Re-Radicalising Queers – a public discussion on the LGBT movement took place on the 15th of February at Canterbury Christ Church University. The event was organised by CCCq, the university’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer and intersex staff network and hosted a range of speakers including international Human Rights activist Peter Tatchell, Prof. Bee Scherer, CCCU; Sue Sanders, School͛s OUT; Paul Twocock, Stonewall and Rt Reverend Dr Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham.
The event was opened by Elzy Clements-Johnson, President of the student LGBT+ society who commented on how the LGBT community has developed and progressed to give those who don’t fit into the traditional categories a space and a voice. Vice-Chancellor Professor Rama Thirunamachandran gave the welcoming address and noted the various political, legal and social achievements of the LGBT movement in the past five decades and thanked the organisers of Re-Radicalising Queers for creating the space to discuss how to move forward, given the various challenges and inequalities that are prevalent for the LGBT community.
Keynote speaker Peter Tatchell took the audience on a chronological trip, focussing on some of the major achievements to date and remembering the queer activists who have gone before. ‘We walk in their shadows,’ Tatchell remarked. Within his address Peter questioned the continuing focus on equality, suggesting that the liberation movement of the 70s and 80s was far more ambitious, striving to change society for the better rather than become equal citizens in a flawed system.
Following this, the panel members each gave a short input on their own perspectives on the LGBT movement. Professor Scherer remarked on the need to disrupt and destruct hetero-patriarchy within society, suggesting that many movements disguised as liberal and progressive prop up this system. They described Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist’s as the fourth pillar of hetero-patriarchy. Paul Twocock of Stonewall remarked on how important it is to recognise the diversity within the categories that are within ‘LGBT’ and how the movement to date has been void of many of the different voices and faces it claims to support and represent. He stressed the importance of working with LGBT people within their own communities, supporting them to achieve what they need on their own terms. Sue Sanders, another veteran LGBT activist and initiator of LGBT History Month spoke about how essential it is to acknowledge where we have come as a movement, and the impact that this work has had within the school system. Sue stressed how important it is to disrepute and disrupt the binaries which society forces on us and to embrace intersectionality. She entertained the audience with anecdotes and got great cheers when she suggested ‘being queer is being a bit naughty’. Finally, Bishop Alan Wilson asserted the need to tackle discrimination through the theology which supposedly props it up, reflecting on how much church and religious institutions have impacted on LGBT lives. Again highly entertaining, Bishop Alan proposed that if he was to take a ‘biblical view on sex and gender’ he would have a ‘mountain of foreskins’ in his back garden.
The audience were thoroughly engaged during the questions and answers session. Topics covered included the discrimination within the LGBT community itself, the importance and usefulness of categories and data collection, how language is important, which words should be celebrated and which ‘buried’, on how balance is struck between seemingly opposing agendas in faith and sexual freedom and how we ensure that the LGBT movement embraces non-white queers and tackles racism.
The evening was closed by John Gilmore and Katja Hallenberg, the co-chairs of CCCq. John remarked: ‘Tonight is neither the beginning nor the end of this conversation, this event is about motivating, empowering and radicalising local activists to challenge the system we live in. We as a movement have never had our toe on the line, I suggest maybe towing the line away altogether.’ Katja added thanks to the various people within the university who worked behind the scenes in supporting the event, especially the Equality and Diversity Unit and the Vice-Chancellor’s office for their sponsorship. Special thanks were also given John who as the principle organiser ‘did the lion’s share of the work, from the initial idea, to sourcing amazing speakers and pulling everything together’.
The event achieved national media coverage due to NUS LGBT officer Fran Cowling refusing an invitation to speak unless Peter Tatchell pulled out. She stated that NUS membership would not permit her to share a platform with Tatchell because of accusations of racism and transphobia. John Gilmore noted that university were disappointed that NUS refused the invite, stating: ‘The student voice is of central importance to us and we really wanted to have NUS represented at the event. We understand that our community is diverse and that individuals will have divergent views, but think that we should bring these views together and debate them. This is what Re-Radicalising Queers was about. While we are disappointed that NUS felt that they could not attend, we are really delighted to have been able to work with our own LGBT+ student society and Students’ Union for this event and we are very lucky to have such eloquent and passionate representatives at CCCU, like Elzy who opened our event’.
Re-Radicalising Queers formed part of LGBT History Month events. For more information about the CCCq network and future events, follow the blog, our Twitter or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
***Photos courtesy of Patrick de Vries, full album can be found here.