Seemingly, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has just begun to acknowledge that ‘there is such a thing as a society’, because of communities coming together in the face of COVID-19. Wow, what a guy.
Isolation, distancing, stigma, austerity, loneliness are nothing new to marginalised communities such as the LGBTQI+ community, or people living with HIV+ and under stigmatised conditions. Institutionally enforced injustice, such as Thatcher’s ‘Section 28’ Law – the pioneer of the There is no such thing as society mantra – or the privatisation of the NHS are key reminders of how governments have tried to crush communities dependent on healthcare. Today those of us who have experienced this before are now seeing these social impacts happening to everyone, and I have seen my community respond with incredible strategic, compassion and sharing of skills, love and support in the age of Corona.
I was recently honoured to be part of the Coronavirus Cabaret: the online show combating social isolation, with queer artists and activists across the world.
Those that have already walked through hell, such as survivors of the HIV genocide or those who have borne the brunt of centuries of compounded racism, antisemitism or homophobia are harnessing their history to help others navigate this crisis. It is breath-taking to witness. I’ve seen so many in my community fire up collective historical and current resources of activism, solidarity and critical thought to create networks of grassroots support in the face of government inaction. To become part of the solution rather than part of the problem. There is a powerful and intersectional understanding that we can solve the Covid-19 pandemic without causing further suppressing of minority rights, in order to create a better world after the pandemic than before. The so-called Coronavirus Bill* is emblematic of why we must continue to have a critical approach to the social transformation that needs to occur within and beyond the epidemic.
When you are forced to sit still your mind starts to wonder and questions arise everywhere. Cultivating curiosity as to the powers of humanity to cause harm or to liberate has always occupied the mind of the isolated and imprisoned. Enforced isolation can be torturous for people’s quality of life but it can also be a surprising place for personal and social transformation, which is why online communication can be a place for salvation and indeed revolution.
There is an incredible amount of co-option, hypocrisy and entitlement in much of the mainstream media. For example, the government is heaping their praise on the NHS when for years they have done everything to dismantle it. Online platforms are not only a survival mechanism for loved ones and communities at large to meet their needs but for ordinary people to make sense of the root causes of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the structural symptoms such as the NHS not having the equipment necessary to save lives – that are spreading like wildfire.
As the saying by Jean-Paul Sartre goes: ‘Life begins on the other side of despair.’ Society will never be the same again and by default every single one of us will not be either. Like all historical episodes of collective trauma we are all on a steep learning edge of how to make sense of grief for its powers for resilience and transformation. As Naomi Klein discusses so well in ‘Coronavirus Capitalism’, these seismic moments are opportunities for both systems hellbent on profit to capitalise on crisis as well as opportunities for people driven by equality and sustainability to reclaim ground, and to role-model how humankind can bring freedom to all. Grief is an incredibly alchemical process, it’s up to us to harness it now – for the greater common good.
Since the dawn of time people have struggled for justice in Britain. By becoming an activist, you are entering into an incredible ancestral tapestry of skills, beauty and fierce love abundant with visions of creating a new world, it’s an opportunity to celebrate and learn. Fundamentally, communities committed to organising for transformation have an intrinsic understanding that constantly challenging the status quo – of environmental, racial, social, economic barbarism – is tough. So, most importantly, don’t be too hard on yourself or beat yourself up. Ask questions, reach out and look after yourself so you can smile at the end of the day. Everyone is on their own learning journey so make the most of every day whilst you and the world are still breathing. Because, in light of recent events, life can be so short. Rest in Power, George Floyd.
In light of the pandemic our work to support the LGBTQI+ community is becoming more urgent than ever, as familial homophobia is often the first and most brutal ground for homophobia to flourish. It is gutting that we should be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) in isolation. This year is to celebrate the moment everything changed in Britain by giving us Coming Out and Gay Pride, so we are being dynamic and making sure they get lots of support whilst in isolation and that as soon as the time is right our events to celebrate them, and to continue building for LGBTQI+ freedom, will be the best ever!
* The Bill reaches far wider than defeating the virus; with major changes to NHS and social care (1), drastic measures allowing police and immigration officers to hold people for up to 48 hours – in theory to ensure they get tested (2) – and allowing ministers to prohibit mass gatherings in far wider circumstances than Coronavirus control