Patrick Cash reports from the launch of the London LGBTQ+ Community Centre campaign in Hackney on Wednesday (April 18).
East London’s Queerati were out in force for the launch of London’s LGBTQ community centre crowdfunder last night.
The night was compered by gay comedian Jack Rooke, and featured speeches from former Stonewall comms officer Sarah Moore, triumphant Trinidadian gay rights activist Jason Jones, and MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington herself, Diane Abbott. Hackney Showrooms was packed with cheering queers.
Michael Segalov, part of the team behind the concept, explained that the idea originated seven months ago in the pub, when he and others were lamenting with friends about the lack of a LGBTQ community centre in London: one of the greatest and gayest cities in the world. Whereas Berlin and New York offer specific venues to cater for the wellbeing of their LGBTQ populations, London’s own attempt fizzled out swiftly in the early '90s because - rumours allege - of various stock ending up in the backs of people’s cars.
Therefore it was no surprise that the crowd was pretty ecstatic. Cheers greeted Segalov’s speech on growing up gay, dealing with guilt and shame, and not finding a place in which to find solidarity other than pubs, bars and clubs. He loves pubs, he says, but if you’re dealing with body image anxiety, or other deeper issues, then it seems odd in LGBTQ culture our current cultural response is ‘have a drink’. He claims the new centre, which is to be based in Hackney, will refute that.
Jason Jones gave the most emotional speech of the night. Only last week he won his historic case against his home country of Trinidad & Tobago to repeal their “buggery” laws. He spoke stirringly about how he longed to see a LGBTQ community centre not only in London, but one day perhaps in Trinidad also. By the time Diane Abbott took the stage, the crowd was rapturous. She gave her full support to the project, and passed on Jeremy Corbyn’s best wishes to everyone.
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott has backed the campaign to bring an LGBT+ community centre to London
Having attended a previous discussion meeting myself, it seems like a brilliant plan. The ideas circulated for the centre at that meeting included a library, a stage, a cafe, free counselling, free sexual health checkups, a regular programme of events, and an ethos inclusive of all intersectionality: that you’re welcome whether you’re a white gay male or a non-binary person of colour. Of course, how much of the dream they can realise depends on the money donated.
There’s only one small catch that’s been mentioned: the location. Whereas the previous LGBTQ centre was in central Farringdon, some say Hackney means ‘East London’ rather than ‘London’.
"I think it’s very exciting if it was for all of London, not just for one borough of London," says David Robson, curator of Queer Question Time and chair of the London LGBT Forum.
"This is something that is very much needed, but I don’t think you can go ahead and call something a London LGBTQ centre when you’ve not consulted all of the other London boroughs, many of whom have been activists and striving for this since the fall of the Farringdon centre, twenty-five years ago.
"As someone said at our London LGBT meeting at City Hall: if it’s in Hackney, to someone in Hillingdon, it might as well be in France. I feel frustrated at the lack of dialogue between the campaign and wider London and whilst I wish it success, I don’t want to repeat past mistakes."
Despite gripes about where the centre might be located, the team deserve praise in taking the initiative to organise themselves to the point where they’ve created a successful media launch, a business model and an exciting plan. And as they say, if they’re successful they can roll out the model to other boroughs.
You can support the London LGBTQ+ Community Centre's Crowdfunder here.
Words: Patrick Cash