by Dan Glass
What can be learnt from the queer experience in building a toolkit for hope and perseverance in the age of Corona?
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has just begun to acknowledge that ‘there is such a thing as a society’ because of communities coming together in the face of COVID-19. While this may be news to out of touch politicians, isolation, distancing, stigma, austerity, loneliness are nothing new to marginalised communities such as the LGBTQI+ community or people living with HIV. Institutionally enforced injustice — such as Thatcher’s ‘Section 28’ Law — the pioneer of ‘there is no such thing as society’ mantra — or the privatisation of the NHS are key reminders of how governments have tried to crush communities dependent on healthcare.
Today those of us who have experienced this before are now seeing these social impacts widening to affect many more people, and I have seen my community respond with incredible, compassion and strategic sharing of skills as well as love and support in the age of Corona. I was honoured to be part of the recent Coronavirus Cabaret: the online show combating social isolation’ with queer artists and activists across the world. Fun and joy and tactical frivolity prove to be highly effective antidotes to fear, anxiety and social exclusion.
Those that have already walked through hell, such as survivors of the HIV genocide or those who have borne the brunt of centuries of compounded racism, xenophobia or homophobia are harnessing their lived histories to help people navigate this crisis. It is breathtaking to witness. I’ve seen so many in my community fire up collective historical and current resources of activism, solidarity and critical thought to create networks of grassroots support in the face of government inaction. To become part of the solution rather than part of the problem. There is a powerful and intersectional understanding that we can solve the COVID-19 epidemic without causing further suppression of minority rights, to create a better, kinder, fairer world after the pandemic. The Coronavirus Bill* is emblematic of why we must continue to have a critical approach to the social transformation that needs to occur within and beyond the pandemic.
Cultivating curiosity about the capacity of humanity to cause harm or to heal has always preoccupied the minds of the isolated and imprisoned. Enforced isolation can be torturous for people’s quality of life but it can also be a surprising place for personal growth which is why online communication can be a good place for inspiration, salvation and indeed revolution. There is an incredible amount of co-option, hypocrisy and entitlement in the mainstream media. For example, the current Tory Government is heaping praise on the NHS when for years they have done everything to dismantle it. Online platforms are not only a survival mechanism for loved ones and communities at large to meet their needs, but a place for ordinary people to make sense of the root causes of the COVID19 pandemic and the structural symptoms, such as the NHS not having the equipment necessary to save lives — that are spreading like wildfire.
Jean-Paul Sartre quipped that ‘life begins on the other side of despair’, and society will never be the same again, so by default every single one of us will not be either. Like all historical episodes of collective trauma we are all on a steep learning curve regarding how to make sense of grief and channel it for resilience. As Naomi Klein explores in ‘Coronavirus Capitalism’, these seismic moments are opportunities for both systems hellbent on profit to capitalise on crisess, as well as opportunities for people driven by equality and sustainability to reclaim ground and offer role-modelling on how humankind can bring collective liberation. Grief is an incredibly alchemical process, it’s up to us to harness it now — for the greater common good.
For a very, very long time people have struggled for justice in Britain. When digging around in the past, youenter into an incredible ancestral tapestry of skills, beauty and fierce love abundant with visions of creating a new world, it’s a real opportunity to celebrate and learn. Fundamentally, communities committed to organising for transformation have an intrinsic understanding that constantly challenging the status quo — of environmental, racial, social, economic barbarism — is tough, so most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself or beat yourself up. Ask questions, reach out and look after yourself so you can smile at the end of the day. Everyone is on their own learning journey so make the most of every day whilst you and the world are still breathing.
I am a big fan of the concept ‘Ubuntu’ — a Nguni Bantu term often translated as “I am because we are,” or “humanity towards others”. A stark contrast to the brutal conditioning of Thatcher’s ‘there is no such thing as society’. Our happiness and survival are inter-dependent upon acts of collective love and solidarity. Life throws situations our way, such as COVID-19, that force us to totally rethink our support networks, or ‘who is aboard our love-ship?’… Now is the time for critical thought and community love in action.
In light of the pandemic our work to support the LGBT+ community is becoming more urgent than ever as familial homophobia is often the first and most brutal ground for homophobia to flourish. It is gutting that we should be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in isolation. The moment Everything changed in Britain in 1972, when Coming Out, Gay Pride and the first Gay Pride March kicked off, so 2022 will be the 50th anniversary of that political demonstration and celebration. So we are now being dynamic and making sure our queer friends and allies get lots of support whilst in isolation and that as soon as the time is right our events to duly celebrate them and continue building for queer freedom and justice.
See our ‘Absolute Freedom for all Party — Gay Liberation Front 50th Birthday Party’ held at the London School of Economics (LSE) — where it all began on 12th March and the ‘Absolute Freedom for all Party — Gay Liberation Front 50th Birthday Party @ LSE’ Pics, video and where next? For the video click here and watch out for our GLF AT 50: THE ART OF PROTEST exhibition curated by Dan de la Motte at Platform Southwark, 9–24 July.
*The Bill reaches far wider than defeating the virus; with major changes to NHS and social care (1), drastic measures allowing police and immigration officers to hold people for up to 48 hours — in theory to ensure they get tested (2) — and allowing ministers to prohibit mass gatherings in far wider circumstances than Coronavirus control