Queer Liberation in the Heart of London
written by Camille Barton
“Remember, we are the key to our freedom”
Dan Glass embodies intersectional politics. He has a visionary, community based approach that weaves connections between various groups that are marginalised in society. Dan is a sex positive, queer, healthcare & human rights, award winning activist, performer and writer based in London. His work spans from climate justice to reforming the Aids Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) London chapter in 2012, which birthed healthcare and sex-positive programmes including campaigning for PREP, HIV Blind Date, protecting the National Health Service as well as enabling ‘HIV anti-stigma classes as part of the Beyond UKIP Cabaret in Nigel Farage's local pub. Dan’s work seeks to raise critical consciousness and creativity so people can ‘read their reality and write their own history’. This approach is influenced by his time learning with Training for Transformation in South Africa, which grew out of the anti-apartheid movement.
In the midst of global climate, political and social crisis, many believe we are reaching a tipping point. Amidst the chaos, there is an opportunity to build something out of the ashes of late capitalism. Ideas such as Alexandra Ocasio Cortez’ Green New Deal are inspirational templates for change. Writing from London, Dan explains his views on the power of activism and its importance in contemporary times. According to Dan, activism is “simply acting upon what you care about” and “cultivating curiosity we have about ourselves and the world at large.” It is important to him because life “can be phenomenally beautiful yet tragically short.”
“Powerful systems everywhere maintain the status quo of environmental, social, racial and economic oppression by wielding their age-old weapon that make the oppressed believe there is nothing we can do - that we are too little, insignificant and daft to challenge them. When we begin to realise this the mist begins to clear and the apparatus of the elite is laid bare on the surgical table for us all to dissect, challenge and transform.”
As London reaches peak gentrification, one of the many losses to the city are the LGBTQIA+ bars, clubs and venues that allowed Queers in the city to celebrate, organise and find community. Dan notes that, “in London, rising LGBTQIA+ homelessness, not one permanent bar for lesbians, no fully accessible LGBTQIA+ spaces remind us that ‘None of us are free until we all are’ ”.
It was in this context during 2017, which marked the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England, that Dan created Queer Tours of London- A Mince throgh time. At the events, participants travel to sites of lesser known Queer history to celebrate the Queer ancetors that shaped the city. Many Queer youth today, are not aware of this recent history or understand the gains made by Queer activists in living memory.
As a result, Queer tours of London provides a way for LGBTQIA+ people to remember the ancestors who have fought for liberation and understand that there is work to do until all Queers around the world are free. Dan speaks about what ancestors mean to him:
“Our radical ancestors remind us to pierce through the fog of collective amnesia that has been structurally utilised to manipulate us into inaction. This reminds us how much we still have to fight for and to never be pacified. Learning from our elders brings life to how we can be actively engaged in creative transformation of ourselves and our communities to continue the journey towards freedom.
Harnessing history as a propeller for change today helps us explore the true meaning of what is radical community, how we intervene in the status quo and challenge the notion that there is an ongoing escalator of improvement. Through platforming those still outside the parameters of acceptability we decolonise the mentality that we are all free and learn tools to break the hegemonic changes that still imprison us.”
As mental health becomes less of a taboo subject, many are aware of how pervasive mental and emotional instability is in society at large. It seems that Capitalism itself may be bad for mental health. Self care is an important part of the tool kit that enables Dan to carry out his work so sueccesfully. He has provisions in place to ensure that he stays grounded.
“A balance between reflection, celebration and agitation helps me stay strong. In order to be effective we need equality between action and reflection yet understandably we are all busy throwing ourselves on the barricades because of the gravity of the situation we face. Our actions will become more effective if we stop and question ‘what was good?’ And ‘what could be better next time?”
Dan’s creative, joyful, community based approach to activism has been making waves for sometime and will hopefully inspire more people to take action. He was awarded Attitude Magazine’s campaigning role models for LGBTQI youth, the Guardian’s ‘UK youth climate leader’ and 2017 'Activist of the Year' with the Sexual Freedom Awards. He has the following advice for any young LGBTQIA+ people who want to make change in their communities.
“Go to your local radical queer bookshop or reading group. If you don’t have one set one up. LGBTQIA liberation can’t be analysed in a vacuum. Be inspired by the revolutionary ecosystem impacting queer activism on our streets. From the theatrics of the Gay Liberation Front, the politics of accountability of ACT UP, the spiritual activism of queer Nazi resisters or the decolonisation process of anti-apartheid we unravel how our freedoms were born and how our purpose as queer radicals is renewed.
Remember we are the key to our freedom. We have always had a healthy appetite for self-determination. We know that politicians, police and the military-industrial complex are examples of social order that change their views overnight - with us at their mercy. As ever it’s the queer soul to thank for our freedom - the spirit of criticality, defiance, questioning, art, radical love and creating our world on our own terms.”