Tag Archives: queer

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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I’ve been thinking about Christopher Street Liberation Day

[This piece was followed up with ‘An Apology to Free Pride (and some hopefully constructive notes)’ by the same author, who suggests reading both together.]

The first pride event was Christopher Street Liberation Day. It was held one year after the Stonewall Riots and aimed to bring together an oppressed community to rally against the forces of the state and capitalism that were keeping them down. Fast forward to Glasgow in 2015 and our pride event (in August, whatever), has stalls confirmed from such members of “the community” as:

  • The Army, Navy and Air Force; you know, the same army, navy and air force who are being deployed to stop people fleeing persecution for being queer.
  • Police Scotland who, when 1 in 4 homeless youth are queer; help keep homeless people out of safe places to kip, protect shopfulls of food from being passed to those who are hungry, that are making sex work unsafe for those who rely on it to get by, and who attack migrants and refugees.
  • The British Transport Police (these are traditionally the ones they draft in to beat you if you are protesting too loud).
  • The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service – yeah.
  • The Scottish Prison Service – …
  • A host of corporations that help maintain the systems of oppression and exploration that helps keep the untidy working class queers in their place.
  • A bunch of organisations claiming to look out for queer issues but who spend a majority their time clucking about council forms having the right options rather than helping give any sort of power back to queers who are worst off in society. Organisations – if you aren’t actively supporting and empowering queer youth, looking to end poverty, active in promoting sex workers rights, and/or working towards the ideals of prison abolition then I’ve got some bad news: your organisation is just tinkering around the edges and is likely part of the problem.

Pride went so far astray due to the idea that everyone should be included on the basis of their identity alone. Lesbian bosses who exploit others? They can march. Gay politicians? Let them speak. Gay Police Association and corporate sponsors? We couldn’t do anything without you. Oh, and don’t forget the allies. This gets stretched to the point where in London the pseudo-fascist UKIP were allowed to sulk back onto the march by organisers after being given a cursory ban (in what looks to have been a lie told to  defuse any attempts to eject them from the march).

The biggest problems we face are realised in crippling poverty and the prison system. These will never be addressed (let alone solved) pink-washing the division between the exploited classes and the ruling classes that benefit from our oppression. As the methods we use now will be a reflection of the end point we reach, methods that gaining privileges for a few will always be based on deepening the exploration of others.

So what was it about the Glasgow event’s betrayal of the ideals of Pride is the Glasgow queer scene most offended by? What has driven a group to action? Was it violence, poverty, imprisonment, exploitation, torture…?

No.

It was the fact that you have to pay to go to the event.

They call their alternative Free Pride. More like Cheap Pride.

A place where they will likely show films about Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera (and perhaps, just maybe, someone will mention Brenda Howard, though I doubt it), but nobody will think that they need to take the same path as these pieces of “our” history. They won “their” fight, surely, because today’s fight is just to have a free event…

Some folks will go along with it thinking that at least some of the radical history will take root where it is needed, but in all likelihood Free Pride will take place on a university campus or art crowd space that is so alien to the queer struggles of today that it might as well be taking place on the fucking moon.

Another Pride: Where friendly faced (and well paid) politicians and union bureaucrats will be welcomed.

Another Pride: This time only inviting the ‘nice’ capitalists.

Another Pride: The same as the first Pride, just that ‘they’ cost money and ‘we’ are free.

And I know a lot of the folks involved have their hearts in the right place. I just think there is a collective denial in some as to how bad things are and a near purposeful avoidance in others; because to tackle the real problems would mean confronting their own assimilationist positions. The lessons that have led to the failure of current Pride events are being ignored and the same paths followed; some under the impression that it will lead to different results, others quite happy that liberation will never be given anything more than lip service.

That said we can work out the ways oppression and exploitation attack us. We can act in solidarity with those who find themselves sidelined most in these struggles. And we can build the tools to liberate ourselves together.

From here on in that’s the way I’m going to remember Christopher Street Liberation Day.

