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

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

 

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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