Free Pride: Building alternatives to the mainstreaming of Pride

Free Pride Glasgow started in 2015 as a response to the increasing commercialisation of Glasgow Pride, and the increasing ticket prices that now came with that. Within our community there was increasing frustration with how inaccessible Pride Glasgow had become, and feeling that an event that was meant to be for us was really only thinking of a very small, and often more privileged part of our community. We decided on three main aims that we wanted Free Pride to focus on:

Inclusivity, anti-commercialisation and Pride as a Protest.

In terms of inclusivity, we felt that mainstream pride events did not do enough to recognise the diversity of the LGBTQ community and as a result, many more marginalised members of our community felt excluded or unwelcome at pride. An example of this is the decision by many mainstream pride events to book acts that perform in black face. This has been an ongoing issue within the community, with racist and misogynist acts such as Queens of Pop have been booked at Leeds, Glasgow and Manchester Pride. This shows how racism is still pervasive within the LGBT community, and there is a real lack of understanding or accountability around these issues from not only the organisers who book these acts, but the community members who come out in droves to defend the use of black face in drag acts.  We wanted to not only challenge and call this out, but create an explicitly anti-racist space that showed we would not tolerate racism in our community.

One of the main factors in deciding we needed a free alternative to pride was the inaccessibility of the new ticket prices. Arguments over the introduction of fees showed a real lack of awareness of how poverty affects the LGBTQ community and that for many, Pride would be off limits. Comments like ‘it’s only a tenner’ ‘they can save up for it’ and even ‘a fee means that only people who really want to be there can go’ were incredibly classist and dismissive of the experiences of so many people in the LGBTQ community, who don’t have the option of spending £10 on a pride ticket. There’s also the issue of what this gatekeeping of pride means for younger LGBT people, or anyone who isn’t out yet. If we keep access to information, groups, and support networks behind a ticketed barrier, we shut off a huge number of people who are either not able or not comfortable enough to buy a ticket.

With Free Pride, we also wanted to have a big focus on accessibility. It was important for us to use a wheelchair accessible venue and to provide BSL interpreters for our talks and workshops. We created a separate ‘quiet room’ with noise blocking headphones and books and blankets for people experiencing sensory overload or who just wanted to escape from the crowds for a bit. We try to cover a range of topics in our talks and workshops that we feel are neglected by mainstream prides. This has included talks on bisexuality, non-binary + trans identities, street harassment and disability. We work closely with the Sex Workers Open University and LGBT Unity, a group of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.

Anti-commercialisation

As ticket prices increase, so has commercial sponsorship at Pride. London Pride’s sponsorship revenue has grown 250 per cent since 2013. These days at Pride, banners for banks and large supermarkets drown out those belonging to local LGBT groups. There’s no space to be angry and protest issues still affecting us when you’re surrounded by giant Nandos’ chickens and people posing with rainbow coloured cash machines. The Police march alongside us and LGBT police officers are celebrated as marks of progress, while the continued police violence against LGBT people, sex workers, and people of colour is erased.  We wanted to remind people that LGBTQ liberation didn’t end with gay marriage- issues such as LGBTQ homelessness, lack of trans healthcare, and the treatment of LGBTQ asylum seekers are far from being recognised, let alone resolved.

Pride as a Protest

The main event is a big part of what we do, and we feel that holding it on the same day as Pride Glasgow is itself a protest. By providing a free and inclusive alternative we are showing what a return to Pride’s original values could look like, and that is possible to create an accessible, community focused event.

The success of our first event, where around 800 people showed up throughout the day, showed us that there was a real demand for something different. We wanted to continue to provide alternative spaces throughout the year, rather than just popping up for one day then disappearing. Over the past couple of years we’ve held regular events, including film screenings, club nights, self-care events, and skill shares- all with a focus on accessibility & centring radical politics. We also attend demonstration and marches as Free Pride, and last year held a vigil for Trans Day of Remembrance. Creating these spaces, where people can be themselves, are supported to learn new skills and meet new people, feels radical and empowering.

The future!

