myself, and also as a parent and humanist.
Do you see the two areas of your working life as connected, and if so how?
I’m incredibly lucky that I can choose work which fits with my own values. Both my jobs feel like, at their heart, they celebrate people, and allow me to work with two organisations who are each playing their part in building a more inclusive Scotland.
Growing up in Scotland in the 70s-80s, Pride wasn’t a thing. I mean, there was literally no pride allowed….Our culture celebrated humility and all but denied that LGBT identities existed.
Why is Pride Month important to you?
Visibility is so important to anyone who feels “othered.” Growing up in Scotland in the 1970s-80s, Pride wasn’t a thing. I mean, there was literally no pride allowed. Pride was a thing that “came before a fall” and was frowned upon, in a culture which celebrated humility, very much disapproved of being either loud or proud, and all but denied that LGBT identities existed.
It wasn’t just that Pride wasn’t a thing. It didn’t occur to most of us that there was anything to be proud of. There were almost no LGBT role models, and no easy way to find other young people who might be the same as you. Even if you dared to ever feel comfortable or proud, it was largely unsafe and illegal to share that fleeting thought. It was honestly easier to imagine we’d all move to Mars than that we would ever gather and celebrate proudly as part of a global community.
What’s rewarding about your role at LGBT Youth?
First and foremost, LGBTQ+ young people are just young people. And they are our future leaders, teachers, parents and carers. Working somewhere that removes barriers to that potential and, just as importantly, builds a community of allies, feels like a good way to use my limited skills!
What’s in your celebrant’s diary?
I’m excited to be working on an adult naming ceremony. Trans individuals are some of the most marginalised people in society, and to be a part of celebrating a chosen name feels like an incredible honour.
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