Free Pride Glasgow, whose primary aim is to challenge what is sees as a growing commercialisation of Pride, is planning to host a free of charge alternative to Pride Glasgow’s annual celebration.
The group believes that drag entertainers could appear to be mocking or diminishing the experiences of trans or non-binary people who may be struggling with identity issues.
The mainstream media has, predictably, seized on this. The Metro reported that “Pride event bans drag queens performing because ‘they might cause offence'”, while even LGBTI news site Pink News reported, with hysterical capitalisation, that Free Pride “BANS drag queens in case they are offensive”.
The effect has been to diminish the seriousness of the issues Free Pride is trying to address, and to obscure the complex issue behind a smokescreen of outrage and righteous indignation at what is portrayed as an illiberal and unjustified move.
It is very true that drag acts have been a part of Pride for many years, and that many within the LGBTI community feel a sense of attachment and even identity with them; however, there are those who are ambivalent towards them at best, and others still who very genuinely struggle with treating complex issues of gender identity as something of a joke.
Pride Glasgow has intervened in the debate, suggesting that Free Pride’s actions underline a lack of commitment to inclusivity.
A statement issued by Pride Glasgow read: “We can understand the actions behind Free Pride over the banning of Drag Performers but believe this to action to wrong and going against what an inclusive event should be about.
“As an organisation Pride Glasgow had a similar discussion back in 2010 over how Drag could cause discomfort to people however we took the decision that Drag Queens and Kings play an important part in the history of the Pride movement and should be included within the event, so we used our Pride Guide to address these concerns by having a statement from Crosslynx (a Trans support organisation at the time) explaining that not everyone people would see in Drag at Pride would be Trans or represent the trans community.
“Pride Glasgow believes that any community group should be given their place to flourish but that success should not be built on the negativity and ignorance towards other events, groups and like minded people and we are saddened to see that this is the direction that Free Pride has chosen to take.”
Free Pride have explained their position in detail, and have issued a statement themselves pointing to their reasons for the decision.
It says: “The decision was taken by transgender individuals who were uncomfortable with having drag performances at the event. It was felt that it would make some of those who were transgender or questioning their gender uncomfortable.
“It was felt by the group within the Trans/Non Binary Caucus that some drag performance, particularly cis drag, hinges on the social view of gender and making it into a joke, however transgender individuals do not feel as though their gender identity is a joke.
“This can particularly difficult for those who are not out and still present as the gender they were assigned at birth. While it was discussed whether we could have trans drag acts perform, it was agreed that as it would not be appropriate to ask any prospective drag acts whether or not they identified as trans.
“It was therefore decided that having no drag acts perform would be the best option as it would mean no-one would feel pressured to out themselves.”
There is some merit in both positions, and that of Free Pride seems inherently more reasonable than some appear to suggest. It follows the National Union of Students’ decision not to admit cross-dressing men to their events, for similar reasons.
There are clearly questions as to how to implement such a policy, not least as it is hard to see where lines are drawn between what constitutes drag and fancy dress, but the inescapable reality is that the decision is motivated by a desire to challenge exclusion rather than undermine inclusion.
A member of Free Pride told KaleidoScot: “We are basically just trying to stand up for those so often ignored by queer events and spaces and that means keeping them safe.
“I’m non-binary. I’m also mixed ethnicity, disabled, autistic and asexual. In the last week we’ve discussed our concerns with having drag at the event as we are attempting to have an accessible safe event.
“For many of the transgender women and non-binary people, cis drag can be extremely triggering and difficult for them. We wanted to still enable transgender and non-binary drag performers to perform but we were worried that forcing them to disclose their identity would put them in danger and on the spot.
“We all acknowledge how important drag is and has been for many transgender people figuring out their gender and those who wish to express themselves. We also know that some cis drag is inoffensive and can totally fine, but we believed that putting the well being of our transgender members was most important.
“Yesterday, we had a meeting in which members of the drag community and representatives from radio attended – they seemed concerned about our not being an ‘inclusive event’, so we explained that we are putting the well being of marginalised groups first.
“We have had valid criticism, but sadly we’ve had a lot of hostility and harassment from as far away as America and Australia.”
Another member said: “We are trying to listen to everyone’s voices and that includes the trans community outside of FP who have contacted us telling us they think it is a bad idea to have a ban.”
Free Pride have advised KaleidoScot they are considering ways of allowing trans or non-binary drag performers to participate, and that statements on this may be issued shortly.
It’s a difficult question to get right, but presenting the issue in simple “inclusivity versus protection from offence” terms, as some in the media have done, is deeply inaccurate.
In any case, Free Pride are not telling Pride Glasgow how to run their event – simply issuing a statement of intention as to what is welcome at theirs.
Quite clearly, the two Prides will in many key respects be totally dissimilar – so why the undignified spat? Each will be appealing to its own audience, and there is surely room in Glasgow for two very distinct expressions of LGBTI identity.
Pointing accusatory fingers and reducing complicated questions of sexual and personal identity to glib simplicities is unhelpful.
Whether or not we agree with Free Pride’s approach, they seem simply to be saying that there’s nothing funny or trivial about transgender or non-binary issues, and that we should all be more understanding of those of us who are uncomfortable or struggling with our identities.
And similarly, whatever we think of Pride Glasgow, we should recognise the sense of purpose and unity it provides to many LGBTI people in Scotland.
That the two Prides don’t see eye-to-eye is understandable, but the acrimony is neither helpful nor inevitable.
Perhaps we should all be seeking to understand, rather than to deride.