by Charlotte West, Strategic Account Director
6 min read
For people working in environmental and social justice, the LGBT+ movement can offer valuable insights into the power of people to enact change.
As an environmental charity, Global Action Plan believes that people power is key to averting the climate crisis. We are focused on igniting the Clean Air and Compassion Not Consumerism movements by equipping them with the learning, vision, togetherness and voice needed to enact change. For the 50th anniversary of the first Pride marches, GAP's Strategic Account Director Charlotte West explores what we can all learn from the LGBT movement, over time and today.
June is recognised each year by LGBT communities around the world as 'Pride month'. With the coronavirus pandemic forcing cities globally to cancel Pride parades, this year many people have marked the occasion differently, with virtual discussions and reflection. What's more, this year Pride month has coincided with anti-racism protests around the world as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, sparked by the killing of George Floyd in police custody in the US. The backdrop of anti-racism protests has led people to reflect on the very origins of Pride in the act of protest by the gay liberation movement.
With inequality taking up column inches and social media feeds, 2020 has rightly seen the most politically conscious Pride for decades, inspired by the surrounding activism and political climate. Because of this, queer people have been reminded that whilst Pride is a moment to celebrate being out and proud, the reason that cities host Pride events in June is because of the Stonewall Inn uprising in New York City on June 28, 1969 in protest against years of police brutality and harassment.
Like much of the LGBT community is doing right now, any movement fighting for justice and equality can learn a great deal from parallel and often interconnected movements. Looking to complementary struggles can provide useful lessons, enabling activists to reflect on their movement’s origins, tactics and what causes have in common.
So what can people working on our movements take away from the actions and reflections taking place right now by the LGBT community? What principles are important for any movement concerned with the advancing the rights and freedoms of society’s most disadvantaged? Two themes are explored below.
1: It’s important to lift up all voices within a movement
Current debates highlighting marginalisation have rightly exposed a common imbalance in the ‘LGBT narrative’ in favour of white and generally cis male voices. Within the LGBT community there have been calls to recognise two of the key actors in the historic struggle for gay equality - Marsha P. Johnston and Sylvia Rivera – who have until recently been largely written out of the gay liberation movement. Both were trans women of colour, and important vocal activists against police brutality who did much to support vulnerable young people in their community. In the late 1960s and 1970s these activists were reportedly ostracised within the movement for being ‘too radical’, perceived as potentially damaging to the ‘respectable’ image of gay people many were keen to cultivate in the push for gay rights.
In today’s fight for equality, critics have highlighted that even though LGBT people have secured rights, black trans women are disproportionate victims of violence. It is important to celebrate successes, but not to assume that progress for one group automatically results in progress for all. For those working in the Clean Air movement, this matters hugely. The movement encompasses a broad range of voices, from parent groups to local authorities to businesses. Rather than only focusing on bike availability, the push for more protected cycle lanes is important to empower women who cycle less than men, largely due to safety concerns.
Rather than only focusing on electric vehicle ownership, it’s important to enable people who have little chance of owning an electric car benefit from clean mobility by investing in electric buses and electric shared mobility. Rather than only highlighting demand for School Streets from affluent neighbourhoods, we must highlight and tackle the injustice of BAME communities’ disproportionate exposure to dirty air.
2: It’s important to create solidarity with other movements
In the late 1960s, 1980s and now, LGBT activists have often stood in solidarity with other social justice movements and vice versa. In the late 1960s various groups in the US co-existed and often – but not always - collaborated, including gay liberation, civil rights, anti-war and feminist movements. Despite some initial reservations, the Black Panther group and Gay Liberation Front leaders encouraged solidarity between their groups, given their shared determination to create system change and equality. Afeni Shakur – Black Panther activist and mother of hip-hop artist Tupac – took special interest in understanding the Gay Liberation Front’s demands and opportunities for collaboration, even helping to organise a joint meeting at actor Jane Fonda’s house!
Historic collaboration between the movements has been the subject of much interest during this year’s Pride, in light of BLM protests, with black queer voices such as Angela Davis, James Baldwin and Audre Lorde being given a platform by gay media and activists at long last. And in the UK today, the LGBT community have been looking back at the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners alliance during the miners’ strike of 1984-5, which raised over £20,000 for striking miners and their families. In turn, the miners were vocal in calling for the repeal of the Section 28 law in the late 1980s which prohibited homosexuality being taught about in schools.
Reflecting on the power of this mutual support has led to more recent collaborations, such as Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, which uses historic understanding of struggle to support those facing oppression today. GAP’s Compassion Not Consumerism movement is grounded in the work of academics who have established that nurturing our compassionate, ‘bigger-than-self’ values is critical to individual wellbeing and the planet’s sustainability. But it is also inspired by campaigns fighting for fair wages, for equal pay, for workers’ rights around the world and for the right to union representation. We recognise that the ability to nurture our own compassionate values is not simply a task for the individual, but involves the struggle to create a society in which people are prioritised over profits, and where the powerful corporations are held accountable for the injustices they perpetuate via rampant consumerism.
Global Action Plan doesn’t claim to do everything perfectly, but we are committed to keep learning, to challenge the norm and to work collaboratively. This is why we’re paying attention to the current anti-racism protests and taking time to educate ourselves on how to be proactively anti-racist as an organisation. This blog is just the start of ongoing education as a team to consider social injustice at large and how we can align with other movements to create a better world; because ‘no cause is an island’.
One of our Values as an organisation is “We Share Openly”, both in how we work across teams and by building coalitions externally – demonstrated by Clean Air Day, which is run in partnership with over 250+ charities and local authorities. We are committed to support other voices working on parallel agendas, and invite others to lend their voice to our campaigns. You can read more about our work supporting the Clean Air and Compassion Not Consumerism movements here, and tell us how you think we can go further, faster, together.