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Alternative Scottish Pride event reverses decision not to book drag acts

Initial decision was based on concern over drag acts offending transgender and gender nonconforming attendees

Drag performers at London Pride 2011 (Credit: Gary Bembridge, via Wikimedia Commons).

Drag performers at London Pride 2011 (Credit: Gary Bembridge, via Wikimedia Commons).

An alternative Pride event in Glasgow, Scotland, has now reversed its decision not to allow drag queens to perform after outcry from fellow members of the LGBT community. And, depending on your point of view, the initial decision was either a bona fide attempt to create a “safe space” for all LGBT community members, or is an example of political correctness run amok.

Free Pride Glasgow, which bills itself as the less commercial option to Glasgow’s main Pride event, initially announced that it was not going to book drag performances. It argued that transgender and gender nonconforming members of its organizing committee were “uncomfortable” with drag performances.

As reported by The Independent, Free Pride Glasgow issued a statement saying that it hopes to create a safe space for all members of the LGBT community, and that while the decision may disappoint some, “the needs of the most marginalised groups within our community come first.”

“It was felt that [drag performance] would make some of those who were transgender or questioning their gender uncomfortable,” the statement read. “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.”

The decision was largely met with opposition, with opponents creating a “Boycott Glasgow Free Pride” Facebook page and celebrities like Michelle Visage of RuPaul’s Drag Race decrying the decision and telling followers to attend Pride Glasgow, the city’s main LGBT Pride event, or Pride Edinburgh instead.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Free Pride apologized and issued another statement seeking to clarify its concerns.

“Free Pride now welcomes drag performers,” the statement, which was posted to the group’s Facebook page, said. “There was never a ban on drag queens and kings attending Free Pride. There was a decision to not book any drag acts, which has been overturned. Free Pride now welcomes drag performers of all genders and gender identities.

“Free Pride is inherently challenging; we have known that from the start. As a small organisation, we disagree with the highly commercialised and depoliticised nature of mainstream Pride. Our aim continues to be to create a safe, accessible space for the most marginalised LGBTQIA people,” the statement continues. The organizers also noted that the negative press they had received from bloggers and online activists from around the world had resulted in insults and threats aimed at event organizers, adding that such “abusive behaviour is unacceptable.”

“The original decision was made because many trans members of Free Pride have had negative experiences with drag acts veering towards racism, misogyny and transphobia; the lack of contact with the drag community contributed,” Free Pride Glasgow explained. “We made a mistake, and we apologise. Drag is an art form, a form of expression and performance, a community with a rich history. 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.

“We hope to learn from this in order to foster the kind of community we want to see,” the statement continues. “We believe there is a greater need for dialogue within, and indeed between the trans and drag communities. We look forward to creating spaces where these dialogues take place with mutual compassion and respect.”

But Free Pride Glasgow has not been the only organization to struggle with this issue of stark divisions between members of the transgender/gender nonconforming and drag communities. Pride Glasgow, the “mainstream” Pride event, told Pink News that it had considered a similar decision in 2010, but decided not to exclude drag performers due to their role in the history of the Pride movement.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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