We don’t want there to be any financial barriers in place for those attending Free Pride. All of our events are completely free to attend and where possible, we provide travel expenses for people in the asylum system. We rely entirely on donations to make this possible, as well as trying to use community spaces and working with other groups to share resources/skills. It is difficult to know how sustainable this is long term, but our options for funding are limited while we want to stay a community focused, radical group. The realities of running an entirely volunteer led group mean there is limited energy and capacity to do everything we would like to. We have to constantly reassess what we’re doing, who we’re doing it for and how we can continue doing it.

Pride, and what it means, is changing, but while we deal with the challenges of this, it’s exciting to see new alternative events and communities growing out of the dissatisfaction.

Manning is a hero, make her sentence zero

Sentenced to thirty-five years in prison for leaking information that exposed US imperialist wars and vastly contributed towards the Tunisian people’s movement against their violent dictator, the world watched as Chelsea Manning came out as a trans woman, was refused physical transition in prison, and suffered multiple suicide attempts as a result of the harrowing experience of being a trans woman unjustly imprisoned. We protested, screamed her name at Pride marches and wrote countless letters of solidarity to her.

 

This week, just three days before the end of his presidency, President Obama commuted Chelsea’s sentence. Instead of finishing the brutal sentence originally imposed, Chelsea now has only five more months to go before she is released and can recover from the trauma she has endured in prison, both the damage of the prison industrial complex itself and the withholding of her agency to hormonally transition. Although there’s much cheering and flag waving for Obama’s intervention, it’s important to remember that it was his administration that put her there in the first place.  Our cheers, love and thanks should be pointed toward the people that fought for Chelsea’s rights and pressured Obama to commute. They are the ones who protested, they are the ones invoking her name at Pride, they are the ones that remembered her. Celebrate those that signed petitions, sent her money, shared her articles and tweets and never forgot her when denouncing the structures that put her away.

 

Whilst her new found freedom is certainly a victory, we must not forget those whose sentences have not been commuted, those who have yet to endured years in prison for simply existing – particularly trans women of colour and sex workers, who are often awarded long and cruel sentences. We must not forget that they are often placed in male prisons, assaulted by the men they are forced to live with, ridiculed by the guards and like Chelsea Manning, denied their autonomy and their right to safely physically transition. We must remember those who do not have people fighting directly for their right to live, and all those incarcerated in the prison industrial complex.

 

We at Free Pride shout solidarity with Chelsea Manning, and celebrate her freedom.  Whilst it’s exciting to envision the potentials that lie ahead in her public advocacy of trans rights and critique of the prison system, we have to remember not to make her our poster child; after enduring the horror of the last few years, most of all, we want her to live her life, heal, and be free.

 

Words by Oli and Isobel

Bi Furious in a Gay World: Part II

emma looking badass

In the second part of our Bi Week series, we look deeper into exclusion and ways in which LGBTQIA+ communities can improve bi/pan inclusivity.

Some are less welcome than others

Other than problems that come with perceived straightness, outlined in Part I, bi/pan people may feel that when biphobia in queer spaces is not explicit, they still feel less welcome than others. Bisexual identities are easier to ignore. If we mistakenly assume that being bi is the same as being half-gay and half-straight, without its own separate nuances, there will be no effort made to distinguish bi issues from gay and lesbian issues.

Nine, who identifies as queer first and bi second, says that she often feels excluded by careless language:

“Sometimes people and spaces just use the terminology of ‘gay’ rather than ‘queer’ or ‘LGBT+’; sometimes they do use ‘LGBT+’ terminology but then talk as if it’s just a synonym for ‘gay’. On the other hand, ‘queer’ usually denotes a space I find welcoming, and the more letters attached to ‘LGBT’, the more thought I feel like the organisers have put into it, so I’m cautiously hopeful that those spaces will be genuinely bi/pan-inclusive.”

Charlotte wants to see trans-inclusive language used in bi/pan discourse:

“Bi/pan must be inclusive of non-binary people. If I date a non-binary person, calling them my girlfriend or boyfriend erases their identity. As a bi/pan woman I don’t like my sexuality to be defined by the gender of my partner.”

She also picks up on the different reactions that masculine and feminine people receive on account of their sexuality:

“It is perceived that a bi/pan woman is ‘experimental’ and will eventually settle into a relationship with a man.  Meanwhile a bi/pan man is perceived as just being gay and ‘softening the blow’ before settling into a relationship with a man.”

