How can we create a better world for LGBTQ+ people?
A newly released collection of stories and essays, We Can Do Better Than This: 35 Voices on the Future of LGBTQ+ Rights, tackles the question by giving voice to LGBTQ+ activists and creatives from across the globe – including countries where prejudice and stigma around LGBT are still very much prevalent.
But this is a book of solutions, not problems. Each of the 35 voices featured within challenge our view of the world, and collectively they explore the ways in which we can create a world where all LGBTQ+ people can be free to be themselves – one where they can not only survive, but also thrive. Compiled and edited by journalist Amelia Abraham, this book takes us on a journey through six overarching themes – safety; visibility; dating, love and family; health and social care; beyond the binary; and community and organising – to make us think more deeply about the future of LGBTQ+ rights and to inspire positive change within our communities. Following on from Amelia’s first book, Queer Intentions: A (Personal) Journey Through LGBTQ+ Culture, the book also uplifts the diverse voices of our community to educate and motivate.
Tom/Crystal Rasmussen, author of Diary of a Drag Queen, shares their experiences with wearing make-up in public places as a queer person; while Phyll Opoku-Gyimah (Lady Phyll), co-founder of UK Black Pride, writes about how her ancestors’ resilience inspires her activism. Activist Mazharul Islam explores LGBTQ+ rights in Bangladesh; and writer Travis Alabanza imagines the joys – but also the peace – of a world free from gender policing. Through using vulnerability, reflection. Discussion. Reflection, and good humour, all 35 contributors imagine a better future for the LGBTQ+ community and provide guidance on how best we can get there, together.
We spoke with Amelia Abraham about her experiences of compiling her new book.
1. Many people can look at the rainbow-coloured logos of their favourite brands or see photos from corporate Prides across the world and think we don’t need Pride any longer. How do you challenge this narrative through your book?
Corporate acceptance can be very divisive. Some people view it as positive visibility, others think that it dissolves the political messages of Pride; some corporate Pride activities raise huge amounts of money for LGBTQ+ causes, which is great, others equate to what we might call pinkwashing. I explore this tension in my first book, Queer Intentions: A (Personal) Journey Through LGBTQ+ Culture – there’s a whole chapter where I travel to Pride events across Europe to look at the commercialisation of Pride. At Prides like Berlin and Amsterdam, there is a lot of corporate presence in the form of logos and branded campaigns, but in Serbia, there is no corporate sponsorship because businesses don’t want to be affiliated with the LGBTQ+ community within a wider anti-LGBTQ+ climate.
We haven’t come as far as we might think.
In this sense, we can see that corporate Pride does demonstrate relative acceptance, however this still doesn’t actually mean our most urgent needs are being met. We Can Do Better Than This is a collection of stories all about what still needs to change to make life better for LGBTQ+ people – from better trans media representation and healthcare, to ending HIV stigma, to third gender options on passports – and it shows there is so much more to do. I think the book demonstrates that we haven’t come as far as we might think in terms of ‘LGBTQ+ equality’ and that we therefore need Pride more than ever, as a moment for visibility, protest and general awareness raising.
2. Why was it important for you to include voices from the global LGBTQ+ community?
In places like Bangladesh and Nigeria, where some of the contributors come from, homosexuality is still criminalised. As Mazharul Islam writes, the criminalisation of homosexuality sends out a societal message that queer people should be punished for being who they are. This increases the threat of violence. Then, when that violence occurs, you cannot go to the authorities in case you are arrested.
It’s really important to hear from queer people in other parts of the world.
The lack of safety occurs as a cycle and one that must be broken – not just through decriminalisation, but through education, visibility, organising. So I think it’s really important to hear from queer people in other parts of the world in order to learn more about their experiences and remind ourselves that we are part of a bigger, global, LGBTQ+ family, as well as to then facilitate the sharing of information, support and finances – a kind of global solidarity.
3. You say in your introduction that you chose the contributors because they are all ‘fabulous’, and link this thinking to madison moore’s book. Could you expand on what this means to you?
madison moore wrote an amazing book called Fabulous: Rise of the Beautiful Eccentric all about how queer people and particularly the most marginalised queer people – like gender nonconforming people and queer people of colour – harness style and ingenuity as a mode of political resistance. Think ballroom culture, for example. It’s all about thriving and being creative in a world that tells you that you shouldn’t exist – fabulousness as protest, a way of taking up space and refusing to be erased.
I think this applies to all the contributors, and actually most queer people I know!
4. What do you think are the links between 'everyday, interpersonal gestures and change on a much broader scale', as you write in your introduction?
I think to improve life for LGBTQ+ people we need incremental or individual change coupled with top-level change. So for instance, when it comes to improving the inclusion of the non-binary community, we need people to understand and use they/them pronouns on an interpersonal level and a gender-neutral option to be made available on passports, say. Both changes, to me, indicate base level respect and recognition.
I think everyday and broader changes also hopefully beget one another – if non-binary people were acknowledged by the government, then more people might accept that gender-neutral pronouns are here to stay. Vice versa, if more people made the effort to be inclusive with language and behaviour – in the workplace, schools etc – it might one hopefully one day lead to a society in which institutions do not constantly operate on the presumption of binary gender.
I hope We Can Do Better Than This is full of dozens of practical suggestions – bigger, and smaller – for changes we can make.
5. This year, our Pride campaign is all about our community being Prouder Together. What do you think is the importance of community, solidarity, and teamwork in achieving equality and liberation for the LGBTQ+ community worldwide? How does your book demonstrate this?
I think by assembling so many LGBTQ+ voices side by side, it draws new connections between our experiences. I also hope that the bigger voices – Olly Alexander and Lady Phyll etc – will draw people in to the unexpected stories from lesser known activists.
We Can Do Better Than This is also full of stories about how community and solidarity have created the blueprint for progress. From homeless queers coming together at Stonewall in 1969, to networks of queer people protecting one another from online catfishing in Nigeria today. Kate Bornstein’s essay, ‘When It Comes to Sex and Gender, You’re Right’ even makes an amazing case for how we can prevent divisions within queer communities going forwards – particularly divisions between L, G, B and T.
6. What’re three key messages or three actions do you think everyone can take away from this book?
We still have a lot of work to do to make life better for queer people. There are always people who need our help. There are many things we can actively do to help them.
Some of those things are: Having conversations to shift attitudes (I hope the book equips readers the arguments to do that). Supporting queer people beyond the West, financially and in other ways like sharing their stories or uplifting their voices. And finally, educating ourselves around the needs of disabled, intersex and asexual people, in order to be better allies.