By Dan Glass
Part memoir, part queer history book and part instruction manual, Dan Glass’s United Queerdom brilliantly explains the struggle.
Many people would believe, with gay marriage and many other rights now enshrined in law, that the fight is over. Pride in London moved from being a protest march to a parade back in the early 2000s, what is there left to do?
Well, it turns out, quite a bit!
From defending queer spaces and venues to the corporate take over of Pride in London, United Queerdom takes us through some of ongoing struggles LGBTQIA+ people continue to face, even in 2020.
Queer history is unique in that it is rarely passed down from generation to generation. Instead, each new cohort of gays reinvents itself and the struggles of the past are easily forgotten. The actions of the Gay Liberation Front, Act Up and so many other queer activist groups could easily be overlooked but this book faithfully records their actions and their achievements.
Given oppressive recent history, it would be easy for this to be a grim tale. The pretty police, the raids on the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, homophobic attacks and the history of HIV are all covered in Glass’s light-hearted and humorous tone, making it easy for the reader to relax into the history of it all.
And that’s because queer activism is, sometimes, plain fun!
When Nigel Farage, then leader of UKIP, made remarks about HIV+ migrants be allowed into the UK, activists did, as Glass recounts brilliantly, what activists do best. And after a UKIP candidate suggested a “gay donkey tried to rape his horse” action had to be taken! Which leads to one of the best chapter titles I’ve read for a long time: ‘Leave the Gay Donkeys Alone’! And it’s not just a brilliant recount into how Act Up invaded Nigel Farage’s pub, we also get a five-point plan on how to organise our own pub invasions.
But that’s enough mention of that name.
Glass reserves a lot of criticism for the organisers of Pride in London. Many of today’s corporate sponsors have more than dubious track records and, the author argues, the LGBTQIA+ community should not be allowing these companies to use Pride to cleanse themselves of their sins. When BAE Systems are marching in a Pride parade, what message does that send out? Gays support arms sales?
So what to do? Start your own Pride, of course. And take direct action against the organisers.
These messages, of direct action, of protest, of understanding what is going on behind the feather boas and the glitter have to be passed down. We have to become custodians of queer history while we live it. (Incidentally, Glass speaks of the campaign to get a queer museum space, thus preserving and telling this vital history.)
Aside from the odd typo (it’s my job, I’m bound to notice them!) this is an excellent book and one that proves that, despite all the odds – including the author’s own HIV status – a lot of changes still need to be made, they are being made and it’s going to be damn fun making those changes!
To end, there are just two final quotes I have to share. The first, from my now second favourite chapter title ‘Sex Litter’, recounting a party on Hampstead Heath celebrating George Michael and cruising. A resident says “I welcome you to our glorious home […] everyone just make sure you pick up your sex-litter.”
And finally, five steps to building a loving community:
- Cultivate joy and hope.
- Remember that life is short.
- Live in awe and wonder.
- Cherish each human’s unique revolutionary potential.
- Defy the stereotypes by refusing to be pigeon-holed.
And one more for luck – get a revolutionary homoerotic hip tattoo.
I’m off to get my hip tattooed and to leave copious of sex-litter! You should definitely read this book while I’m at it!
To buy your copy of United Queerdom, click here.
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