Lewis says that he changes his own language and identifiers depending on the context he is in:

“A lot of the time I don’t bother telling people I’m pan, I just say I’m gay because it’s easier… Sometimes because people don’t know what pan is, I say I’m bi. Other LGBTQIA+ people have seemed interested in it. Many have said they can’t really comprehend what it would be like to be attracted to more than one gender, that it seems strange, etc. None of it was malicious and I didn’t find it particularly hurtful, but others might.”

On reflection, the fact I’ve not faced much direct biphobia myself in queer spaces could be partly because I tone down that part of myself and sometimes apologise for it, playing down my attraction to men by making ‘misandrist’ jokes and hoping my queer aesthetic stops people from questioning me.

Nine reflects on her varying level of involvement with LGBTQIA+ community over the last two decades, and how she became less engaged when in mixed-gender relationships:

“I’d be welcome up until my relationship entered the conversation, and then I’d feel, sometimes, almost like I had to apologise. It felt like I could see people recalculating me, as if I had presented an inaccurate version of myself just by showing up in a gay bar or whatever. On numerous occasions I’ve found that I’ve been assumed to be gay whenever I’ve been in a LGBT+ space, and then when a boyfriend gets mentioned, my queer credentials suddenly get questioned.”

The intersection of biphobia with domestic abuse exacerbated this problem for her:

“When I was in an abusive relationship with a straight man, my sexuality was a problem for him and it frequently came up in fights… I wish we could discuss these kinds of things in LGBT+ spaces instead of feeling like we shouldn’t talk about our mixed-gender relationships.”

Working towards harmony

Most interviewees agreed that they would prefer to see more bi/pan recognition integrated into LGBTQIA+ culture, although some also expressed interest in bi-specific groups and events.

One bi woman spoke about her need for engagement with queer spaces even when she is in a relationship with a man:

“I do often feel the need to have spaces where I can express my sexuality where an understanding of queerness will be present and occasionally feel quite lonely as a bisexual, aware that despite the wonderful allies I have in my life, I lack a community. Although most of my straight friends are cool, there is still dumb biphobia I get from them sometimes and it would be nice to have a space where I could occasionally opt out of that.”

Holly, a bi woman married to a man who writes for publications including Biscuit and the Queerness, sees the value of both separate bi groups and better integration:

“I have certainly benefited from a bi-specific group, Biphoria in Manchester. When I moved here and didn’t know anyone, it helped me make friends, it helped me come out to myself much less anyone else, and it’s provided me with a lot of really valuable experiences and opportunities.

“But at the same time, I don’t want bi+ people to feel any more isolated than we already do in LGBTQIA+ spaces. I don’t want them to think they can get away with ostracising us, either. So I do think there should be bi-specific safer-spaces because they’re clearly useful and needed. But I don’t think this should be to the detriment of enlightening the wider LGBTQIA+ scene about us. We still deserve inclusion and participation in that too.”

Lewis feels that visual representations of queerness are not diverse enough:

“I think the use of imagery in LGBTQIA+ spaces could be less focused around attraction to the same sex. A lot of imagery used is two guys or girls holding hands or kissing. You don’t tend to see different-gender couples in LGBTQIA+ imagery.”

We have miles to go before everyone feels comfortable in queer spaces. Free Pride wants to make participation in the local LGBTQIA+ community possible for all. If you have any feedback or suggestions for bi/pan inclusivity, or want to get involved in organising, email freeprideglasgow@outlook.com.

If you want to celebrate Bi Visibility Day with Free Pride in Glasgow, come to the Art School on Thursday 22nd from 11pm – pay-what-you-can on the door! More info here. Edinburgh folks can head to Teviot on Friday for another Bi Furious event!

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A few resources

Jacq Applebee’s comic about biphobia and racism at Pride

Holly Matthies on passing and mental health

Understanding sexual violence against bisexual women

‘Complicated? Bisexual people’s experiences of and ideas for improving services’: Report by the Equality Network

 

Words by Ellen MacAskill

Bi Furious in a Gay World: Part I

bi search

Discussions of biphobia often hinge on the fact that people on the bi/pan spectrum experience double-exclusion – both from the heteronormative world and from the gay and lesbian-focussed LGBTQIA+ world. As these two sets of cultural standards exist on different plains, those who find themselves straddling both worlds because of their orientation face a double challenge.

