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Why Free Pride Matters: Ace at Pride

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Whenever I bring up asexuality when talking to people about the LGBTQ+ community I have to pause and hope that I don’t hear the dreaded ‘But asexuals aren’t really part of the community’. When interacting with other LGBTQ+ people it can be a guessing game because sometimes they’re totally accepting and welcoming but often they don’t actually think that I exist. I get the invalidation of my sexuality often enough from cisgender straight people so it doubly hurts when it comes from someone that’s supposed to be on my side.

My first Pride was last summer, after being out of the closet for about a year. As I was bedecked in rainbows and excitement, I looked through the crowds around me, hoping to find the odd flash of an asexual flag, or a sign that acknowledged more than just lesbians and gays. I saw a lot more of the later than the former, but I although I did see a couple of mentions of asexuality, it was often as an after-though, or as a part of a list of identities, rather than an outright celebration of the identity itself.  Although I felt included in some ways, the lack of anything directly related to me was isolating. I felt like I didn’t properly belong. I know others have had similar experiences when dealing with mainstream Pride, where there feels like a refusal to even try to include anyone that’s not already extremely visible within the community.

The first Free Pride was different, however. I was marginally involved last year, mostly limited to attending a couple of meetings and volunteering on the day, but I was struck with the commitment and care taken by everyone involved to include and promote the voices of those who would not have normally been heard at Pride events. From the inclusion of an asexual and aromantic caucus to the asexuality talk on the day itself, Free Pride proved to me that they cared about asexual people, and was dedicated to making sure that our voices were supported.

The asexuality talk was remarkable to hear. It was a basic introduction to asexuality, so I knew most of the information already, but it was incredible – and a bit surreal – to hear someone actually talk about asexuality as a legitimate sexual orientation outside of the Internet. The room was completely full, with people standing at the back and some having been turned away. When I initially came out to people that I was asexual I was met with skepticism, but at Free Pride not only did people believe that it was a real thing, but they listened to what asexual people had to say, and wanted to understand and learn more.  Free Pride didn’t just talk about being inclusive of everyone; they showed that they were.

The people at Free Pride are a large part of what makes it so important to me. I never had to even worry about mentioning that I am asexual around them, and in fact I’ve met quite a few people on the asexual and aromantic spectrum! The casual acceptance and friendship that everyone at Free Pride brings means that getting involved in the organizational side isn’t a chore, but rather feels more like favours that you want to do for your friends. To be around a group of people who focus on making positive change and celebrating those who are often forgotten is refreshing. It’s a constant joy and a relief to just be comfortable in an environment when you know every single person believes that you are valid and belong. It’s an environment that the people of Free Pride provide and one that I’m incredibly grateful for.

There are plenty of other reasons as to why Free Pride is important to me. The focus on building community, commitment to accessibility and helping people, how just plain fun it in, the list could go on.  But at the end of the day, for me, Free Pride represents a space where I don’t need to second-guess myself as to whether I actually belong there. When you get ignored or excluded from places that are purposefully meant to include everyone, it hurts, even if the intent isn’t malicious. But at Free Pride I see can see myself, and people like me, be included and even celebrated as a valuable part of the LGBTQ+ community. I feel like I am actually listened to, and people want to have me there.

One of the saddest parts about being asexual is the isolation you feel when you are constantly hearing that you shouldn’t exist in the LGBTQ+ community, or that you don’t exist at all. Free Pride takes active steps to include and celebrate marginalized groups in the LGBTQ+ community, including asexuality.  I feel included and wanted when I’m involved in Free Pride, which is an incredibly powerful feeling for me. I want to be a strong, active part of the LGBTQ+ community, and with Free Pride, I can.

– Jo Reid

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Free Pride: 2016!

11947478_1466527587006531_8072790516251536237_nThis time last year, myself and a whole team of equally enthusiastic and exhausted volunteers were frantically making preparations for our first ever Free Pride event. We’d only known each other a few months, none of us had ever organised such a large scale event, and none of us had any idea what Free Pride might actually look like on the day. Would anyone actually come? Would we be able to pull off a full day and night of activities? How many rainbow flags is too many rainbow flags?

But we needn’t have worried, because when the day finally rolled round we were overwhelmed by the crowds that showed up to support us and to share in our vision of a free, accessible and radical pride. From 2pm-3am, the Art School was filled with love, defiance and a whole lot of fun.

In all of the chaos of planning and organising, I almost forgot to stop and appreciate what we had created. It was only as the event ended and I stood surrounded by people I could now call my friends, covered in glitter and sweat and ready to sleep for a solid 48 hours, that the enormity of what we had created sunk in.

Throughout the day, and for months after the event, strangers came up to us to tell us this was the first pride event they felt welcome at, the first pride event where they felt heard and supported and included. People spoke of the importance of having their identities validated, their accessibility needs cared for, and the necessity of a Pride event that was completely free to attend.

11951802_1466691366990153_2285957152817356405_nFree Pride grew out of dissatisfaction with the mainstream ‘gay rights’ movement and the increasingly commercial Pride Glasgow. As a community, we felt we could do more, be more. We wanted to provide an alternative and show that a free, inclusive and radical Pride was possible- and we did just that! But for me, and for many others, Free Pride has become more than just a one-off event. In Free Pride I’ve found a community that I truly feel part of, a supportive place from which to challenge the mainstream and build something better.

Throughout the year we’ve gone to protests, held club nights and film screenings and community events, brought people together and campaigned for change. Free Pride is only at the very beginning of what will hopefully be a long and productive journey, and that’s exciting! We want Free Pride to keep growing, to make real tangible change, and to provide an inclusive and supportive community for everyone who feels alienated or excluded from pink-washed and commercial LGBT rights movements.

This year, we’ve made Free Pride even bigger and better- we have more stalls, more space, a new and improved quiet area and a whole host of exciting workshops, performance and activities for you all. We can’t wait for Free Pride 2016, and we hope you’ll join us there to be part of what we hope will be a truly radical, inclusive and special Pride celebration.

Ciara Maguire, Free Pride Chair