Saturday, June 12, 2010

A new Queer activism

by Anton Johnson

AT ITS AGM this weekend Lesbian, Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Labour passed a motion to engage in outward campaigning work with trade unions and trade councils following the defeat of Labour at the polls last month. Encouragingly the AGM also agreed affiliation to Hope Not Hate/Searchlight. Hopefully this will lead to LGBT Labour re-engaging with grassroots activism.
A great many gains were made under the 13 years of Labour rule for LGBT people – but this has led to a complacency and lack of political debate within the LGBT communities dominated by a large commercial scene. The advances made are potentially at risk from the new Con-Dem government; therefore LGBT communities need to be looking at how to defend our hard-won rights – many of which were campaigned for by the old Labour Campaign for Lesbian & Gay Rights in the 1980s and 1990s.
There is the beginning of a change in this: the agreeing of the motions at LGBT Labour as noted above is a sign of this. In 2009 there was a conference sponsored by the CWU and FBU trade unions initiated by Left Front Art – a network of progressive LGBT activists, artists and academics – to look at igniting progressive debate anchored in the Labour Movement within the LGBT communities and support grassroots activity. That conference has led to Left Front Art organising two public debates in London hosted by Greater London Association of Trade Union Councils, a body that now has a LGBT Officer. The motion passed at the LGBT Labour AGM originated within the Left Front Art network.
Trade unions and trades councils are supporting LGBT grassroots community activism in London, such as the initiative to hold an East London Pride following a vicious attack on a young Trans person and her two gay male friends in Dalston, just a short walk away from the popular LGBT venue, Dalston Superstore.
The organisers of the East London Pride project – OUT East – ran a workshop at the Hackney Unites event, supported by Hackney TUC last Saturday. Queer activists engaging with the wider community and linking up for the battles ahead.
This summer will see Queeruption in Manchester – a gathering of LGBT and Queer community activists and artists running workshops and holding political debates. In London the Queer Invisibility Academy will be running a day school in London – looking at the past of LGBT activism and what a new generation can learn for the future.
Behind Bars – the Queer arts collective that brings performance art and politics together – continues to grow in popularity with its next event on 12th June in south London. Many of the artists who have been involved in Behind Bars have performed or shown their work at the successful SERTUC LGBT Network LGBT History Month events, such as performer Pietro La Hara, visual artist Boxikus and film maker Meerak Meinhog.
These different expressions of activity are welcome and refreshing in re-energising progressive debate and activity in the LGBT communities, with the added bonus of Queers recognising the importance of the Labour Movement and joining trade unions and taking an interest in the value of Trade Councils.
A new generation of Queer activists in the community and Trade Unions is using the mediums of art to communicate ideas. This is important in rebuilding activism and our movement and communities – with activism from the ground up and educating. Memorial and vigils are good as far as they go, what is refreshing – and much needed – about OUT East is that the organisers want to be proactive, celebrate and show strength and confidence.
These positive developments go in hand with raising the visibility of LGBT people in movement, such as Thierry Schaffuser – SERTUC LGBT network secretary leading and addressing the London May Day rally this year, as a confident Queer in drag.
In London there are two events coming up – one an LGBT fringe meeting at the Morning Star conference on the topic of where next for LGBT rights under the Con-Dem government. And on 14th June OUT East will be holding a public engagement meeting at the London Resource Action Centre, Fieldgate St E1, an initiative supported by GLATUC, Hackney TUC and GMB SHOUT!
Those living in Hackney or Tower Hamlets who are interested will be welcome at the meeting and can contact OUT East co-ordinator Simon Leahy at
for more information.

*THE LABOUR Party’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Society (LGBT) were astonished last Saturday when the duty manager at the Greencoat Boy pub in Westminster refused to serve them and said he would not have accepted their booking if he had known they were a gay group.
The pub chain, Punch taverns, has since apologised and suspended the duty manager and the Metropolitan Police are investigating it as a homophobic incident.
James Asser, a member of the group, said: “Everyone involved was shocked and outraged. This attitude is totally unacceptable in this day and age.
“What century are we living in here?
“When you encounter prejudice you have to stand up and be counted – at the very least we expect an apology.
“We also want a demonstration that the pub chain takes this very seriously and will make sure it never happens again.”
Former Labour Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott Tweeted in support of the group, writing: “Forty years ago we campaigned against a Hull pub that banned ‘women and queers’. This is disgraceful.”

photo:Thierry Schaffuser in drag addressing this year's May Day rally

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