Rejection from LGBTQIA+ spaces is painful for bi/pan people because although these spaces claim to be inclusive, biphobia can be perpetuated within them. The first part of our Bi Week series will consider how this affects bi/pan participation in LGBTQIA+ communities.

*A note on terminology: This post will not discuss definitions of non-monosexual identifiers (including bisexual, pansexual, polysexual, and queer), but use ‘bi’ or ‘bi/pan’ frequently to describe those attracted to multiple genders, for the sake of shortness. Similarly, ‘queer’ will sometimes be used to refer to everything under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella. For specific definitions, click here.

The spectre of straightness

Interviewing bi/pan people, I first asked whether or not they have ever felt excluded from an LGBTQIA+ space because of their orientation, and most had incidents and anger to share.

The common theme emerged of biphobia in queer spaces as a reaction to perceived straightness. People can be perceived as straight because of their gender expression and sense of style, because of the partner they are with or their romantic and sexual history, or because they don’t explicitly and repeatedly name their queerness (this erasure can happen to anyone on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum). They are then treated with suspicion by people in the community.

One bisexual woman who has a long-term male partner says:

“I sometimes feel like I’m not gay enough, ostentatiously queer or butch enough, angry enough to be part of these spaces… I’ve found some LGBTQIA+ and particularly LGBTQIA+ adjacent spaces (e.g. feminist spaces, human rights-y spaces, PFLAG type groups) safe and welcoming but have found myself pretty much disengaging from LGBTQIA+ exclusive spaces due to how uncomfortable I feel in them.”

Amy, who identifies as bi and pan interchangeably, describes a disenchanting experience she had at a popular gay bar in Glasgow:

“I was talking to two girls outside, and told them I was bisexual.  Straight away they told me I was ‘definitely straight’ and that if I wanted to fit in more in the club I would have to ‘look more like a lesbian’.”

One bi man struggles with the assumptions made about him and his long-term girlfriend at certain queer events:

“The thing that bothered me most about hearing [biphobic] things at events is that I would end up not feeling comfortable going with my girlfriend and acting like a couple with her, to the point where we would both avoid holding hands, kissing or flirting with each other so that we could prevent looking like a straight couple who had invaded this space dedicated to people JUST LIKE US. More often than not, we will just avoid these mainstream events all together because we can’t be bothered with the hassle of worrying what people are thinking. Why wouldn’t I want to go and enjoy these spaces with my girlfriend when we are both bisexual?”

Being seen with a different-gender partner is not the only way bi identities can be erased. Charlotte finds that having her trans identity recognised comes at the cost of her bi identity:

“I am trans so I think the common assumption is that I am accessing the space for that reason.  There seems to be a perception that each person is just one of the “letters” when in fact we can be several.”

bi complicated

Passing as a privilege?

The fact that passing as straight can be a type of privilege arises as a matter of contention in bisexual discourse. The argument goes that bi people in mixed-gender relationships may not experience the fear of backlash that they do in same-gender relationships because their sexuality is inconspicuous and possibly unspoken. However this attitude assumes that bisexuals solely benefit from passing, when often the erasure of their queerness is detrimental to their sense of identity, relationships, and mental health.

One bi woman describes how much effort it takes to assert her bi identity when the world assumes she is straight:

“I find myself becoming accidentally closeted again and that’s really uncomfortable, and when I out myself some people don’t seem to get why it’s important to me because I ‘have a man’. My boss the other day said something about ‘the LGBT agenda’ to me, assuming I was straight – do I have that conversation in that moment, or in a few weeks’ time? If I wait, will he feel I misled him because I disclosed my romantic relationship status but not my sexuality? They know my boyfriend – will they ask him inappropriate questions because of my sexuality?”

My own experience of passing is mixed as a bi woman who is occasionally perceived as male. When your gender is ambiguous to others, the notion of passing as straight loses all logic. The absurdity of other people’s perceptions was highlighted for me when I was in public with a male partner and someone yelled ‘gayboys!’ from a passing car. Even mixed gender relationships can’t always help us avoid discrimination.

Rob articulates the problem with judging sexuality based on appearances:

“I think this [idea of straight-passing privilege] presupposes that any one in a heterosexual relationship will ‘pass’ purely because they are in said relationship, however I feel that in many cases as a less traditionally masculine cis man I would struggle to pass if at any point separated from my hypothetical partner solely because of the shallow stereotypes people tend to use to identify queer people from outward appearance.”

