a queer manifesto for radical change

Since the dawn of time, artistic expression has existed to counter the iron fist of authority. In gay culture, drag has been used for over a century to subvert the gender roles that patriarchal structure dictates. Even if a drag queen doesn’t get...

by Cliff Joannou
10 April 2015, 12:25pm

Have you ever super-glued yourself to a prime minister? Activist, academic, performer and writer Dan Glass has. In protest of the planned Heathrow expansion, Glass was making a point to then PM Gordon Brown, asking him to "stick to his environmental policies".

Glass "revels in creating militant and cheeky ways to be a thorn in the side for those destroying the planet". His show Shafted, which was led by people with HIV and described as "a format for people who are [HIV] positive to come out in a fully celebratory, strong and politically powerful way", came with its own giant cock that was paraded down the streets of Edinburgh. In February this year he hosted Never Again Ever! in which speakers, historians and performers looked at how 70 years after the end of the war, we still live in a society dominated by extremism and the policies that once led to the rise of the Nazis.

Glass is not the first gay activist to engage in a more direct form of political action. Peter Tatchell, one of the UK's most well-known gay rights champions, made international headlines with two attempts to perform a citizen's arrest on controversial Zimbabwean head of state Robert Mugabe for his gross human rights violations. The first was in 1999, when he intercepted Mugabe's car and got into the rear seat before being pulled out and arrested. The second was in Brussels in 2001, and shockingly saw Tatchell knocked to the ground by Mugabe's brutish security guards, leaving him with permanent damage to his right eye. Then, in 2007, Tatchell was beaten up by Russian police at a rally in Moscow in which LGBTs were calling for the right to stage a Pride event.

Last year queer performance artist Jonny Woo held a huge fundraiser for the work that the Peter Tatchell Foundation does for national and international LGBT rights. "It was really important to do something whilst social media was alight with chatter about that nasty Mr. Putin," says Woo. "To raise money for someone who could actually change things was better than just barking on about it on Facebook. Peter is a tireless campaigner. An agitator in the truest sense and will address a cause he believes in." Woo took over a warehouse in East London, filled the stage with a swarm of drag queens and threw the Alternative Winter Olympics Opening Party in protest of Russia hosting the Sochi Games against a backdrop of intense homophobic violence sweeping the country.

It's no revelation to say that artistic expression has always existed to counter the iron fist of authority. In gay culture, drag has been used for over a century to subvert the gender roles that the patriarchal structure we exist in dictates. Even if a drag queen doesn't get onstage and start delivering scathing quips against the governing system, preferring instead to veer towards crass comedic innuendos, the very act of being a bloke in a dress and wig is an inherently political statement. It says you won't conform to society's tightly defined gender roles.

Scottee is another renowned performer on the queer cabaret circuit. His work has highlighted such social stigma as body fascism and the threat posed to local communities caused by the much-debated HS2 line. He cites the "victimization of the working classes" as one of the biggest threats to the UK today: "Ever since the Tories came in it feels like a bunch of middle class people patting the heads of those of us who live on council estates saying it'll be OK." He loathes the "the reintroduction of yuppie culture" and the "value that we put on property and owning things and shit and stuff, which actually at the end of the day is pointless faff."

Scottee is not alone in his thoughts. Radio presenter, TV personality and club host Amy Lamé has strong views about the rich-versus-poor debate. "Five billionaire families control 20 percent of our nation's wealth," she states. "Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, food bank usage is up 300 percent in London, and most of the people accessing it have jobs! Working people can't afford to feed their families, and the richest are able to dodge taxes. That's not a fair and just society. The solution? Tax the rich."

Along with Simon Casson, Amy Lamé has been the creative force behind club/event/art collective Duckie. They've hosted weekly Saturday nights at the legendary Vauxhall Tavern for the past 19 years, but their boldest work has been their weekend long festivals and the colossal anti-Pride Gay Shame parties that twist up stereotypes around issues like masculinity and femininity. "Three projects Duckie is doing now that are non-club based are tools of social change," she tells me. "The Slaughterhouse Club puts together artists and severely alcohol-dependent people who live in a local hostel. Posh Club is a weekly performance and tea party for older people, and Youth Club is our young people and performance project."

