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Who’s allowed to be Proud? Corporate Pride and Representation at the Proud Scotland Awards

Last Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the third Proud Scotland Awards, an awards ceremony celebrating the hard work of LGBTQ+ people in communities across the country. Hosted at the Sheraton Hotel here in Edinburgh, the night certainly delivered on the glamour I was expecting from such a venue. Seeing so many wonderful queer people taking up space all the while dressed to the nines was a very validating experience for me; the ceremony itself, however, was not quite as affirming. Many of the organisers’ decisions left a lot to be desired, and by the end of the night, I was left questioning just how Proud these awards actually were.

The first strike was immediate. The first four awards were dedicated to allies of the community, including the Corporate Ally Award, which I think is indicative of the tone of the night. While it is important to highlight and show appreciation for the efforts of cishet people supporting the community, I thought it counter-intuitive to begin a night devoted to the achievements of queer people by focussing so much on straight allies. The A in LGBTQIA+ doesn’t stand for Ally, after all.

Furthermore, the poor taste of having a corporate emphasis throughout the night left a distinctly sour taste in my mouth, with banks and international corporations owned by billionaires snatching trophies at a queer event. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised by this – perhaps I should have expected, as many other queer people expect, that Pride is a corporate affair through and through, that the only difference between it and any other white cishet institution is that Pride’s CEO wears a rainbow tie. Call me naïve, I suppose.

One thing I wasn’t surprised by, but was nonetheless disappointed to see, was the night’s whiteness. As far as I’m aware there were no POC award winners, and with the exception of the iconic Rustie Lee whipping up an aphrodisiac cocktail and the audience into an ecstatic frenzy, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you if any other people of colour were even able to grace the stage. Pride is notoriously whitewashed; the queer community has an embarrassing history of diminishing and erasing the achievements of people of colour, and the fact that this overwhelmingly white event took place at the start of Black History Month is as great an indication as any of this continuing legacy.

Perhaps the greatest sin committed at the ceremony was the awarding of the Equal Rights Group Award to the Scottish LGBTI Police Association, days after the verdict of Sarah Everard’s murderer’s conviction and the police’s pitiful subsequent response. Any self-respecting queer person knows the police force as an institution does not have our values at heart. I, for one, do not feel safe around the police, and I know many (if not most) queer people, particularly the trans community and people of colour, fear discrimination at the hands of law enforcement. The fact that the Scottish Police won this award is an indictment on the name of Pride, and an embarrassment to the legacy that queer people of previous generations have left behind us. Two words for you: tone deaf.

As much as the night was great for trans visibility and the recognition of important queer Scottish charities, the whole ceremony reeked of the unchecked privilege of rich white gays. For an organisation whose website claims they champion ‘diversity, equality and inclusion’, the ceremony fell far short of this. Going forward, the Proud Scotland Awards needs to do better, and until they and all other Pride events do so, we must hold them accountable.

Image via Edinburgh Live