Seb agrees that it’s unhelpful to put weight on appearance alone when discussing the visibility of sexuality:

“While different-gender couples may seem conspicuous in LGBTQIA+ environments for appearing (relatively) straight, the same cannot be said for their appearance on the street or other public spaces, where they may still seem noticeably queer in comparison to the wider public.”

‘Passing’ arguments are often used as a way of silencing complex LGBTQIA+ experiences as opposed to helping people understand their nuanced privileges.

Tomorrow’s post will consider further difficulties faced by bi/pan people and ways in which things could be improved.

Words by Ellen MacAskill

Why Free Pride Matters: Community over Corporations

march 2015

In June 2015 I walk through Toronto’s gay village, alone in the rain trying to find friends who are on the opposite side of the street from me, separated by crowds of people, gates and a parade of corporate floats that cannot easily be crossed. I’ve looked forward to this day, specifically planned travels around it, and I wear dark lipstick, a bisexual badge and a sticker reading ‘genderqueer’ tentatively under my jacket. I find friends eventually and we wave flags and cheer at the small number of community groups when they pass. But after all the police blocs, all the loud music and grinding and advertising slogans, all the rainbow-rinsed company symbols, I feel cold. ‘Love Wins!’ cry the headlines as everyone applauds the passing of the same-sex marriage bill in the USA, while violence persists all around us.

Later in the square at the end of the march, I see a girl with a bruise on her forehead passed out on the concrete, watched over by a friend. A passing man takes out his camera and starts filming her so I go over and tell him to stop until he walks away smirking. The rain has soaked through to my skin. Across the street outside the mall a preacher stands on a box telling us about our inevitable fate in Homosexual Hell, as angry teenagers argue with him to channel their rage. An event intended to be safe and empowering leaves a bitter taste.

Two months later I attend the first Free Pride in Glasgow. When I walk into the hall at the Art School, full of people of all genders and ages and hair colours, I feel a rush of relief – it is a day for catching up with old friends and making new ones, education, and celebration. People with all kinds of knowledge and experience come together under the Free Pride umbrella to give talks and have conversations that the Gay Scene™ often does not facilitate. As the first big social event I attended in Glasgow after some time away, it felt like exactly the kind of ‘Welcome Home’ party I needed.

If you find entering new queer spaces intimidating (naturally, we all want to be accepted by our peers so a lot hinges on meeting community), I urge you to come along to Free Pride with an open mind. When it comes to radical LGBTQ+ politics, living in Scotland it can feel like everything is happening elsewhere, in bigger cities globally. Free Pride dispels this myth, as attendees are not spectators but an integral part of the event.

Creating safer spaces for protest and parties is an ongoing, deliberative, sometimes stressful and laborious effort. That’s why Free Pride will continue to evolve year on year, and cannot get complacent about its role in LGBTQIA+ culture like mainstream Pride movements have. It’s the light of queer stars in the darkness of a cis-heteronormative year. Join us tomorrow!

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– Ellen MacAskill

Free Pride Safer Spaces Policy

This document is intended to outline the ethos of Free Pride events so that everyone can enjoy the event and feel safe in the knowledge that inappropriate behaviour will not be permitted.

Free Pride is a group of LGBTQIA+ individuals with a vision to address the commercialisation of mainstream pride, to remind society that pride is a protest and that the opinions of the LGBTQIA+ community are valid and to be heard, and to create a safer space that prioritises the voices of those most marginalised and is accessible to all.

In working to achieve this vision, we recognise the necessity of a safe and positive environment. As such, Free Pride adheres to this Safer Spaces Policy and Code of Conduct. This policy is a work in progress and suggestions for alterations and improvements are welcome.

·         No Homophobia, transphobia, ageism, racism, ableism, sexism, xenophobia or prejudice based on ethnicity, nationality, class, gender presentation, language ability, HIV status, asylum status or religious affiliation.

·         Respect other people’s spaces both mental and physical- harassment or assault of any kind will not be tolerated.

·         Respect the right to challenge behaviour which makes people feel uncomfortable in the space and do not make others uncomfortable.

·         Do not heckle performers or DJs.

