CamdenNewJournal

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‘Never piss off a drag queen’: Councillor celebrates LGBT+ protest

'We fought back during difficult times - and there have been many, and I'm in no doubt there will continue to be many'

22 July, 2019 — By Richard Osley

THE Town Hall’s culture chief has celebrated Camden’s role at the heart of LGBT+ activism after the  council joined the Pride march and held an all member debate on gay rights.

Labour councillor Jonathan Simpson told a full council meeting that it was amazing that it was “only 52 years ago” that the law was changed and homosexuality was decriminalised.

He said:  “Only a few years before that, the Wolfenden Report happened, which actually started the debate. Before that, in this country, lesbian and gay people potentially, if they were actively having same sex relations, faced criminalisation or faced very, very serious punishment where they had to have treatments, long-term for mental health.”

Cllr Simpson told councillors of how a riot had originally kicked off the Pride movement.

He said: “In 1969, it’s important to reference something that didn’t happen in this borough. It happened in New York. There is a bar there called the Stonewall Inn and on June 27, here in London, perhaps the biggest gay icon ever, Judy Garland, died. There were lots of very unhappy and very upset drag queens. Number one: Never piss a drag queen off.”

He added: “In that bar, as it had happened many times, the police decided to raid it. In the early hours of the following morning, a riot happened. The butch lesbians, the drag queens fought back. They fought back for a number of nights in a way that was unprecedented. From that, the modern LGBT rights movement was born.A year later in New York, and indeed in London, the first gay Pride march happened.”

Camden Council, as an organisation, entered the Pride march through central London earlier this month for the first time.

Cllr Simpson, a cabinet level councillor, said: “Camden has a long tradition of fighting for lesbian and gay rights. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our LGBT+ residents and will continue to do so. We fought back during difficult times – and there have been many, and I’m in no doubt there will continue to be many. Perhaps, the most gravest one was Section 28 during the 1980s where schools and local authorities were told they couldn’t promote homosexuality as a normal lifestyle. They couldn’t speak to those kids who needed the support absolutely the most when they were facing bullying.”

He added: “We’ve had other times where this borough has faced difficult situations as well. Most certainly the HIV crisis in the 1980s when Gay’s The Word, the famous bookshop in Marchmont Street just outside my ward, was raided in 1984 on the back of a campaign by Mary Whitehouse under the Blasphemy Act which saw prosecution and possible closure. Just most recently we’ve seen a terrible situation in which two women have faced a homophobic attack; a homophobic and misogynistic attack on public transport that saw them battered and bruised for no issue other than their sexuality.”

Councillors from across the chamber have stood in solidarity in the wake of the attack on a night bus, but there has been warnings that this was not an isolated case and that the LGBT+ community in Camden and beyond remains under threat from harassment.

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