opinion

Letter from the Editor-in-Chief: 'LGBTQ voices are needed more than ever - how will you use yours?'

Cliff Joannou reflects on the ongoing fight for queer freedom in Attitude's January 'Activists & Allies' issue, out now.

2019-12-05

When the drug GHB became a big problem for London’s gay scene in the mid-Noughties, I was a couple years into my previous life as editor of scene magazine QX.

Gay men were passing out in clubs after overdosing, and in one case seven ambulances were called to a single club. The scene was facing a major crisis, and club promoters were struggling to deal with the issue on their own.

The GHB issue needed a concerted effort if we were to tackle the problem, so I contacted the scene’s promoters, and some 30 people gathered in the basement of the Village bar, in Soho, to discuss the problem.

It was astounding to see rival club owners, who would sooner see their competitors hit by a fast-reversing truck than collaborate, set their grievances aside for the benefit of the wider scene.

Together, we devised a campaign to educate, inform and raise awareness of the drug among the clubbing community. It was my first experience of seeing our people come together to make the wider community a better place.

That was probably the spark of my “activism”. When London’s Pride collapsed in disarray due to mismanagement in 2012, I joined a group of passionate community members and played a small part in helping to relaunch the event as Pride in London.

A few years later, I found myself organising a protest outside Downing Street against Russia’s anti-gay policies. On the day of the event, Peter Tatchell and I were invited to the Home Office to discuss the issue with a senior minister.

In 2015, I spearheaded a campaign to raise the issue of LGBTQ-inclusive relationship and sex education in schools. I didn’t do the above for any other reason than I had access to the tools to make a difference, and continue to have an obligation to use my position to make a change.

I am inspired by those around me. Two of my besties, who have been through rehab after substance abuse, now volunteer — helping other addicts and young people in rural areas where there is little LGBTQ representation.

One friend visits elderly people in a residential home on Christmas Day to sing, dance and dine with those who have no family. Another volunteers in the kitchen at a homeless shelter. On the scene, drag queens frequently perform, donating their fee to raise money for vital charities.

Activists come in all forms. They don’t need to be as bold as Peter Tatchell or Larry Kramer. While we certainly need brave voices, the Stonewall uprising was started by every-day folk who had simply had enough. Sometimes progress comes through legislative change. At other times, it’s with a thump.

Our allies are equally crucial, and in this issue we celebrate Lorraine Kelly and The 1975’s Matty Healy. Lorraine has championed LGBTQ causes on mainstream TV for years, covering issues as varied as trans kids’ rights or gay men’s mental health and addiction problems. Matty Healy grew up in an environment that celebrated queerness and his love for our community couldn’t be purer.

While Westminster tears itself apart in its unimpressive attempt to make the UK a better place, Attitude pulls focus to look to our own and celebrate the voices standing true in their identity while fighting for greater representation. Some you might be familiar with, others not so much.

As we began to look at the activists that we would feature, what became apparent was how magnificently varied the voices in the LGBTQ community were — and the more voices we have, the louder we will be heard. How will you lend yours?

To quote the great singer Heather Small: “What have you done today to make you feel proud?”

Attitude's January 'Activists & Allies' issue out now to download and to order globally.

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