·         Do not make assumptions about anyone’s gender/sexuality.

If you have any issues on the night please contact venue staff, security or organisers and we can work together to resolve the situation.

Q & A: Beth Maiden of Little Red Tarot

Beth Maiden is a tarot reader, writer, and web designer, currently based on the Isle of Skye. She regularly contributes to Autostraddle.com. She will be giving tarot readings on a pay-what-you-can basis at our daytime event, 2 to 7pm, 20th August in the Art School.

beth

What initially drew you to Free Pride as an organisation and event?

I love celebrating with my queer peers, celebrating our resilience, inspiring each other to keep on living and keep on fighting. The queer community is so huge and diverse and Pride is at its roots a political festival – yet I don’t see that reflected in most mainstream parades, which seem mostly about drinking and corporate sponsorship. I recently moved to Scotland and was googling for queer pride alternatives – I was so happy to find Free Pride Glasgow!

What can attendees expect from your pay-what-you-can tarot readings on the day?

I’ll be offering short, three-card tarot readings at Free Pride. Folks can come alone or with a friend and ask what they wish, or let the cards do the talking. I ask each querent (the person asking the question) to hold the cards and shuffle them, then lay out three cards. I’ll explain what I’m seeing in these cards and how their messages and energies are playing out in the querent’s life and situation. Typically, the cards will illustrate a challenge the person is facing and offer a positive route forward, or show resources and sources of strength. Sometimes the cards will bring up something that the querent is avoiding.

The foundation of my tarot practice is the belief that we all have within us the answers we seek and the resources we need – often we are struggling to connect to that deep wisdom, or we’re choosing not to see it, for any number of reasons. My aim is always to provide new perspectives, alternative paths for the querent, though most often, I find that the cards serve to confirm what they already know, deep inside. It’s a warm, encouraging process that can sometimes be a little challenging, too – though when I do these short readings at events, I tend not to go too deep.

Why do you think many LGBTQ+ women and people are attracted to the cultures of tarot, astrology, and witchcraft?

In part, it has to do with history and liminality. Witchy practices like these have always existed on the margins of society. Much like ‘queer’, ‘witch’ is a loaded word with a painful history – to claim this identity is a political act. Historically, to have the label ‘witch’ given to you meant ostracisation and death for huge numbers of women.

Tarot, astrology, ritual, herbalism and DIY healthcare – these are tools for self-empowerment, for self-actualisation, for working through our own shit in our own ways. In a world that tells queer people that they are different, that they are less, that their love is worth less, and that punishes those who want to challenge structures, these liminal tools provide a way to take hold of our own wellbeing and work with our beautiful, messy lives and loves in our own ways.

Queer people and women inherit generations of oppression, pain and misunderstanding, but many are finding ways to connect to ancestral wisdom and energies bigger than the restrictive worlds around us. It is empowering and political to grab hold of these tools and find our own ways to use them – but that’s what queer people do. We look for alternatives, we see what’s growing at the edges, we refuse to conform and we create beautiful community, safety and culture in the places where the mainstream fears to tread. (Until it becomes cool and marketable, that is.)

tarot

What are your experiences of connecting with queer community while living in rural places like the Isle of Skye?

It’s not so hot. I’ve only knowingly met one other queer person since January, though my gaydar has been beeping quietly at a couple of others. When I asked one new friend if they knew of any gay folks nearby, they asked why I can’t just be happy hanging out with normal people. Another person thought I was taking the piss when I expressed excitement when they told me there was a lesbian couple living nearby. Meh.

That’s partly why I value events like Free Pride and will travel such a distance to get there, and run an online business where I can connect with my peers on the regular. If I stay on Skye (unlikely, as it’s so expensive here) then my partner and I will try to start something up. We’re always talking about the queer festival we’d love to organise.

Do you have any other creative projects in the pipeline that you’d like to share with us?

Ah man, I’ve always got a load of creative projects on the go, I’m terrible for starting things and not finishing them. Right now, I’m working with Rowan trees, learning about their mythology. I made myself a magic wand from a rowan branch on the summer solstice this year and am now trying to make a few more for my friends. And experimenting with recipes using their beautiful red berries. I’m also trying to paint them, though I’m not very good! I love how the process of drawing and painting plants makes me look really, really closely and notice their intricate and unique details.

