An Apology to Free Pride (and some hopefully constructive notes)

So, I wrote this piece yesterday and comments on the fb page said it was inaccurate. I did some digging and I have to agree that I owe an apology to the Free Pride group; they do appear to be aiming for an anti-capitalist event, while my criticisms did not go into any explanation and so lacked any historical perspective or constructive edge. Worse than that I dived into attacking their group on the basis of the actions of other groups past, something they did not need at a time where they are hoping to build something better. So, first a sincere apology to the folks involved with Free Pride. I really do hope you fulfil your manifesto.

Along with this apology I’m going to take the time to expand on the reasoning behind some of my some cynicism in the hope it can become something more constructive…

The past week has seen a whole host of horrors for anyone who considered themselves queer. There has been the news of Jennicet Gutiérrez being dragged off amid people jeering at the issues she raised by a room full of well-to-do members of rights organisations who then went on to cheer a Nobel Peace Prize winning Butcher. UKIP were allowed to march on the sly by the organisers of London Pride, but I suppose given the involvement of police, armed forces the crown prosecutors and the prisons in Glasgow’s events is adding a band of fascists really that much different? Added to that were the pictures of London Pride stewards helping the police hold down anti-capitalist protesters. Of course there has been all the icing smothered over these events to turn them into a wedding cake to contend with too. Having mass celebrations over state sanctioning encroach further into our lives would have been bad enough, but already the queer groups dealing with homelessness and poverty in the US are reporting the beginnings funding flight, exactly as predicted would happen.

The history of how mainstream Pride events and the gay rights movement (and yes, in this instance I’m purposefully saying it is a gay right movement) came to be this way started with radical manifestos. They read much like the Free Pride manifesto. However the structures to back them up were not there. Those involved had an open door to folks to approach them. Even today the door to Glasgow Pride is theoretically open to anyone. The problem is that not everyone starts with the equal ability to take up that offer, and even if they could there may be things a the other side of the door that are driving people away.

In most Pride events this would be a combination of the ability to get involved been kept within certain circles, the organisations that they have historically and currently invited to participate being the same organisations involved in oppressing large segments of the queer community, and the way in which they fund events through sponsorship and buy-in controlling the outcomes. The balance of power and control would grow to mirror those in wider society because the structures were never in place to prevent that happening. An open door let a radical protest to be co-opted towards addressing middle class concerns such as inclusion in civil society, rather than the demand to replace it with something that is fundamentally better.

Free Pride having a manifesto is a good start, however every indication so far is that (like the pride events past) it hasn’t been backed it up with the structures required to hard-code these values. Meetings are taking place in university campuses and follow the trends in campus organising. Due to this I’d be very surprised if there is anyone is involved in the panning has not attended a university at some point. While I’m sure the right groups will be invited to have a space, I worry that they won’t be the ones creating the event.

The only way I’ve seen to go any distance towards countering these problems is through giving up organisational power and ceding it to those to whom it is usually denied access to it along with a commitment to long-term support for whatever is growing out if it. Actively reach out to those who are homeless or live in poverty, who have migrated and seek asylum, and to people actively maligned and ignored within the wider queer community. And don’t just invite them to have a stall or a space or a workshop at the event, but give them controlling power in it. The event may go in a different direction entirely, but if it is being led by those who your manifesto says it wants to give a voice to then you will be succeeding in a far more profound manor. Examples in recent history include Gay Shame events, Ladyfest groups that have had active criteria and quotas on who runs them, Queer Mutiny in Edinburgh being self-organised by folks who were effected by homelessness and poverty, Afem2014 in London giving organisational power and physical space to marginalised groups, and in Glasgow the collective self-organisation by most of the cities Unity projects (and their spin-offs).

I also don’t know where Free Pride is taking place yet – it doesn’t seem to have been announced – but given the methods or organisation being followed I have grave concerns that it will be in a building either on a uni campus or in arts space. That said, I understand the conundrum. Glasgow has a distinct lack of social spaces to call upon, accelerated by the plans of Glasgow City Council to gentrify the few areas where these developments could take root, so in retrospect some of what is happening is the best that can be done given current conditions. I apologise for blaming the symptoms of this on the Free Pride group themselves; the real culprit is destruction of anywhere that isn’t arts or uni space to hold events, and the solution is to work towards establishing long-term non-commercial spaces here in Glasgow.

So, despite my over-arching cynicism and concerns of history repeating itself, and with the fog of disappointment that now seems to go along with June 28th having passed by, I do hope that Free Pride fulfils the points of their manifesto because we could all do with it.

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