Every year since I’ve been a child, I’ve gone to Glasgow Pride and every year it’s been bigger than the year before. After weeks of unglaswegian weather, last Saturday was pretty much guaranteed to be a scorching, glittery and incredibly busy event. And so it was, with an estimated 12,000 people pouring onto the streets for the march and thousands more just out enjoying themselves.
In a break with tradition, I arrived on time and was able to see the entire march, but as is customary Pride Glasgow managed to totally balls up the festivities. Thousands of people, including those with pre-bought tickets for the event held in Kelvingrove Park, were left stranded as the organisers decided to just keep selling more tickets to anyone who wanted one until the event was at capacity. Police told those waiting the event had been oversold, and a “one in, one out” policy put in place. Many queued for hours in the heat with a limited supply of liquids, given they’d all been warned not to bring open bottles, poppers and erm… assault weapons to the event via stern social media posts.
Completely rinsing the community they’re allegedly representing in such a blatant way is a symptom of the problem Pride Glasgow never chooses to deal with. It’s a core part of what’s went wrong since the event chose to move to a paid model. But this weekend, that greed and mismanagement made for some pretty pissed off people who have every right to expect refunds, discounts, reasonable expenses and in some cases payments for the distress caused by what happened.
Pride Glasgow’s first message following the chaos was “Woop woop, it’s sunny, also we’re full thnx.” As people – some who’d travelled long distances and been denied entry – demanded refunds, the Pride Glasgow page continued to pump out cheery images of the people who did get in #fairweekend
Hours later, there was an apology which didn’t mention why they continued to sell tickets on the day, how people could seek refunds or generally address any of people’s concerns, but for some reason mentioned fences breached after people were refused entry. It took until Monday night for a vague statement about trying to make it up to the people they let down to appear. At the time of publication, the only Pride page in Scotland who’ve used the word “refunds” is Pride Edinburgh, who choose to run a free event every year, advising punters they couldn’t help them get their money back.
Every single year we talk about how the corporate takeover of our once community event is rotting it away and imply that Alastair Smith, the CEO of Pride Glasgow, should maybe just pack it in. It seems we’re not alone in that request this year with a petition demanding his resignation gaining over 1000 signatures in its first day.
In a frank Facebook post on Monday night, the co-host of this year’s event Scott Agnew said he would “never host another Pride Glasgow” while the management team were in place. His post highlights the treatment of the many unpaid performers, who’ve been doing this for their community out of the goodness of their hearts since the days the entire event was free, “this work is not acknowledged with as much as a bite to eat or a drink.” This wasn’t the case for the paid acts, “the fridge was stuffed tantalisingly with two rotisserie chickens – to which star they were destined I do not know.” And Agnew recounts “over two days I got one slice of Turkey Ham which I was told off for.”
Agnew’s statement also highlights the complete lack of apology for the “carnage, anger and disappointment” from any of the organisers on stage, and lambasts the decision by Pride Glasgow board members to instead announce their new Scottish Government funding – and Mel C. “In that five minutes it encapsulated all that is wrong with the current structure – they want all the glory and none of the criticism.”
Agnew concludes with a call for new management at Pride Glasgow,
I can only hope for change and that in future a team will be put together that respects its’ performers, pays them a fair wage for a job done and treats them well.
But more importantly Glasgow Pride gets a new managent team that respects the community it is there to serve, listens to what it has to say and acts appropriately.
While a change at the top is undoubtedly needed, only a fundamental change in what Pride is actually for can avoid a repeat of what happened.
It’s not just the paid event that’s being deliberately undermined, it’s the march as well. While this remains free, the format laid down by the organisers engineers a very specific vibe. Pride Glasgow made a decision last year to split up unions and political groups, meaning they were interspersed with the walking adverts which now seem to take up most of the Parade. This year, it was even more noticeable because for every so many people who marched off, some giant float/advert set off behind it. The basic culture of the event sees making money as the main measure of success – that’s why tickets get sold and sold again, why the parade is littered with giant adverts, why many performers go unpaid and unfed and why there were so few staff to deal with so many people.
Those who decided this format don’t want the Pride march to look like a protest because that’s bad and scary for the companies filling their boots off the event. What the fuck BAE systems were doing there, given their involvement in the production of weapons used by well known LGBTI+ allies like…erm…Saudi Arabia, only the actual spawn of Satan knows.
The march is – and hopefully always will be – dominated by just folk who go, with their pals, with their work, with their families or by themselves. I don’t really think the makeup of Pride has changed significantly but there’s a very specific form of optical illusion going on, for the benefit of the sponsors, at the expense of… just folk who go with their pals, with their work and with their families. Oh, and with their dugs.
