1975 – 2022: An interview with Queer Strike

27 June 2022

Pride 2022 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first official UK Gay Pride March held in London. We are marking each decade from 1972 to 2022 with a blog every week throughout June.

 

It is the forty-seventh anniversary of Queer Strike, which was formed as Wages Due Lesbians in 1975. Queer Strike is a grassroots, multi-racial, lesbian, bi, trans, queer women’s group campaigning for economic, legal and human rights. Queer Strike is one of 15 women’s groups, and a supportive men’s group, based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre in Kentish Town, London.

The Women’s Centre is very close to my heart – I first went there as a student in 2007 and immediately felt at home. Kingsley Napley has been supportive of groups at the Women’s Centre.

To celebrate Pride month, I have interviewed Anne Neale who is one of the original members of Queer Strike about some of the key issues/developments they have seen since 1975.

Why was Wages Due Lesbians (“WDL”) started?

WDL started as an autonomous organisation within the Wages for Housework Campaign (now the Global Women’s Strike) – which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.   We wanted to organise with other women demanding payment for caring work at the same time as making visible the particular additional unwaged caring work lesbian women do of dealing with discrimination and prejudice against us and our families.   

 

How would you describe your main aims?

We’re campaigning for a living wage for mothers and other carers, so that women everywhere are able to make sexual and other choices.  We’re part of the international Care Income Now Campaign. 

We defend our rights as lgbtq+ immigrants and asylum seekers, and the rights of refuseniks and whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning; campaign for decriminalisation of sex work and against police sexism, racism, homophobia and transphobia which targets lgbtq+ especially those of us who are of colour/immigrant.

We’re part of the movement of mothers fighting against unwarranted separation from our children – whether by violent fathers, social services or immigration laws.

What was the significance of Section 28 on women and how did WDL campaign against section 28? 

Section 28 aimed to prevent the “promotion of homosexuality” and to ban the teaching of the “acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.  

We joined what became a huge lgbtq+ movement against Section 28 which was eventually overturned in 2003 (earlier in Scotland), highlighting what it could mean for lesbian women and our families.  We said: “Section 28 will increase lesbian mothers’ unwaged emotional housework: more hiding and lying in all our dealings with schools, doctors, other parents, the police, neighbours, children’s friends; more fear and worry about the ways our every word and gesture, as well as what happens to our children, can be misinterpreted, taken down and used in evidence against us; . . . how, in other words, the work of mothering is made even tougher because lesbian women’s mothering is under constant suspicion and scrutiny.” 

Our slogan was “We’re not pretended families – the housework is real!” in response to S28’s attack on all of us – which was of a piece with Thatcher’s economic policies: “we must confront these financial cuts together with the sexual and social “cut” of S28, as the twin enemy, because both attack our sexual choices and both attack our economic choices . . “  We described our organising in a pamphlet Out of the Clause into the Workhouse: A lesbian woman’s view of what Clause 28 intends, pretends and promotes, and what we intend to promote against it’ published in 1988; republished in 1991 as Policing the Bedroom

Some people including queer people say we’ve got gay marriage what more do we need?

Same sex marriage is a victory that many fought for, BUT it’s not enough, when many of us still face discrimination, violence and injustice.  The reality for most lgbtq+ people is that welfare cuts, cuts to social housing, services, and other survival resources, low wages, zero hour contracts and the rising cost of living are making it even harder to survive and to be able to make sexual and other choices in our lives. 

25% of homeless young people are lgbtq+; violent hate crime against transgender people rose by 58% over the last two years, young lgbtq+ people of colour, including those who are Muslim, are disproportionately stopped and searched by police; lgbtq+ pensioners are dying of fuel poverty; the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) don’t take seriously and investigate murders and rapes of lgbtq+ people.

And of course, in many countries queer people can’t come out for fear of arrest, violence and/or imprisonment, and even in the UK there are still attacks and even murders of lgbtq+ people.  Many women are stuck in marriages they don’t want to be in as they can’t afford to leave especially if they have children, and are worried that abusive fathers would get custody.

Have you worked on LGBTQ asylum cases?

We work closely with Global Women Against Deportations which co-ordinates anti-deportation work at the Crossroads Women’s Centre. It includes the All African Women’s Group, an organisation of women asylum seekers & refugees, some of whom are lesbian/bi/queer women.  

Women have fought extreme prejudice including salacious intrusive questioning by Home Office officials and won their right to remain.  In 2010 the Supreme Court ruled that fear of persecution because of sexuality was valid grounds for claiming asylum and that lgbtq+ people could not be expected to hide their sexuality in order to be safe.

So now the Home Office uses every trick in the book to deny people’s sexuality in order to deport them back to countries where they face persecution, torture or even death – all the while promoting a “gay friendly” image, especially during Pride month. 

We’ve called out non-governmental organisations which collaborate with the Home Office and accept contracts to do lgbtq “awareness training”, essentially providing a cover for the government’s murderous policies. This includes the widely despised “Rwanda plan” which would see people deported to Rwanda despite evidence of human rights abuses including against lgbtq+ people. 

Pride is a Protest

From speaking with Anne, it is clear that coming out safely and living as a queer person is linked to economic independence and legal equality. Whilst the Pride march is a great way to celebrate the achievements to date for the LGBTQ community, it is important to remember that campaigning is still essential. It can be much harder for people from lower incomes to participate in Pride because there is now an entry fee to march.

Let’s celebrate 50 years since the first Pride and remember that Pride continues to be a Protest.

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