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.

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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.)

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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

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