Glasgow Free Pride retracts ban on drag performers

Submitted by Matthew on 29 July, 2015 - 7:34 Author: Kate Harris

“Free Pride” is an event being organised by LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, questioning, intersex, asexual, other) people in Glasgow in response to the commercialisation of the Pride Glasgow.

It is a two day “festival” and ticketed event, with prices from £8 for a day ticket to £55 for a “VIP” pass —with separate toilets and bars for those who can afford this price tag! Worse, Pride Glasgow has a vomit-inducing “happiness” theme with the Twitter hashtag (of course there’s a hashtag) #behappy.

Trying to reclaim Pride so it is both political and accessible is entirely admirable and worthwhile. But given how much oppression LGBT+ people still face both in Britain and around the world, it is sickening of Pride Glasgow to turn Pride into a corporate-sponsored, expensive, happiness festival.

I would also implore Free Pride Glasgow’s organisers to protest against the main event and march in the streets as well as holding a separate event. We should make our anger heard.

Free Pride Glasgow were, however, entirely wrong to ban drag artists from performing on stage. The justification — that drag makes some trans and gender-questioning people feel “uncomfortable” — was extremely weak and stems from basing political decisions on listening to whoever is deemed the most oppressed (by whose standards, who knows) rather than thought-through considerations and arguments.

Many trans and gender-questioning people are drag artists. Many are fans of drag. Granted, some drag is not only offensive: some drag is racist, some drag is lesbophobic, some drag is transphobic as hell. But drag, as the organisers later stated after changing their policy, is a varied art form. Drag can also be incredibly transgressive, politically astute, hilarious, serious, moving and important.

Free Pride’s reasoning still troubles me though. In their recent statement, they write, “The most useful comments and advice that we have been sent from around the world have been from trans people of colour and working class trans people who support drag and have let us know that, without it, they might not have had access to trans/queer culture at all. We are extremely grateful to those individuals who have contacted us to explain this.”

I think it’s fantastic that Free Pride have changed their minds based on arguments from our community. But it seems to fetishise the views of the most oppressed in the hierarchy of oppression. Prostrating ourselves to whoever we think is the most oppressed is not a sensible way to do politics.

Practically speaking, people disagree vehemently and a minority view within an oppressed group is not necessarily the wrong view — nor is it necessarily the right view. Further, we should seek clarity in our ideas, informed by a culture of discussion and debate.

Finally, while it’s wrong to say or do things in order just to recruit people to a movement, we shouldn’t seek to exclude people: in many places around the world, we are actually losing the battle on LGBT+ rights and need each other’s support.

• Free Pride Glasgow is being held on 22 August at Glasgow’s School of Art. For further details, see here

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