Around the world, June is seen as Pride Month, the part of the year when LGBTQ+ people traditionally come together to celebrate and support one another, and where other people and organisations stand up to express their allyship. It’s a time for parades and sometimes for parties, but this year has been a reminder of why longstanding equality campaigners feel that it’s essential to retain an element of protest.
Scotland’s Equality Minister, Emma Roddick, attended Dundee Pride on the 10th of June. Referring to Douglas Ross’ comments of the previous week, in which the Conservative leader described a drag queen storytime event as “totally inappropriate,” she said that this highlighted why Pride Month matters. “This month is about coming together and standing up against the discrimination and hatred that we have sadly seen so much of over these past few days. It is also about educating those around us on LGBTQ+ issues. What we’ve seen this week is the spread of fear and hatred at the hands of ignorance and misinformation.
“The sexualisation of queer identities is discrimination in itself. There is nothing inherently sexual about drag performers or simply being LGBTQ+.”
The drag queen performing at the Elgin event, who is also a teacher, reported receiving death threats in the run-up to the storytelling session, but in the end it went ahead without problems, with around 100 families turning up so that their children could listen to stories.
An increase in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric
This has been a tough month for many people in the LGBTQ+ community, with a surge in threats and verbal abuse, especially online. Several older members of the community noted that attempts to associate drag queens and trans people with danger to children mirrors what was done to gay men in the 1980s. One lesbian woman noted that she and her partner, both cisgender, had also been subject to ‘groomer’ slurs in the street.
Despite this, there has been a party atmosphere at many of Scotland’s Pride events, which provide an opportunity for LGBTQ+ people to say no to living in shame. Starting off with a small, solitary march almost three decades ago, they have expanded to include parades in all our major cities together with a number of small, community-focused events in more remote areas. Arran enjoyed sunny weather and a great turnout for its second ever Pride event on the 3rd, whilst Portobello held an event which included poetry, dancing, and a chance to have some fun in the sea.
Party or protest?
“Pretty much every Pride I’ve been to has been more party than protest, and the people there were overwhelmingly enjoying it,” said Calum, a disabled scientist from the Mearns. “But I am absolutely convinced it has to be about community, and it has to be political, and one of the most important parts of the latter is not inviting uniformed cops.
“We are, fundamentally, one of the things they protect society against. Our legal status and rights are fragile and contingent, and while any individual cop may have good intentions (and may even be one of us when they’re off-duty), we do not know where their personal line is – what would make them look the other way, break an unjust law, or resign rather than enforce it.
“There’s a strict limit to how party an event can be without destroying options for community building and maintenance. I went to the first Stonehaven Pride, and I had to leave after 10 minutes because it was basically a gig in a leisure centre – the layout and the acoustics meant nobody could hear each other talk.”
John, a bisexual man from Paisley who is a full time carer, said that he considers the element of protest essential even in contexts where most people are supportive. “There’s always going to be some wedge issue [that people are] trying to use against us and we can’t let it gain ground,” he explained.
There was also an emphasis on the need to stand in solidarity with LGBTQ+ people around the world, including in places like Uganda, which recently instituted the death penalty for some forms of consensual same sex activity, and Florida, which has unleashed a suite of anti-LGBTQ+ laws. “We’re not free until everyone is free,” said Shona, from Edinburgh.
“Since the formation of the Scottish Parliament we have made big steps towards a more equal society. We have torn down barriers and led the UK on many equality issues,” said Maggie Chapman of the Scottish Greens, but warned that “the spectre of bigotry, homophobia, transphobia and division has not gone away…It is vital that we use Pride month not just to celebrate and embrace the diversity in our communities, but to build a more inclusive society.”
Addressing those who had been upset by recent events, Roddick said “Please remember that your worth is no less than anybody else’s and that you have a right to be who you are.”
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