Last year, during my visit in London, I tripped ever so woefully somewhere in my planning process, ending up on leaving two consecutive Sundays for visiting Gay’s the Word (and the hours it was closed, since I learnt this year that it does open for several hours on Sundays).
I walked in front of the closed bookshop twice and stuck my face on the glass all two times, like a kiddie lusting over Christmas window shopping. This year, I returned on a Sunday as well, but I had the wits to at least make sure I’d find it open.
Visiting the LGBT bookshop I had seen in the 2014 Pride movie and hosted the meetings of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners in 1984-1985, as well as many other London organizations’ meetings, was about more than the two poetry books and one fiction book on GNC I returned home with. It was the feeling of feet stepping of history, even if I was doing it with the little-to-no research my schedule allowed and in an amateurish way.
I’m extremely interested in LGBT history, in learning parts of how we got where we are and reflecting on how we can write more of it. Still, even if I don’t have enough time or knowledge to learn about all the important LGBT spots of a place I visit, I’m really keen on making the effort to fit it all and learning new things. And now, more than a month of being back in Greece and already preparing a history month to learn more about the LGBTQI history of our country and honour its protagonists, I read about the first organized Queer Tour of LGBT History taking place in London, run by activists.
But why is such a tour so necessary in London right now? Comparatively to other regions, haven’t things got relatively better? I do realize that such an assumption is simplistic enough, and such comparisons always fail to reflect reality. As an outsider, I found it interesting to learn more about the current situation in London.
The far-right politicians in the UK have adopted a pinkwashing agenda to gain the support of more voters. Their seemingly pro-LGBT stance is supposed to throw shade on their racism and islamophobia, particularly towards refugees. Coburn, who is UKIP’s MEP and most senior gay figure, incorporated this part of his identity in his prejudiced rhetoric to somehow cover the bigoted things he wanted to say:
Many of these people, as we’ve heard, are ISIS. I don’t know about you but I’m a homosexual and I don’t want to be stoned to death.”
One of the biggest factors that led the UK to Brexit, was the systematic sparking of racist and nationalist feelings of the people. With racist attacks on the rise, the situation in the UK right now is not all that ideal. In fact, mainstreaming LGBT issues in order to serve a conservative agenda, has started being formed into a pattern in several regions of the Western world, America, “alternative-right”, and Trump’s supporter and racist, sexist, openly gay vomit-machine Milo Yiannopoulos, forming a strong example. (Just. Don’t get me started on that. At least the original Draco Malfoy’s bleach work was better, and at least he wasn’t a terrible misogynist.)
David Cameron left Downing Street this year after six years, and we need to consider the legacy that his government left behind. Even though equal marriage legislation passed, Cameron’s austerity measures have had a terrible impact on the lives of LGBT people.
As this Independent article demonstrates, the voluntary and community sector of LGBT people are suffering from the cuts of staffing, services and budgets, in a time of great need for such services and safe spaces, especially for intersectional groups that support trans, bisexual, disabled and BME LGBT people. Still, one of the most threatening issues is no other than LGBT homelessness. According to the Albert Kennedy Trust, 24% of homeless youth identify as LGBT and, consequently, mentally-ill, victims of sexual exploitation and violence. Also, according to a 2014 report by Stonewall Housing, access to homelessness services for LGBT people was made even harder because of discrimination, especially towards trans people. Additionally, the Tory education “reform” has allowed schools to decide on whether they’re going to include LGBT-inclusive sex and relationships education, according to their either conventional or more progressive “ethos”.
One also cannot overlook the fact that many of the refugees chased and alienated by the former government are LGBT, and comments derived by the homonationalist agenda are offensive in all possible ways. About 98% of LGBT asylum-seekers are deported from the UK, according to a research held by the UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group. Theresa May, former home secretary who oversaw these deportation has managed to stay in history as an “unsung hero” of LGBT rights, as for David Cameron, he outrageously enough won 2016 Ally of the Year award of the PinkNews website.
‘Queer Tours of London – A Mince Through Time’ is the subtitle presented on their original website. They are starting off on February 2017 and their main aim is to demonstrate, through visiting the most important landmarks of London LGBT history, how people came to be where they stand today, despite the constant boycotting coming from places of power, with the most indicative example being that of the recent Cameron government trying to take credit for “solving the Gay problem”. On the Tours official website, they state quite clearly why they think that such an initiative is deemed necessary in our days: people not only need more LGBTQI events hosted by communities they can interact with and fit in, but they also need to gain power through knowledge, forming a concrete idea of the past in order to build a future on their own terms. Furthermore, Queer Tours of London will offer jobs to LGBTQI homeless people, sex workers, LGBTQI people of colour and queer activists facing deportation, as speak-people in tour groups.
The tour crew point out that in a span of five years 25% of LGBT nightclubs have been shut down, HIV education and prevention measures are being suppressed while diagnoses numbers rise, hate crimes happen every day, mental health services are closing down and LGBT migrants are in an even graver danger, while there is obviously no social housing plans, community centers or museums that cater specifically to LGBTQI rights. This is why such an initiative can play a crucial role in the education, empowerment and mobilization of queer Londoners, visitors and allies.
As we read on this Vice article, landmark points of the future tours will include Mother Clap’s molly-house, a gathering point for 18th century cross-dressers, the Admiral Duncan pub where, in 1999, three queer people were killed by a neo-Nazi bomb that has been turned into a chandelier. Queer heroes and heroines who gave their lives in their battle for rights and liberation will also be remembered in the tour. They will pay a tribute to the Lesbian Avengers, the Gay Liberation Front and its Radical Drag Queens.
We may not all understand Foucault and the different applications and interpretations of his philosophy, but knowledge is undoubtedly power, especially if it helps us understand and recreate our identity in our own terms, especially when Power with capital P and all its systematic forms of oppression try to token themselves clear and appropriate it for us. Such initiatives are extremely important for raising awareness, empowering LGBTQI people and bringing the community together.