Queer Footprints: A Guide to Uncovering London’s Fierce History takes an innovative look at the English capital’s LGBTQ+ history and the hidden “nooks and crannies” that reveal our stories. Author and activist Dan Glass tells us what inspired him to write the book.
Can you tell us about how you came up with the idea for the book?
Angela Davis’s brilliant book, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle, articulated the impetus for Queer Footprints when she says, “There’s a grave collective psychic damage that is a consequence of not being acknowledged within the context of one’s ancestry.”
Whilst she’s looking at it from a Black anti-racist perspective, the parallels are the same for queer consciousness.
I know for myself the psychological damage of not knowing where my queer story – ‘herstory’ – is from. Being ‘unrooted’ because of Section 28 (Margaret Thatcher’s law that led to the ban on the promotion of homosexuality in public institutions between 1988-2003) has catalysed higher rates of anxiety, depression, mental health pathology and suicide in the LGBTQ+ community.
I’ve struggled with my own depression for a long time. When I started connecting with my queer ancestry, I couldn’t get enough. I was so hungry to see the power of owning our roots and celebrating the ancestors whose shoulders we stand on, who fought for our existence today.
But also, all the incredible nooks and crannies (in London and far beyond) which we’ve been denied knowing about. It’s very reparative and healing to be connected on a physical, psychological and spiritual level with our queer community through the generations.
Through witnessing the mass closure of queer spaces, I learnt that fire-fighting was not enough, so in 2016, I co-founded ‘Queer Tours of London: A Mince through Time’, walks that tell the stories of London’s queer herstory today. This research formed the backbone of Queer Footprints: A Guide to Uncovering London’s Fierce History.
Who is the guide aimed at?
Queer Footprints is a toolkit for LGBTQ+ people everywhere to elevate LGBTQ+ solidarity, protest and Pride in their communities.
Queer Footprints is our invitation to take up space! Get your towel out, take to your garden, your favourite park or somewhere comfortable to read the book.
And if you are in London or you plan to visit, take it into the streets, on your own or with friends, with strangers, whatever works for you.
Queer Footprints is for anyone keen to change the way we all experience the sexual and spatial geography of our lives and neighbourhoods – whether you’re LGBTQ+, an ally or someone hungry for freedom. We are the queerdos we have been waiting for, and we don’t have to hide anymore!
What was your favourite part of the book to research?
One of my favourite case studies is Carla Toney in the Trafalgar Square chapter. Carla was the first woman and lesbian to make a speech at the first Gay Liberation Front demo in 1971, the year before the first Pride. Her story has never been written down in a book. History is often told by those who have the luxury to write it.
This is why I say ‘herstory’ because I want to centre a feminist perspective through human-centred stories, that spark the flames for mass transformation for all. This is what can happen when we tell our own stories.
Did you learn anything new from undertaking the project?
The curation of Queer Footprints reaffirmed my belief in the power of people’s (or ‘popular’) education, and I learnt many new storytelling tools to enable this.
Popular education is the opposite of ‘banking education’, the formative education most of us experience where we’re seen as empty vessels and education needs to be deposited into our heads.
Popular education says we are authors of our own reality; we just don’t ever really get to tell our own stories. One of the key tenets of the educational curriculum is ‘transformation starts with yourself, and then it role-models out’.
This all leads back to Paulo Freire’s work, the author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed who conceptualised popular education into existence. He shares that cultivating curiosity is the key ingredient to catalyse social change.
My friend Ntombi Nyathi, who is at the heart of the popular education Training for Transformation movement, really helped me frame the book and ask critical questions – How do we speak our truths? How do we build a movement? How do we meet our needs? How do we become fully visible? How do we become fully alive? How do we become fully awake? How do we honour our ancestors? How do they make us feel? What have they left us? And how do we become the people we’ve been waiting for?
What do you hope that readers will take from the book?
That hugely inspiring stories of queer love, connection and community power are everywhere. I am still buzzing from the Queer Footprints book launch and panel at the fab Outhouse in Dublin a few months ago.
My incredible friends Shaun Dunne and Robbie Lawlor inspired me and made me giggle so much during the Q+A, which was packed with pioneering change-makers. Since we last connected seven years ago in Dublin, they have changed the world and are a testament to how community activism can bring untold joy and effectiveness for healthcare for all. Their films, advocacy, community building, media work and so much more with ACT UP Dublin and others who are continuing to kick butt against pharmaceutical greed and government inaction.
They have helped fight for, and won, PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) – medication taken to prevent HIV – to be mainstreamed and available and catalysing huge public awareness campaigns to destigmatise HIV across Ireland. Not only was it deeply inspiring to learn about the seismic achievements of the LGBTQ+ and healthcare movements here but also learning about Queer Icons in Dublin!
Queer Footprints: A Guide to Uncovering London’s Fierce History, is available from Gutterbooks and online.
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