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!
– Ellen MacAskill