I went to my first ever Glasgow LGBT Pride event on Saturday, rather proud and excited that this city, for so long riven by sectarianism and daily violence, had changed so much while I was away that it could – safely – host such an event. I’ve written before about my ambivalence towards this city. Many LGBT people, like myself, had been driven away from the city in our youth, in large part to escape the prejudice and fear that growing up there, or in my case, in one of its feeder towns, Coatbridge, caused us. Nonetheless, I have always remained proud of my West Coast, working-class heritage, which in many ways has helped to define me as much as my sexuality has.
I took my partner along and was explaining to him on the way to Glasgow Green what an enormous shift had taken place in a very short period of time. So far, so good.
When I got to Glasgow Green I was surprised that there was a tent selling alcohol which was cordoned off from the rest of the festival. This meant that, rather than as I had experienced at festivals elsewhere, there weren’t families and groups having picnics, including wine, watching the free concert. The few people who were drinking outside the cordon were being stopped and warned by the police, a result of a local bye-law to try to prevent alcohol-related disorder. This meant that those who were drinking alcohol legally were fenced uncomfortably, like pigs in a pen. “How ridiculous”, I said to my partner. Surely at an event like this, people could be allowed to celebrate, to let their hair down for one day in the year, to celebrate the huge achievements our community has made. Isn’t it insulting to them to assume that they need to be policed to ensure they behave? How wrong I now realise I was.
In my professional capacity, now working on alcohol policy, I have myself been accused on TV very recently of being a public health kill-joy who wants to restrict the rights of the sensible majority because of the behaviours of a small minority, policing people’s health behaviours with regulations that interfere with their individual choices in an unwarranted fashion. Of course, that’s not the case. However, alcohol is a regulated commodity and a drug and people will differ on what is appropriate. We must all be open to changing our positions based on the evidence that is available to us.
The connection between alcohol and violence has been well-documented by many researchers. They often differ on the causality of the relationship but there is consensus that where violent behaviours occur, alcohol is often somewhere around. In my current PhD research, many young people have described to me how, rather than places of festivity, alcohol often turns their parties into violent occasions. One young man expressed it thus:
“Ye get people that just go out, get full ae drink and just, somebody’ll look at them, somebody’ll just look at ye and that’ll be it. “What are ye looking at?””
Easy for me as a middle-aged man to think that that only happens at young people’s parties. However, at various times in Glasgow on Saturday (and not late at night – I’d made my exit long before that), I saw drunken women fighting with each other, men and women throwing up in the streets, women falling down. Finally, to top it all off, I was personally whacked in the face by a six foot six man’s shoulder as he flew towards me, having been punched in the face and knocked off his feet in an argument he was having with another man in a city centre gay pub. I didn’t know them. Just wrong place, wrong time.
Loic Wacquant’s research in French banlieues and US ‘ghettos’ unearthed experiences of what he calls an “extraordinary prevalence of physical danger and…acute sense of insecurity” (Wacquant 2008,p.54). He contextualises the daily experience of young people in these areas within what he calls “violence ‘from above’” (2008, p. 24). His thesis is that poor urban young people are constantly abused by the impacts of macro—level socio-economic change including, mass unemployment, relegation to decaying neighbourhoods and a heightened stigmatisation in their daily lives. Violent responses to this, though often self-destructive for individuals and communities, are easily comprehensible.
I am disappointed by what I experienced this week in Glasgow. Is it possible that the Glasgow experiences of social disadvantage, combined with continuing prejudice against LGBT people from establishment figures, including a not-long-departed-in-disgrace Cardinal, influences some of them, instead of celebrating their diversity in a festival of celebration, to ape the worst behaviours of macho, boorish, prejudiced, drunken (mainly) men?
I wasn’t feeling very proud of the LGBT community in Glasgow on Saturday evening. I was proud though of the very considerate and kind bar staff who gave me ice to put on my cheek. Proud also that working-class people in places like Glasgow are standing up for equality. Proud that many people had dressed up and had fun.
I’m very grateful to so many LGBT activists who give so much time and effort to celebrate our community and to champion equal rights in marriage, employment, immigration and a host of other areas.
To the others, in local parlance, I’d say, “Get a grip!” We can discuss appropriate health behaviours but violence? Really?
I missed Heather Small who closed the Pride festival on the Green. The words of her song “Proud” may be a little trite but still pertinent:
“What have you done today to make you feel proud?
It’s never too late to try
What have you done today to make you feel proud?
You could be so many people
If you make that break for freedom
What have you done today to make you feel proud?”
Wacquant, L. (2008) Urban Outcasts. Cambridge: Polity Press.