ADDRESSED by a drag queen called the Duchess and in defiance of local religious sensitivities, the first ever Pride march took place on the deeply Presbyterian island of Lewis.

More than 150 marchers snaked round the island's main town of Stornoway in a celebration of LBGT rights yesterday.

But the march has caused deep divisions on the island and the marchers were confronted by protestors from the free Church of Scotland who are bitterly opposed to the event.

For many, it is a further erosion of the traditional way of life on Lewis and follows the introduction of Sunday ferry sailings and the opening of a cinema on the Sabbath.

Around 150 church members of various denominations attended a special service in the town on Friday night at which the depth of feeling about the Pride event were aired.

Rev Greig MacDonald of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) was amongst religious figures who lined the route with placards carrying a biblical message.

He said: "We are not here for confrontation, we are here simply to carry the message of God. Only He can determine someone's journey.

"We believe that it is sending the wrong message to young people. There are plenty of homosexuals from all religions and they need support in the right way. This is not it.

"We heard at the service what many people think about events such as this. The feelings are quite strong but we are not here to confront anyone, we are just sharing God's word.

"Many people feel that it is not about gay rights but the growing drive for a secular society here on the island."

Churchgoers on the Isle of Lewis had issued a last-gasp demand for the council to ban the gay pride march in Stornoway.

The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland said it found "this particular sin . . . especially evil and defiling in the eyes of the Lord".

In a letter signed by Allan MacColl of the Outer Isles Presbytery, the church urged Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) to refuse permission for any public gatherings "which promote the homosexual lifestyle, beginning with the event planned [today]".

But the council, who refused to fly the LGBT rainbow flag because it apparently contradicted its flag policy - and also did not have anybody to put it up and take it down at weekends - said all the events would be allowed to go ahead, under the council's equalities policy.

Organisers of the event say they have received a lot of support from organisations including NHS Western Isles, Stonewall, the Equality Network and local arts centre An Lanntair.

Funds were also raised on the day for the local branch of the Penumbra mental health charity.

The organisers say the event is about showing youngsters on the island that they have support as they contemplate issues surrounding their sexuality on the deeply religious island.

Flags and balloons were available for people to carry while children were welcome.

Some shop fronts were also decorated with the rainbow flag in honour of the event.

But while it passed without incident, some marchers made obscene gestures as they passed Rev David Fraser as he carried a placard bearing the words "repent" and "abomination".

Marcher Alison McCabe said she was taking part in support of a 15-year-old she looks after who is exploring her sexuality.

A committed Christian herself, she says the message being sent out by the protestors is the wrong one.

She said: "I am a Christian myself and I believe that God loves everyone. Those protesting can confuse youngsters into believing that He would disapprove.

"I would like to think that the world has moved on and everyone should respect each other regardless of faith or sexuality.

"I was brought up to believe in love your neighbour, I still believe that and that is the message we are trying to get across".

Fittingly, the march took place under a rainbow as curious shoppers looked on as their usual Saturday in the town centre was briefly interrupted by a riot of colour and drag queens.

One of the marchers, Jay Butler, says she hopes the townsfolk are supportive of their cause and the deep divisions that appear are not as large as in previous generations.

She said: "God loves us all and that is what most people round here believe.

"We are here to embrace change and the majority of people are the same.

"We all should take that path and that's the way it should be".

Susanne Erbida, who is a member of the organising committee, said the group had thought it was “time for the Western Isles to show support for the local LGBT+ community, especially in light of recent events”.

She explained: “It is a celebration of acceptance and tolerance, a happy, peaceful and positive event.

“We want to show that it is ok to be different, that LGBT+ people do not have to be afraid to go public with their sexuality. That there is nothing wrong with being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and anything in between.”

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan backed the event - even though the former Scottish Government minister voted against same-sex marriage in Scotland, saying at the time he "favours the traditional definition of marriage" - in contrast to the position of the majority of the SNP government.

"An event like this would probably not have been possible here a few years ago. The fact that it is taking place now is a very welcome sign of how the islands recognise diversity as a strength. In particular, it is a sign of how more and more people recognise the rights of LGBT people," he said in a message of support.

But the Rev. Graeme Craig, Minister of Stornoway Free Church (Continuing), said as the march passed by:"This is a sad day for the islands. Whatever form sexual immorality may take, it is nothing to be proud about.

"This event is sad and shameful. It will point people, particularly the young, in a wrong direction when it comes to identity, relationships and sexual fulfilment. It is worrying that those who struggle with these things will be given the wrong advice."