We are not, have never been, and will never be, opposed to the idea of organising a piss up. But Pride has to be refocused on the LGBTI+ communities it’s supposed to be for and if you cannae organise a piss up in Kelvingrove Park, it’s maybe time to pack it in and let someone else take over.
There’s a serious and pressing issue here and I often wonder if it’s why so many people bite their tongues. If Pride Glasgow does pack up, sink, go under, it’ll not be the first time those running the Pride event under various configurations have done so. Pride Scotland went bust in 2002 with debts of around £60,000 and a definitely-not-just-the-same Pride Scotia took over in 2003.
And it wouldn’t be ATF without a menshie for The Castro Centre, previously known as the LGBT Centre, an LGBT space in Glasgow which despite council funding, was closed (twice) having accrued huge debts. Ruth Black, a former Solidarity and Labour councillor who had resigned as manager just months before the centre closed for the first time was…put in charge of the re-opened centre, despite concerns being raised about the centre being run by “an organisation not yet established and with no management, governance or staff arrangements, as well as a direct connection with the previous regime.”
In due course, Glasgow City Council auditors raised concerns about (among other things) non-payment of tax, no employee insurance, massive phone bills, Ruth Black employing her son against council rules and buying a car with council money… so the centre was again shut down with Ruth Black being suspended from the Labour Party. Regular visitors at the centre included former/disgraced council leader Steven Purcell and well known gangster Paul Ferris.
Who else was a director at Glasgow LGBT Centre Ltd??
The more this happens, the less trust there is in any kind of public or community funding for the event and frankly, for the community Pride is supposed to be about celebrating. This creates a never ending spiral of more reliance on corporate funding to create bigger and more spectacular events, with higher ticket costs, which justifies higher booze costs coz you bought an expensive ticket and suddenly, it’s just another festival run by some dodgy weirdos. I’d far rather we were funding the healthcare so many in our communities, particularly trans people, so urgently need than providing subsidies for a piss up but I don’t believe we have to chose between those things because I’m not a completely tedious fuckwit (don’t @ me). But if we can’t go for a walk and a sing song without bankrupting ourselves time and again, we’re doing it wrong.
The continued excuses that “lessons will be learned” ring more hollow the more we hear them. Last year, we were told there would be a full review of Pride Glasgow’s social media policy after they used Facebook to blame all the wrong people for what was basically their fault, before belatedly apologising, sort of. And this year, they used Facebook to blame all the wrong people for what was basically their fault, before belatedly apologising, sort of. Last year, Scott Agnew gave feedback on the lack of food and this year, all he got was a slice of guilt ridden turkey ham. After 2 closures of basically the same social centre, it would be a total embarrassment to end up with 2 bust versions of basically the same Pride event. But that can only be avoided if Pride Glasgow actually take steps to repay those they’ve let down – and to change.
Even I can’t write about Saturday like it was all doom and gloom – it wasn’t. Loads of amazing events happened, thousands of people had a fabulous time to themselves, inside and outside the much vaunted breached fence. Groups like LGBT Unity, Free Pride, The Scottish Trans Alliance, TIE, LGBT Age, Intersex UK, The Equality Network and so many others do incredible and often thankless work and sometimes, that breaks through into support, credibility and actual political change. The march was absolutely massive and it ages me more than any Hogmanay seeing the average age of Pride attendees every year – a constant reminder that the slippery slope is here and the queers are sliding on it.
It’s precisely because Pride means so much to so many that we can’t allow it to continue to be run by the same people, for the same ends, with the same results. We can only pretend greed is just incompetence for so long, and many reached breaking point on Saturday as they queued in the heat to use their own ticket, which they’d just watched being resold. No one should be condemned for breaching a fence at a Pride event because there shouldn’t be a fence at a Pride event.
Our communities deserve better than jumping the fence to get into our own Pride and sneaking slices of turkey ham from our own table. Tearing down the current management of Pride Glasgow is now necessary if the event is to survive. But tearing down the walls they’ve been building around an event that’s being slowly privatised and plundered is a bigger battle. Building a Pride we can all be proud of is the prize we never take our eyes away from and that can’t happen till the fences used to keep out people out on Saturday come down for good and Pride is an event that’s for all of us.
The Pride Glasgow Collection:
2017: WEEKLY WANKER #074: PRIDE GLASGOW
2017: “No Pride In Police”: Arrests in Glasgow as protesters resist police led Pride march
2016: Rainbows Through The Rain at Glasgow Pride
2015: Glasgow Marches With Pride
2015: The Battle To Free Pride
2014: The Price of Pride
2013: Pride and Pinkwashing Prejudice
2013: Queers, Flegs and Glasgow City Council
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