I’m also writing a follow-up to my online tarot course. I actually just booked myself a week in a bothy on the Isle of Eigg so as to hammer it out and get it wrapped up. I prefer to work in obsessive bursts rather than ‘a little every day’.

My partner and I are building our first home – a tiny house on a chassis. She’s a builder and this will be the first major project we’ve done together. It’s exciting!

 

Interview by Ellen MacAskill

 

Q & A: Sex Worker Open University

Free Pride caught up with Luca Stevenson from Sex Worker Open University ahead of their workshop at our daytime event on 20th August.

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What are the main aims of the Sex Worker Open University?

SWOU is a collective of sex workers and allies who are fighting against the criminalisation and stigmatisation of sex work.

What can we expect from the workshop at Free Pride?

The workshop will include a presentation about the needs and demands of sex workers, including LGBTQ sex workers. We hope to repeat the success of last years’ event but include much more info about recent developments for sex workers in Scotland, UK and globally. This will also be a safe(ish!) space for anyone to ask any questions they want. Sex work can be an emotive issue – it is emotive for us anyway – and we hope to create a space where anyone’s questions can be answered. The workshop will be led by current and former sex workers, and whilst we invite any questions, we will also be very clear that our experiences and our demands are not up for debate! People attending will also learn more on how to show active solidarity with the sex workers’ rights movement and the organisations fighting for our rights in Scotland. The workshop might include naked magic tricks but we are still working on them so no promises!

Which organisations, resources or campaigns would you recommend to people interested in learning more about sex worker activism?

There is tons of stuff online. First of all, follow SWOU and other sex workers’ rights orgs on social media. Check our website for some resources like zines on queer/survivor issues. Check SCOT-PEP website for different resources on legal models in Scotland and then both ICRSE (the European Network of Sex Work Projects) and NSWP (the Global Network) who both have loads of resources!

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What do you think are the most important intersections between the fights for LGBTQIA+ liberation and sex worker rights?

The main connection is that many LGBTQ people are sex workers. As simple as that, the LGBT movement should include sex workers and fight for decriminalisation of sex work, because our fight is your fight. I have seen many times the LGBT movement silencing or ignoring sex workers. This is typical of “respectability” politics. “Let’s not talk about prostitution whilst we demand marriage equality”. But what if we reversed that? What if we made the needs of the most marginalised the center of our movement? Many people are selling sex because of poverty or lack of other options. In particular, in many countries, trans women who have very limited options of employment due to transphobia, turn to sex work as one of the only modes of survival. Of the 1,731 documented murders of trans and gender-variant people in the world between 2008-2014, 65 % (of those whose profession was known) were sex workers.

LGBT rights and sex workers rights also intersect in many other ways. In many countries, anti-sex work laws are used against LGBT people and vice versa. You can read more about this here.

Are you hopeful about the progress made in the discourse around decriminalisation in Scotland following the Prostitute Law Reform Bill consultation by Jean Urquhart?

Yes, we are! I don’t think sex work will be decriminalised in the next few months but we are making massive progress. Last year Amnesty International came out in support of decriminalisation and more and more progressive people realise that the pseudo-feminist alternative of criminalising clients is not only ineffective but dangerous. Decriminalisation, for me anyway, is a first step. Whilst we advocate for decriminalisation, we also need to call for better welfare or even look at Universal Basic Income, and fight against transphobia and demand better drug laws, so that people don’t have to turn to sex work out of poverty, lack of options or because of an addiction. But today, we need to support sex workers, whatever their reasons to sell sex. And this means supporting decriminalisation so that sex workers can be protected by the law like any other citizens, and report violence and abuse without fear of being arrested or deported.

 

Interview by Ellen MacAskill

West Lothian Pride 2016

Our volunteers were invited to attend West Lothian Pride last Saturday for a day of stalls, singing and chanting. Here is our write up of the event.

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We arrived at the Howden Park Centre in Livingston at 11.30am, where representatives from various LGBTQ+ organisations were already setting up stalls and banners. There were quite a few community focussed organisations in attendance, including Pink Saltire and the Scottish Transgender Alliance. The first couple of hours was spent setting up stalls and chatting to people. Our volunteers sold badges and offered polaroid pictures for people to take home as souvenirs of the day. There were lots of people from the local area in attendance, and it was great to get to talk to so many people who were excited about the event, which is only currently in its second year. Members of the Glitter Cannons, an LGBTQI+ youth group and primary organisers of the event, arrived with colourful paints, flowers and pride flags to be passed out on the march.

