Art student Olivia Sparrow organised Queer Sunday School to bring together members of the LGBT community to express ideas in a way that may not be covered by mainstream education. The event challenges the inability of traditional educational systems to cater to diversity not just in terms of sexuality and gender but also race and class systems. Speakers also delved into what the term Queer means and why they prefer that terminology over LGBT labels.
According to founder of Gender Identity research and Education society (GIRES) Bernard Reed, about 1 in 100 people are gender variant to a certain degree which amounts to 650,000 in the UK. Approximately a fifth of these people which is around 130,000 will seek medical care. Around 30-50,000 have done so to date, which indicates in the foreseeable future about 100,000 will come forward for medical care.
There are two Gender Identity Clinics in London: The Tavistock and Portman Clinic for those under the age of 18 and The West London Mental Health Clinic (also known as Charing Cross) for those aged 18 and above. These clinics are one of the only of its kind in the whole of the UK that provide Gender services which has lead to a massive influx of patients and long waiting times.
Trans officer of the LGBT society at SOAS University Nate Reidy describes how the clinic in Charing Cross is ‘chronically oversubscribed’.
“The numbers coming forward were growing at 15% per annum and now exceeds 20% per annum.The NHS has simply not got ahead of the game. It is always lagging behind, which of course will lead to waiting lists building up and up. It’s quite clear the NHS needs to put more resource into gender identity clinics” says Reed.
Certain members of parliament seem to be recognising this lack of investment. In January this year the Women and Equalities committee released a report on Transgender Equality calling on the Government to take action to ensure full equality for trans people, emphasising the need to update existing legislation; provide better services, especially in the NHS.
The report had a section on education focusing on these issues:
- recording a change of name and gender
- inclusion in sport
- access to toilets
They also put forward the motion that schools should provide better education on Gender Issues as part of Personal, Social and Health Education. There was however a lack of focus on the education itself not being catered to the needs of the Queer community and that’s what Queer Sunday School tries to spell out.
Michael Kannemeyer or as he would prefer to be called “Miqx” explained Queer as not conforming to society. It’s the little corner of yourselves that doesn’t quite fit in. He believes that changing a few laws so that they could be accepted in society was not the way forward.
Being Queer encompasses all of that and more as it goes on to politics, style and other types of identity that aren’t defined by LGBT norms. “The commercialisation of the LGBT scene can feel quite alienating” says Miqx.
He does however see the development of the commercial scene also as an opportunity to develop a grassroots queer movement. He feels political movements burn out and can’t sustain them for a long time. This leads him on to explain the term Eco-Queer-a sustainable community that lives on through supporting one another as well as being in touch with nature. In the end it’s about having the courage to live life the way you want to.
He is part of an organisation called The Radical Fairies that hold a variety of events around the UK like heart circles where in groups of people can share as well as listen to people’s experiences.
He agrees that a lack of understanding of the Queer community has impacted healthcare services particularly to do with mental health.
Jacob V Joyce also sees being Queer as challenging LGBT labels. He analysed how both Queerness and Black Literature was left out of mainstream academia. This is due to colonialism and white supremacy dominating what gets taught in contemporary society. “Colonial stereotypes bombarded from pillar discourse, taint understanding of sexuality” says Joyce. He prefers social media outlets like Twitter and Tumblr because of the use of colloquial language to talk about political issues rather than dense academic language.
He quotes Black author Bell Hooks, “Thinking critically is at the heart of anybody transforming their life,”
He is part of a collective called sorryyoufeeluncomfortable which recently did Decolonise the museum, protesting against museums that display exhibits from colonial a perspective.
He believes being Queer is about engaging in events like these to challenge the existing normative and give a voice to those who are oppressed. He gives the following examples of fake LGBT support in order to maximise commercial and political gains:
- Sponsorship of Pride by companies like Barclays
- Boris Johnson appealing to the LGBT community to join the Brexit campaign with a play on the word “out”.
London Queer Social Centre is organising a series of alternative events to Gay Pride. Joyce argues many spaces for the Queer community are repeatedly closed down and the LQSC strives to provide that space.
Anti-university was set up to challenge academic and class hierarchy as well as the exclusivity of the £9K-a-year-degree. They host a variety of events wherein people are invited to teach and learn about anything from bird watching to Breditation (combination of breadmaking and meditation).
These gatherings provide a good alternative to traditional university settings wherein members of the Queer community can learn as well as express their opinions without being constricted by any particular structured curriculum. It also follows on the vein of being anti-capitalist by hosting all it’s events for free.
Bi-history by Jacq Applebee
Jacq Applebee’s talk shed light on how even within the LGBT community there seems to be discrimination. As a black bisexual woman she feels unsupported by many LGBT groups. She presented a slideshow showing famous celebrities who identify as being bisexual such as Grace Jones and late singer Freddie mercury. Despite this she argues that there is a lack of celebrities today who come out as bisexual.
Queerzone3000 is another answer to the closure of physical spaces for the Queer community through the opening of an online space. This enables them to avoid surveillance from the state and operate freely. They spoke about teaching the transcommunity to code (dubbed by the term Transcode) to give them the agency to do it for themselves and and not rely on corporations who may refuse them.
They also spoke about their meeting with the director and cast of the documentary Battle of Tutenhaus. The short film documents the lives of a politically active Queer community squatting in East Berlin. The first part of the documentary shows a violent German police raid on the house involving the likes of tear gas, tanks and helicopters. The second shows the effect on those who were relocated after the eviction.
“Despite the documentary’s profoundly saddening ending, we were left with a feeling of hope. Although cut short by brutal state violence, the utopia of the Tuntenhaus was real and you can never destroy an idea. The spirit of the Tuntenhaus lives on,” Queerzone 3000
Liv Wynter spoke on her experiences whilst doing an Arts degree at Goldsmiths University in terms of the class divide. She shows the lack of access to the lower classes through her struggle to initially get accepted by the university and her financial struggles throughout the degree. Despite being given grants she had to work a 40 hour week job to survive. This impeded her ability to focus on the degree and art forms like painting. This inspired her to instead focus on writing poetry and rap. Rap however is not an accepted form of art at this institution, affecting the way she was graded. She also found it hard to understand the language used in academic texts. She believes this is done as a form of social control and further restrict the lower classes’ access to education.
“Education systems [are] catered to a certain type of body like a straight white man and it’s really difficult to exist inside an institution if you exist in any other body than that,” Liv Wynter
She believes that education should be ‘guilt free’ by giving people the power to stand up for themselves rather than be oppressed. She agrees with antiuniversity’s methods of teaching as she sees peer to peer learning and skill sharing is a radical way to dismantle capitalist ideas of education.
The Queer community have been around for decades however the term itself is relatively new. Not many people know what it means and this in effect affects the services that are provided in terms of both healthcare and education. Events like these are essential for increasing this understanding and improving policy in future to better cater to these communities.