OPINION: LGBT+ statues would remind us to fight for freedom

by Dan Glass | Author
Wednesday, 1 July 2020 12:16 GMT

Veterans from the London Gay Liberation Front pose for a picture at Trafalgar Square during the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) pride march in London, Britain, June 27, 2020. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

If we don't pay homage to our history we will never achieve the Gay Liberation Front's dream of "absolute freedom for all"

Dan Glass is the author of United Queerdom From the Legends of the Gay Liberation Front to the Queers of Tomorrow

We have just come to the end of LGBT+ Pride month. A period in the public imagination that has been fought for by extraordinary people demanding that all people’s desire to love and live with dignity on their own terms is acknowledged and cherished. Pride celebrations may not be happening on the streets but that doesn’t mean it has to stop in our hearts.

All national and international celebrations of the diversity of life – whether it is Pride, Holocaust Memorial Day, Black History Month, World AIDS Day, International Women’s Day or The Day of Trans Remembrance – haven’t popped into public recognition through coincidence. They have been brought to life by back-breaking efforts of communities that have been oppressed and are demanding collective dignity and freedom.

The recent movements for Black Lives Matter have exposed the incredible possibilities for turning the tables on how history can transform our world. 

Here in London, in the context of LGBT+ freedom, if our physical geography of street names and statues truly represented our community, can we imagine how this would impact and filter into every aspect of life? No institution could be the same again. If we want to challenge how the establishment chooses to recall LGBT+ history, where can we start? We could place statues to commemorate Black Pride, the UK’s predominant Pride event for people of colour, in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.

We could place a plaque outside the House of Lords to celebrate the lesbian abseiling invasion against Section 28. We could paint a mural outside the Admiral Duncan gay pub where three people lost their lives to a neo-Nazi nail bombing in 1999. The list is truly endless for every street as every building has a LGBT+ story to tell.

It is just centuries of compounded institutional homophobia that has denied us our story.

If we do not truly pay homage to the roots of our existence and journey, we live a life of co-option, deceit and a descent into a vortex of falsehood. This is what the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) challenged 50 years ago when they decided enough was enough.

Out of the ashes of the Sexual Offences Act, which partially de-criminalised homosexuality in 1967, through creative revolution in the most dazzling and spectacular acts of civil disobedience, the GLF fought tooth and nail to challenge homophobia in all its forms. And we are freer as a society today because of them.

Emerging from the Stonewall Uprisings in New York 1969 and the Black Power conventions in Philadelphia in 1970, it wasn’t long before they catalysed a movement here in Britain that led to Pride today, but not as we know it.

At the pumping heart of the GLF mission is the aim of “absolute freedom for all”. A principled opposition against all oppression and to stand in solidarity with everyone everywhere facing horrific discrimination and abuse. Fast forward and in 2004, Pride in London was officially changed from a protest to a parade, instantly de-politicising its purpose, as if there is nothing left to fight for.

This is intentional. It is not helpful for people to question power. It is not helpful for ordinary people to be conscious. 

It is helpful, however, to question everything, if you think that an injustice to one is an injustice to all. Through building a movement based on solidarity and difference we allow everyone to celebrate weirdness and defy what is “normal”. 

Strides for public LGBT+ recognition and justice have been hard fought for and even harder to retain. In the past few weeks, Poland's President, from the Law and Justice party pledged to fight “LGBT ideology”.

In Chechnya, hundreds of people are missing in the gay concentration camps and here in Britain, prime minister Boris Johnson is set to scrap reforms to the Gender Recognition Act (2004), which allows people to change their legal gender by self-identification, bypassing current long-winded exclusive and medicalised processes.

We must dig at the root of all injustices to truly combat the symptoms in an effective way.

If we want to have a hope in completing the GLF journey for “absolute freedom for all’, then we can’t get too comfortable.

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