opinion

'No Pride in ecocide: Why the LGBTQ community must fight for climate justice'

Billy Stockwell, a member of Extinction Rebellion's queer affinity group Rainbow Rebels, on the fight to protect our planet and our community's most marginalised members.

2019-12-11

As the light faded on the eve of the second day of Extinction Rebellion’s ‘Autumn Uprising’, the street lights flickered on, and cast a deceptively warm glow across our camp outside the Home Office.

I was with Extinction Rebellion’s newly-formed LGBTQ group - the Rainbow Rebels - to represent our community within the biggest environmental movement my generation has seen.

The day shift was over, and only those camping overnight remained, sipping on steamy tea and listening to a softly strummed guitar. By this point in the night, when protestor numbers are low, arrest is more likely. Our entire site was kettled.

Behind the hay bails we were using as chairs and backrests, there was a line of police stood facing us. As it happens, they were also facing the projector screen we had hastily constructed to watch Are You Proud? - a documentary about the history of the LGBTQ movement in the 50 years since Stonewall.

Billy Stockwell is one of the members of Rainbow Rebellion sharing their story in Attitude's January 'Activists & Allies' issue, out now

Throughout the documentary we heard accounts from early GLF activists, who risked arrest and personal liberty in the fight for a better, fairer society. Black-and-white images portrayed queer activists being arrested, or worse, abused by the police.

The irony was not lost on us. The state will always resist change, and sadly, it is our moral duty as citizens to hold them to account. The fight for climate justice is no exception.

The link between our community and the climate crisis may seem loose - but while there shouldn’t need to be a link for our community to engage and demand action, there is one.

Hear me out. When majority rights are challenged, minority rights fall first. As such, the LGBTQ community - along with other minority and marginalised groups - is disproportionately vulnerable to the climate crisis. LGBTQ refugees, fleeing war, famine and - increasingly - the climate crisis, are hugely vulnerable to persecution throughout this process, with many queer migrants arriving from, or passing through, countries with anti-LGBTQ law.

Individuals held in detention are at particular risk: Shockingly, according to Micro Rainbow International, LGBTQ refugees experience “abuse, sexual harassment and even rape in the accommodation provided by the UK government." As the climate crisis escalates, as will the number of displaced LGBTQ people seeking refugee and safety.

Seeking safety is a common theme to queer struggle, and it’s central to the topic of climate breakdown. In the UK, 24% of the youth homeless population identify as LGBTQ, dumped onto our streets to face the climate crisis firsthand; all vulnerable to flash flooding, heavier winter rains and extreme summer heat. BAME individuals are hugely over-represented in these communities.

Globally, this is even more systemic. Phillip Brown - a black queer youth born in Jamaica - describes how “rampant homophobia” born out of colonial era laws results in huge displacement of LGBTQ youth.

This community - fondly known by allies as 'Gully Queens' - seek refuge in the intertwining sewer systems beneath the streets.

“Black queer youth like me bear the brunt of [climate breakdown’s] impacts”, says Brown, “These gullies are extremely prone to flooding... no-one will save us”.

Climate change is no accident. It is a product of a colonial system in which extractive capitalism grew, and continues to grow, beyond all planetary boundaries. All fights for justice can be united in their resistance to this oppressive system, including LGBTQ struggle.

Our community has such a flair for protest; history is testament to that fact. In our increasingly hostile and divided society, we must harness that power for positive change.

Meet the queer climate campaigners who form Rainbow Rebels in Attitude's January 'Activists & Allies' issue, out now

As the documentary finished, and tired eyes were rubbed clean of the day’s sweat, tears and city dirt, I tightly hugged my friend, and looked around at the world we have found ourselves a part of.

Under a cacophony of citizen squabbling, game show politics, and debates about Brextinction Rebellion, the climate crisis escalates. And as Trump plays his metaphorical fiddle to a backdrop of earth’s raging fires, we must remember who we are truly fighting against.

The LGBTQ community has always been a beacon of defiance, love and justice, but also of hostility and inwardness. This cannot continue. I’m just hoping the seeds we planted during the International Rebellion keep on growing. For the survival of our community, they must.

Follow Billy Stockwell on Twitter and Instagram.

Read more from Billy and the LGBTQ activists in Extinction Rebellion's queer affinity movement Rainbow Rebels in Attitude's January 'Activists & Allies' issue, out now.

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