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

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

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