We’re continuing to welcome you behind-the-scenes with our “Lives from the Archives” series, where we chat to people whose stories are included in our archives. This week, we spoke to Dan Glass, an award-winning healthcare and human-rights activist, performer, presenter, and writer.
Dan founded "Queer Tours of London", which shine a light on London's rich LGBTQ+ history. He has also been named one of Attitude Magazine's campaigning role models for LGBTQ+ youth, and was awarded "Activist of the Year" at the 2017 Sexual Freedom Awards for his contributions to sex-positive, queer healthcare and human rights movements for social justice.
Recently, Dan wrote the book "United Queerdom", which looks at LGBTQ+ campaigns from the work of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) to activists today. We hold archives for several of the projects Dan has worked on, including "Queer Tours of London" and the GLF Archive.
Find out more about his archives and how they came to be at Bishopsgate Institute in our chat with Dan below. You can find out more about the Queer Tours of London Archive and the ACT UP London Archive as part of the LGBTQ+ collections we hold: bishopsgate.org.uk/collections/lgbtq-archives
What stories of yours can be discovered in your archive?
I am honoured to have a few archives at the fabulous Bishopsgate Institute. This includes Queer Tours of London - A Mince Through Time, the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) Archive, and Aids Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) London chapter.
ACT UP is a diverse, non-partisan group of individuals united in their outsiderness and committed to direct action to end the HIV pandemic, along with the broader inequalities and injustices that perpetuate it.
Queer Tours of London was founded in 2016 to commemorate, celebrate, and support London’s current queer activism, culture, and performance in all its glory. Highlights include: Rebel Dykes "Brixton Dykes on the Rampage", the African Rainbow Family on LGBT+ Migrant rights, crawling up the House of Lords to commemorate radical sexual freedom history, agitating queer venues to become more accessible, demanding a permanent museum to celebrate sexual freedom, organising "pretty police" orgies in the bushes, calling for a full apology and not just a pardon for queers, paying tribute to the stories of those sexual deviants untold, launching "Unfinished Business – LGBTQIA+ Voices of the Revolution" festival, and tearing up the streets of London in drag on the "Bang Bus" to commemorate and celebrate queer spaces.
As a result, Queer Tours of London provides a way for LGBTQIA+ people to remember the ancestors who have fought for liberation and understand that there is work to do until all Queers around the world are free. Our radical ancestors remind us to pierce through the fog of collective amnesia that has been structurally utilised to manipulate us into inaction. This reminds us how much we still have to fight for and to never be pacified. Learning from previous generations brings life to how we can be actively engaged in creative transformation of ourselves and our communities to continue the journey towards freedom.
What part of your archive do you particularly like to re-visit?
At the moment I particularly like to visit the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) archive because this year – 2020 – is the 50th anniversary of the birth of the modern Pride movement in the UK. We all know "Pride in London" couldn't happen this year. 2020 was supposed to be the year to celebrate the moment everything changed in Britain by giving us the "Gay Liberation Front" (GLF), which pioneered "Coming Out", and that led to the first Gay Pride March in 1972.
Nothing has or ever will stop queer freedom rising through the cracks, so this archive is more important now than ever. Since 2018, the GLF have been meeting to continue celebrating how far we have come and agitate for more, and a lot of the archive is documenting the process to celebrate this anniversary. With the huge rise of LGBTQIA+ hate crime, its purpose is far from over.
Every month we have our public "Think Ins" that are a concept which the GLF activists first used to have a space, a sanctuary in which to make sense of the world away from the pressures of homophobia, and how to effectively respond. 50 years on, there is still so much work to do to complete the ultimate aim of "freedom for all".
The archive includes never been seen collages, photos, and footage from the first Pride demonstrations in London, a reenactment of the first Pride demand readings, and a sharing of our updated 50th anniversary demands, round table discussions on how we started Pride, and what we can all do to continue the fight for "absolute freedom for all."
GLF stands for liberation: the choice is always there – liberation or slavery.
Why did you choose to deposit your archives at Bishopsgate Institute?
I choose to deposit our archives at Bishopsgate Institute for many reasons. Firstly the staff are the nicest, most accommodating, and hilarious folks ever so it is a joy to spend time there. Secondly, they have a deep understanding that archives shouldn’t be about letting history gather dust but as a living, moving space to continue learning from history to build for our freedoms today. For example, you can always take your archives out for events and protests and then put them back for safekeeping. Bishopsgate Institute also will happily help organise archive events, launches, and networking events to continue deepening and developing the important issues that are within the archives.
Last but not least, Bishopsgate Institute is radical – and has for centuries now been the epicentre of so many movements struggling for justice including labour rights, feminist, anti-racist, and LGBTQIA+ movements.
Bishopsgate Institute exists within the understanding that to be radical, to get to the root of everything rather than the symptom of nothing, then the struggles for justice that the archives bring to life must be led by those who are affected by the issues, rather than maintain a saviour complex mentality. This makes it even more important that a nourishing space like Bishopsgate exists to explore the root causes of social issues so we can effectively tackle them.
Powerful systems everywhere maintain the status quo of environmental, social, racial, and economic oppression by wielding their age-old weapon that makes the oppressed believe there is nothing we can do – that we are too little, insignificant, and daft to challenge them. When we begin to realise this, the mist begins to clear and the apparatus of the elite is laid bare on the surgical table for us all to dissect, challenge, and transform.
If someone came to our library and pulled out your archives, what would you hope they’d learn?
When you are forced to sit still, your mind starts to wonder and questions arise 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.
Since the dawn of time people have struggled for justice in Britain. Stepping into Bishopsgate Institute, you are entering into an incredible ancestral tapestry of skills, beauty, and fierce love abundant with visions of creating a new world. It's an opportunity to celebrate and learn.
Be inspired by the revolutionary ecosystem, from the theatrics of the Gay Liberation Front, the politics of accountability of ACT UP, the spiritual activism of anti-fascists, or a wide range of feminists movements in Britain.
From all of these, we unravel how our freedoms were born and how our purpose as queer radicals is renewed. Remember ordinary people are the key to our freedom. We have always had a healthy appetite for self-determination. We know that politicians, police, and the military-industrial complex are examples of social order that change their views overnight – with us at their mercy. As ever it’s at the grassroots that we can thank for our freedom – the spirit of criticality, defiance, questioning, art, radical love, and creating our world on our own terms.