Last Friday, on the 7th February a crew of activists gathered in the basement of Haggerston drag bar The Glory ready to start a movement: Queer Night Pride. Four weeks before, just meters away, one of the bar’s regular performers, Camile Leon, was assaulted by a gang of vitriol-spewing young people. Having just been out to grab some cash from a machine a few doors down, she was left bleeding and bruised.
Though a shocking incident, the events of that evening were in-keeping with a troubling trend in the number of hate crimes occurring on the streets of London. Over the past 5 years, there has been a 55% increase in hate crimes according to figures released by the Met Police. Between 2018 and 2019, there have been 3,111 homophobic hate crimes reported in London, compared to 2,607 the year before.
Dan Glass, Activist.
I’m an activist for LGBT+ freedom, particularly with the Gay Liberation Front who were the founders of pride. It’s the 50th anniversary of the GLF this year and it’s really important to finish what they started in terms of absolute freedom for all.
LGBT+ hate crime has been on the rise massively, particularly since Brexit. 55 attacks a week in London. We’ve got to respond to it, we can’t hide away. I wanted to put a lot of my own energy into it because it’s not just a statistic, my friends have been attacked. I myself was attacked a year and a half ago.
Do you mind telling us a little about that attack?
It was after the launch of the LGBT+ Community Centre at the Hackney Showrooms. I left Dalston Superstore to catch a bus home, and there were two men just outside Dalston Kingsland station. They both tried to start on me, but I was empowered after the launch and wasn’t going to take shit. I fought back. Normally I would’ve taken a step back, but I wasn’t willing to. I’m not a fighter. All the tube workers started laughing at me thinking it was funny.
If we want to defend our community and empower our community, particularly on this anniversary, we need to cherish our history by continuing the fight. One thing that’s important about this protest is that it’s not just about queer protection, it’s all communities who are affected by the rise in hate crime.
What do the mainstream Pride celebrations get wrong?
A lot. The fact that in 2004 it was changed from a protest to a parade. It’s been corporatised, militarised and politically pacified. It’s part of the problem. It’s a flagrant violation of what it started from, which was absolute freedom for all. Pride in London is a corporation that doesn’t have the explicit interest of the founders of Pride at its heart.
I’d love to be that complacent and think there’s no work left to be done. We’re not there yet. I get it because a lot of people who attend Pride like to think there’s little left to do.
Why is it important that these demonstrations are taking place at night?
We initially started the movement because Loukas, a performer here at The Glory, was attacked next door at the corner shop. The majority of LGBT+ hate crime happens at night. We need to respond to what’s happening outside of the clubs, on the streets, on the buses.
What’s the ideal outcome of these demonstrations?
It’s to show a display of strength from our community. We’re not going to hide away or turn in on ourselves. That’s what we’ve always had to do, whether that’s decriminalization, or Section 28, or the AIDS genocide. We’ve always had to fight back collectively and fight back on the streets.
Sunitha Dwarakanath, Activist.
I’m running the QTIPOC and LGBTQIA+ black and people of colour bloc. I’ve got involved because there has been an increase in hate crime against the community. It’s not just our community, but people, in general, have become more emboldened to act negatively. It’s problematic and I’m not willing for it to get worse. It’s an important time to take a stand and say that this will not be tolerated.
Why do these queer demonstrations struggle with inclusivity?
It’s not just queer demonstrations; it’s queer events as a whole. There are so many different reasons. For some people, they’re not actively out to everyone in their families. To others, they don’t feel represented within these spaces and I think that can be problematic. They can feel tokenistic in those spaces.
Part of it is that we become compliant and want to just get on with it. In queer spaces, there is a problem with representation. There are amazing people doing amazing things, but there’s still a long way to go.
Is there anything that has happened to you personally that made you want to get involved?
During the election, I had someone shout racist abuse at me. It’s something I hadn’t experienced since I was at school. It wasn’t words that I’d heard since I was at school. It really shocked me. It was in the middle of the day, near where I live, and was completely unexpected. Luckily, there were people around me. It could’ve been much worse, a lot more threatening. It felt uncomfortable and was very stressful. I travel around London a lot, and walking around at night I feel the need to assimilate, and that in itself is problematic.
Trying to make yourself seem invisible so that nobody gives you any grief. I’ve done that since being in London, wearing generic clothes to cover up so I don’t stand out in any way. I want to be able to travel alone and not have to worry about these sorts of things. Homophobia, transphobia, racist bigotry, none of it is acceptable.
What are you looking to achieve with these protests?
Making us, as a group of people, being present. We need to acknowledge that within the community, certain people don’t have the privilege to be invisible. It’s important that we unite so that no one in our community experiences violence or verbal attacks.
We don’t live in a society where that is acceptable, and people need to understand that we’re here, we exist, and we’re not going to be ignored. We just want what everyone else has, to be able to live without fear. It sounds basic, but it’s just a fundamental part of existing that some people don’t have.
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