Repost: From Russia with love

I’ve seen a whole host of outrage on my newsfeed this weekend about Russia’s placing in the Eurovision Song Contest from friends in the UK and Western Europe. When it looked like they might win, there was a stream of updates about homophobic Russia and how terrible it would be for them to take the trophy, all willing Sweden on to pip them at the post. Yet in 2014, Sweden’s winner Måns Zelmerlöw said on national television that it wasn’t natural for a man to sleep with another man. In fact, he called homosexuality ‘avvikelse’ – which is a deviation, or an abnormality. You can watch it here if you understand Swedish. Call me esoteric, but it’s almost like its been set up for me to write a rambling blog post about nationalism, queerness and popular music. Given Zelmerlöw’s frankly bizarre personal politics making not much of a dent in a public outraged by Soviet victory on the day of Ireland’s historic marriage vote, lets ask, “Why specifically Russia?” Is it because of high levels of public knowledge around their anti-queer laws, or is it something a bit more complicated or maybe even more sinister than that?

Continue reading here: https://sarahkerton.wordpress.com/2015/05/24/from-russia-with-love/

Go Beyond the Law

Today we went out to a rally to remember Leelah Alcorn, the young trans woman who recently took her life after her parents attempted to put her through conversion therapy. In her suicide note Leelah had called for laws to be introduced to end this torture of trans youth, and that was the initial focus for the day.

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The event  had been called by the city’s queer students, acting autonomously to hold an event for their community. It was widely reported that both the council and the police had done everything they could to try hinder the event, from lying about legal requirements to demonstrate, making up the need for insurance and a list of named wardens, right through to forcing changes in the date and location. Despite this the folks organising the day powered through and the attendance was strong. The newly formed Glasgow Food Not Bombs came down with scran and donations were taken for local LGBT Youth projects.

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We were also involved in chasing off some SWP scumbags who claimed they were attending in solidarity. They did this in front of one trans women they had attacked on George Square and one of our members who they had attempted to drag off while threatening to knock their teeth out, both times for calling out their members involvement covering up rape by Martin Smith (the specifics of the case are linked from here, here, and here). They bold-face denied their part in rape apologism, and at the same time were trying to say they were there as individuals while handing out fliers for an SWP front group! They really are a shameless cult that have no concept of solidarity except as a word employed to further their party.

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Our group was offered a spot to give a short talk and while it went off script a couple of times (due to nerves, emotions, and the freezing cold weather), here is what was being read from at the time:

“My name is Tanya and I am part of the Anarchist Federation of Britain.

Many of the signs brought here today call for human rights and legal protections to be put in place by the institutions that target us with their violence today. Leelah Alcorn’s own final message asks specifically for laws to prevent the torture that is conversion therapy. These calls are understandable and I am glad when things are made easier for us.

However I want put forward a warning: that setting our sights on changes in the law will only benefit a privileged few. We already have laws against murder and yet trans women are killed at an alarming rate. We have laws against child abuse, but our young siblings are still driven to suicide due to neglect.

Laws should not, and can not, be our goal. Anything that can be granted – rights, laws, or charity – can be eroded or turned against us. We can see this with marriage equality, and again with the push for acceptance in the military. Laws are compromises made by a government trying to break up a strong movement.

We need to go beyond the law.

Our goal has to be for liberation from gendered oppression, and nothing less.

This is a struggle that can only be won by finding others who we share an interest with, and organising collectively, first to understand the causes of our oppression, and then in taking action directly at their roots, to remove them for ourselves.

However, at the same time we must recognise that this is a fight that will involve many different groups facing different problems, and it is vital to our struggle to build solidarity across the working class as a whole.

We can see this in our shared history:

The huge waves of self-organisation and militant direct action used to face down the AIDS epidemic and Section 28. The solidarity between inner city queers and the miners that had a real chance of victory against all the state’s institutions. And going all the way back to when black and latina trans women fought back during police instigated riots (most famously at the Stonewall Inn). Remember that these same women would go on to form organisations like STAR – the Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries – organisations that would lay the groundwork for the gains that trans and queer people have made today.

My final thought then is to take a look into my own experience and those of my friends, and look at the physical manifestations of gendered oppression. Our problems come from social isolation, medical gate-keeping, and crippling poverty. We’re estranged from family, constantly forced into dangerous situations, and denied well-being in our lives that leaves us in a precarious position both physically and mentally.

We need to make the space for one another to breath. We need to make the space to understand the causes of our problems. And we need to make the space to find freedom in our lives.

Thank you.”