In my last blog post, we were introduced to the variety of incredible community responses to COVID-19 across the UK, including The Corona Cabaret, the first online global cabaret tackling isolation during the outbreak. In this blog, we dive deeper into the world of communities of identity, hearing from one its performers, activist Dan Glass about how he and the wider LGBTQI+ community are experiencing and responding to the COVID-19 crisis.
Isabel: So Dan, tell me, what is the main way that COVID-19 pandemic has impacted you and your community?
Dan: 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. Isolation, distancing, stigma, austerity and loneliness are nothing new to marginalised communities such as the LGBTQI+ community, or people living with HIV+ and other stigmatised conditions. Institutionally enforced injustice – such as the ‘Section 28’ Law introduced under Thatcher – the pioneer of the ‘there is no such thing as society’ mantra – or the privatisation of the NHS, are key reminders of the struggles communities, particularly those dependent on healthcare, have faced for decades. Today, those of us whose lived experience is characterised by injustice and struggle, are now seeing these social impacts happening to everyone. I have seen my community respond with incredible strategic thinking, compassion, love, and sharing of skills and support in the age of the Coronavirus.
Isabel: What is the main way you and your community have responded to the crisis?
Dan: 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, anti-Semitism or homophobia, are harnessing their histories to help people 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 epidemic without further suppressing minority rights to create a better world after the pandemic, than before. The 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.
Isabel: What for you, is the importance of online platforms at this time?
Dan: When you are forced to sit still, your mind starts to wander, and questions arise from 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. In my opinion, there is an incredible amount of co-option, hypocrisy and entitlement in the mainstream media. For example, the government is heaping their praise on the NHS, when for years they have systematically cut its budget. 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 structural symptoms of COVID-19, such as the NHS not having enough necessary equipment to save lives.
Isabel: Do you feel the way we act in our communities will be forever altered by the COVID-19 crisis, and if so, how?
Dan: 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 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.
Isabel: What is your message to communities across the UK who are new to organising and want to come together to address this issue?
Dan: Since the dawn of time people have struggled for justice in Britain. You are entering into an incredible ancestral tapestry of skills, beauty and fierce love, abundant with visions of creating a new world. This is 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 inequality – 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.
To contact Dan, or to hear more about the Corona Cabaret and his other work as one of the UK’s leading queer activists and writers, message firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @danglassisfull.
Join us next Wednesday for Part 3! To take part in our Community, Covid & You research project, click here. You can find out more about any of the initiatives featured in this blog by following the series or by contacting Isabel.email@example.com