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Homeless queer people started our revolution, so why we forget about them?

Homeless queer people started our revolution, so why we forget about them?

Two women embracing holding a banner at a Pride march.

I got married in June 2016 on a beach in Hawaii and it was the most beautiful day of my life.

Two days later the Pulse shootings happened. This was the first attack on my community that I had been conscious of and the worst in my lifetime. 2016 would turn out to be the deadliest year for the LGBTI community on record.

We spent the morning reading and crying. When I opened the curtains I saw two rainbows across Pearl Harbour.

Later that summer my wife and I visited New York for Brooklyn’s Afropunk festival.

My first time in NYC

We stayed on the Lower East Side, St. Marks Place. Ada Calhoun called the street ‘like superglue for fragmented identities’ and wrote ‘the street is not for people who have chosen their lives… it is for the wanderer, the undecided, the lonely, and the promiscuous.’

We picked up ice creams from The Big Gay Ice Cream Shop and walked to Tompkins Square Park. There, punks and homeless people had rioted in 1988.

Around the corner was the first building of Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), a radical house for homeless queer youth and sex workers set up by trans, POC, homelessness activists Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. They’d originally parked up a trailer in Greenwich Village as the first shelter for homeless queers.

We climbed the Rockefeller Centre and had a picnic in Central Park. Out of respect for those that have gone before us, there are places you must take yourself to and emotions you must feel as a member of a marginalized community in such a historic place.

We visited the Art AIDS America exhibition at the Bronx Museum of Art, knowing that it would be the most devastating exhibition we’ve seen.

There wasn’t a Stonewall Inn in London

In the same afternoon, we visited Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, the site of the Stonewall Riots.

I stood in Christopher Park at the Liberation monument, where so many queer homeless people had slept together and visualized that night. A community rising up against the police, their oppression exploding as a crew of outsiders against the system and indeed their own community, who had been ostracising them to this dive bar.

I remembered the nights I’d climbed the fence of Soho Square, stayed up all night with buskers and street drinkers, drifters I’d met in bars that were passing through Soho. Sometimes we’d find an after party. When the party was over, I’d head to a lovers place or a squat in south London.

There wasn’t a place like the Stonewall Inn or Christophers Park in London.

I wondered how many homeless queers were hiding out there being barflies like I had, squatting, faking relationships, faking that they had great places to stay, barely holding down a job and raving their minimum wage away through a 4-day weekend.

After being homeless myself, I got a job in the homeless sector

After several years of raving and squatting, a crisis daycenter put me onto a college course that led to a job in the homeless sector.

I managed to hold this down throughout my late twenties. But standing in Christopher Park looking at the Stonewall Inn, I felt the contrast between LGBTI homelessness and the heteronormative homelessness services I had been working in back in London.

I also understood why I’d never asked for their help and the anxiety of queer people that had come out to me secretly in squats, daycenters and hostels.

That’s when I connected to my younger self, my homelessness, and chaos. I connected with the history and oppression of queer people and all of this tied together in that spot.

We walked back to St.Marks Place through Greenwich village, stopping at the Pulse memorial. We were quiet for most of the day.

My first proper home in London

I moved onto a boat with my wife that autumn, my first proper home in London. From my new found life stability of a married home, I became increasingly concerned about the experiences my younger self had and that this was a shared, hidden and taboo experience of our community.

I talked about it with queer colleagues. Moreover, I started researching using contacts within the homeless sector I worked in and activists I knew.

Thoughts slowed down over winter as I focused on getting my clients into winter shelters. Largely run in church halls, I felt for my queer siblings who had the same fractured relationships with their religion.

That Christmas saw the death of George Michael. As an 80s child, George Michael was the first gay person I ‘knew’ when I came out.

His arrest and response with the song Outside was my introduction to homophobia and queer activism at 13 years old. I felt grief for this queer person that had been there, empowering in the background of our lives.

How The Outside Project helps homeless people

These collective experiences, centered by me standing in Christopher Park, would be the catalyst for The Outside Project, a collective of LGBTI ex-homeless, homelessness professionals, activists, and artists.

Our goal was to create the UK’s first LGBTI Community Winter Shelter and grow into a year-round shelter and community center. Like STAR, we started out on the back of a bus over winter 2017.

The work Sylvia and Marsha did at STAR for queer youth was driven by the fact that they had needed a safe place for themselves as homeless youths, but as adults, they were still homeless. Therefore, we make sure to tell people that we are for all ages. In fact, the majority of our guests have been over 25.

This year we are finally in a building, still growing into the 24/7 space desperately needed by our community.

People tend to forget what Pride was all about

On our first birthday after a successful winter shelter pilot, my wife designed a t-shirt that screamed the words of Sylvia Rivera at the 1973 Gay Liberation Parade: ‘y’all better quiet down… I will not put up with this shit’.

We sold them to raise money for homeless LGBTI people seeking asylum. They wanted to attend London Pride as part of our block, Outsider Pride.

Our campaign was totally ignored by Pride in London organizers. On the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, we booked space in the Pride in London pop-up shop in Soho. We shared our table with LGSMigrants.

Pride in London didn’t write us up anywhere. We sent them our press release that morning, announcing our partnership with Stonewall Housing and funding from the mayor’s office for our shelter. But we never heard from them.

They had a panel discussion about homelessness that evening and wouldn’t give us a seat on the panel. They hadn’t thought to include us and it was too late now.

We shot a film to highlight the ignorance when it came to LGBTI homelessness. It was infuriating to see how the movement that started this Pride ‘celebration’ is so far from people’s minds today.

Find out more about The Outside Project here and shop for their Homeless Queer People Started Our Revolution t-shirts here.

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