Free Pride: Building alternatives to the mainstreaming of Pride

Free Pride Glasgow started in 2015 as a response to the increasing commercialisation of Glasgow Pride, and the increasing ticket prices that now came with that. Within our community there was increasing frustration with how inaccessible Pride Glasgow had become, and feeling that an event that was meant to be for us was really only thinking of a very small, and often more privileged part of our community. We decided on three main aims that we wanted Free Pride to focus on:

Inclusivity, anti-commercialisation and Pride as a Protest.

In terms of inclusivity, we felt that mainstream pride events did not do enough to recognise the diversity of the LGBTQ community and as a result, many more marginalised members of our community felt excluded or unwelcome at pride. An example of this is the decision by many mainstream pride events to book acts that perform in black face. This has been an ongoing issue within the community, with racist and misogynist acts such as Queens of Pop have been booked at Leeds, Glasgow and Manchester Pride. This shows how racism is still pervasive within the LGBT community, and there is a real lack of understanding or accountability around these issues from not only the organisers who book these acts, but the community members who come out in droves to defend the use of black face in drag acts.  We wanted to not only challenge and call this out, but create an explicitly anti-racist space that showed we would not tolerate racism in our community.

One of the main factors in deciding we needed a free alternative to pride was the inaccessibility of the new ticket prices. Arguments over the introduction of fees showed a real lack of awareness of how poverty affects the LGBTQ community and that for many, Pride would be off limits. Comments like ‘it’s only a tenner’ ‘they can save up for it’ and even ‘a fee means that only people who really want to be there can go’ were incredibly classist and dismissive of the experiences of so many people in the LGBTQ community, who don’t have the option of spending £10 on a pride ticket. There’s also the issue of what this gatekeeping of pride means for younger LGBT people, or anyone who isn’t out yet. If we keep access to information, groups, and support networks behind a ticketed barrier, we shut off a huge number of people who are either not able or not comfortable enough to buy a ticket.

With Free Pride, we also wanted to have a big focus on accessibility. It was important for us to use a wheelchair accessible venue and to provide BSL interpreters for our talks and workshops. We created a separate ‘quiet room’ with noise blocking headphones and books and blankets for people experiencing sensory overload or who just wanted to escape from the crowds for a bit. We try to cover a range of topics in our talks and workshops that we feel are neglected by mainstream prides. This has included talks on bisexuality, non-binary + trans identities, street harassment and disability. We work closely with the Sex Workers Open University and LGBT Unity, a group of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers.

Anti-commercialisation

As ticket prices increase, so has commercial sponsorship at Pride. London Pride’s sponsorship revenue has grown 250 per cent since 2013. These days at Pride, banners for banks and large supermarkets drown out those belonging to local LGBT groups. There’s no space to be angry and protest issues still affecting us when you’re surrounded by giant Nandos’ chickens and people posing with rainbow coloured cash machines. The Police march alongside us and LGBT police officers are celebrated as marks of progress, while the continued police violence against LGBT people, sex workers, and people of colour is erased.  We wanted to remind people that LGBTQ liberation didn’t end with gay marriage- issues such as LGBTQ homelessness, lack of trans healthcare, and the treatment of LGBTQ asylum seekers are far from being recognised, let alone resolved.

Pride as a Protest

The main event is a big part of what we do, and we feel that holding it on the same day as Pride Glasgow is itself a protest. By providing a free and inclusive alternative we are showing what a return to Pride’s original values could look like, and that is possible to create an accessible, community focused event.

The success of our first event, where around 800 people showed up throughout the day, showed us that there was a real demand for something different. We wanted to continue to provide alternative spaces throughout the year, rather than just popping up for one day then disappearing. Over the past couple of years we’ve held regular events, including film screenings, club nights, self-care events, and skill shares- all with a focus on accessibility & centring radical politics. We also attend demonstration and marches as Free Pride, and last year held a vigil for Trans Day of Remembrance. Creating these spaces, where people can be themselves, are supported to learn new skills and meet new people, feels radical and empowering.

The future!

We don’t want there to be any financial barriers in place for those attending Free Pride. All of our events are completely free to attend and where possible, we provide travel expenses for people in the asylum system. We rely entirely on donations to make this possible, as well as trying to use community spaces and working with other groups to share resources/skills. It is difficult to know how sustainable this is long term, but our options for funding are limited while we want to stay a community focused, radical group. The realities of running an entirely volunteer led group mean there is limited energy and capacity to do everything we would like to. We have to constantly reassess what we’re doing, who we’re doing it for and how we can continue doing it.

Pride, and what it means, is changing, but while we deal with the challenges of this, it’s exciting to see new alternative events and communities growing out of the dissatisfaction.

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