When it comes to critics of the establishment, David Hoyle is one the LGBT community's most powerful voices. Best described as an avant-garde cabaret terrorist, he pulls apart the world we live in and presents the brutal reality of the governing structures that seek to undermine our freedoms. "We live on a planet of perpetual war," he states, before criticizing the government for kowtowing to big businesses. "Those in power must be reminded that they are public servants, paid for by us to represent us," he says. "The biggest crisis the UK faces now is subjecting us all to a vile unregulated system which has encouraged greed and avarice. We have ended up with a global system, which is a pernicious kind of cannibalism, best illustrated by Goya's painting of Saturn Devouring His Son."

Dan Glass reiterates Hoyle's disillusionment with those who fancy themselves as our political representatives. He believes that one of the greatest challenges the UK faces now is our belief that we need leaders. "As the great Steve Biko said, 'The greatest weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.' We ourselves have everything we need to create beauty and dignity in this world — let's start by looking in the mirror and [at] each other."

So what can people do to make a difference? "Turn off the TV and do something less boring," says Lamé. "Get off your ass. Get political. Join a trade union. Become a member of a political party. Read Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. Organize, politicize and shout loudly. Don't let the men in grey suits determine your future!" Glass is equally vocal about the power of speaking out. "Question Everything. Asking questions cultivates curiosity, which leads to change in the mind, the heart, our actions and ultimately the status quo. Carpe Diem."

Hoyle's suggestions are a tad more aggressive. "To make a difference, we could collectively stop paying our bills. We could decide to discontinue the current political system, which seems to grow ever more corrupt and ineffectual. We must remember Shelley's words from The Masque of Anarchy: 'We are many, they are few'."

That's radical thinking for you, admirably utopian and revolutionary. Hoyle reminds us that we need to shake off the concept that we are subservient to the political whims of snobbish Etonians in Westminster. "Ultimately as people, we should stop allowing ourselves to be manipulated into taking sides," he asserts. "The old divide and rule system should be discontinued. We must take back control, refuse to live in a climate of fear, and learn to love one another, irrespective of who we think we are or who we've been told we are. We shall overcome!"

A Queer Manifesto for Radical Change

AMY LAMÉ Radio presenter, TV personality and club host, known for her LGBT performance works

Bring in online voting
"I'd do this alongside extending voting rights to 16-year-olds, and making citizenship education mandatory in all schools."

Shake up MPs
"The system of Parliamentary selection and election is stacked against women and people from diverse backgrounds: ethnicity, income and culture. If we want a parliament that truly reflects our nation, this needs to change."

DAN GLASS. Award-winning activist, academic, performer, writer and campaigning role model for LGBTQI youth

"I'd like the Queen to explicitly apologize for everything damaging British Colonialism has done and continues to do. Apologies are worthless unless spoken from the horse's mouth. Only then will we in Britain be able to look immigrants in the eye with an ounce of dignity."

"Following in Rio's footsteps, Britain will ban billboards. The public space instead will be for the people not the corporations. Excessive consumerism makes nobody happy."

DAVID HOYLE Avant-garde cabaret terrorist and LGBT spokesperson

Free accommodation for all
"We all have the right to a home, a place of safety, sanctuary, a place to bloom and grow."

End dependence on money
"Money is over-venerated in our society and sadly seen as the only true evaluation of worth. I'd say kindness and communality are key to a happy society, thus where kindness is evidenced, the purveyors of kindness and communality should be rewarded."

JONNY WOO Legendary British drag queen and performance artist

Rent control in London (or anywhere where there is a property boom)
"Renters are on the front line of the housing crisis. Private developers are charging extortionate amounts for rabbit hutch luxury flats. Property is the new pension and understandably people want as much as they can for their investment. The rental market has spiraled out of control. A lid needs to be put on it."

Curb your tongue
"Making it unacceptable to use misogynistic language in the work place or in education and then in the press and other media. It's time we woke up."

Ban all social media
"Just ban it. Get rid of it. What a horrid, horrid addition to our lives. Trolling, bullying, bragging, bathing in the most brain-numbing puerile crap! Just turn back the clocks on this one. Please!"

SCOTTEE Renowned performer on the queer cabaret circuit

* Scottee declined to give justification for his polices, instead saying: "If I'm going to be a politician I don't need to explain why."

Criminalize the victimization of the working classes.

Reform the political and judicial systems, enabling real people without double-barreled names to run our country.

Nip nepotism in the bud and penalize offenders.


Text Cliff Joannou

the activist issue
generation z
Cliff Joannou