At 1.30PM, we left the centre and moved on to West Lothian College, where the march began at 2pm. Around 200 people waved flags and chanted, whilst passing cars blew their horns and waved, shouting messages of support and encouragement. Free Pride marched behind our own banner and joined in with the chants, thoroughly enjoying the atmosphere. What was really amazing and positive about the event was the energy and enthusiasm which had been poured into it by the main organisers, and especially by the Glitter Cannons themselves. Made up largely of children in their mid-teens, it was incredible to see so many young people, some of whom could only have been around 13 or 14, being so completely brash about their identities. I saw hair spray dyed in the colour of the bi flag; faces painted in trans colours; I saw one person wearing the Ace flag as a cape. Given free rein of the megaphone, chants were bellowed and whistles were blown in a parade which, although small, demanded unashamedly to be heard.

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“L-G-B-T
No Rest Until We’re Free”

Back at the Howden Park Center there was face painting, stalls and celebrations, as well as an impromptu musical performance from Mr Gay Scotland himself, who snubbed the Mr Gay Europe competition in Stockholm to spend a day at West Lothian Pride instead. This was followed by a demonstration from the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, where everyone present was given an insight into an important legacy of LGBTQ+ culture, as well as a short lesson in polari. By the time we had packed up our things and prepared to catch the train back to Glasgow, the stage had become an open mic, and the hall was full of revellers of all ages dancing and singing, celebrating Pride.

This was only the second West Lothian Pride, and there’s still lots of room for it to grow and develop. But the confidence and self-assurance of the young people organising it just demonstrates why community pride and LGBTQ+ movements are so important to building and uniting our community and making it stronger.

Anyone between 13 and 26 can join the Glitter Cannons, so if you’re interested in finding out more then be sure to like them on Facebook. There will be information on the page about plans to organise Pride for next year, which people of all ages are welcome to get involved with.

By Róisin Caird

‘Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger’ Preview

“The ethical reason for doing the film. If I was a star I could bring about world peace. The more I get to be known and the bigger platform I have the more people I can reach with what I can believe is a good message… The personal little kid reason I’ve always wanted to be a star just like I’ve always wanted to be a girl” – Kate Bornstein

kb

I have a confession to make. Until last summer I wasn’t aware of Kate Bornstein apart from the odd bit of press and occasional articles about her. I knew the name but I didn’t really know much about the woman that many dearly refer to as ‘Auntie Kate’
 

Then one night at a film festival I was lucky enough to catch Sam Feders ‘Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger’. This film blew me away. Whilst touching on some of her work, it’s more of a very intimate and deeply personal look at the woman who describes herself as Transgender-dyke, Reluctant-Polyamorist,Sadomasochist, Recovering-Scientologist and Pioneering Gender Outlaw.
 

There is playfulness to the film and Kate herself, which no matter what your views on her work instantly captures you from the opening scene right to the end- but be prepared to go on a rollercoaster of emotions. From her side splitting public speaking to her own personal demons and battles with cancer, the films feels less like a documentary and more like a memoir. Kate faces life and its challenges in a playful way combining it with her wry sense of humour, optimism and a uniquely individual style that makes you feel like no matter what happens everything is going to be ok.
 

For me the film challenged my own preconceptions around language and gender. Kate is not afraid to hold back on her personal views on subjects and language that many transgender people feel uncomfortable with. Do you live in a binary, outside it or are you something else altogether? It’s ok because as Kate says, you can live your life as you see fit be it LGBTQ+ or otherwise but just remember, no matter what, ‘don’t be mean’.
 

It’s such a simple and inspiring concept that as lesson it transcends more than just queer theory but is something that we can apply to our everyday lives.
 

I’m really looking forward to seeing this film screened again, as for me it’s one of those films that once you have seen it you want to revisit time and time again and if that’s not convinced you here’s the trailer to whet your appetite!

 

Trailer – "Kate Bornstein is a Queer & Pleasant Danger" from sam feder on Vimeo.

By Kate Adair