By Sofia Brizio
On the 30 June, at the end of Pride Month, most celebrations of the LGBTQ+ community come to an end and corporations get rid of the rainbow flag like it’s no longer relevant. Some bookshops, retailers and supermarkets stop showcasing LGBTQ+ books and it seems like everyone loses interest in such literature when it ceases to be trendy. But, the latest book I read and that I want to talk about in this issue shows that it’s not always like that and that we need to read LGBTQ+ literature beyond Pride Month. Edited by journalist and activist Amelia Abrahams and published by Penguin on the 3 June 2021, We Can Do Better Than This: 35 Voices on the Future of LGBTQ+ Rights is a ground-breaking anthology with testimonies from prominent members of the LGBTQ+ community across the world, shining a light on stories that often go untold in a world where queer people seemingly (but not really) have it so much easier than twenty, or even just ten years ago.
This book is painfully necessary at a time when the LGBTQ+ community faces scrutiny and criticism more than ever before, where queer people’s right to exist and be protected is consistently debated at an institutional level, as if it’s ever acceptable for someone’s existence to be up for debate. Think about Italy, where the Vatican recently lobbied against the gay rights bill that is being considered in parliament. Think about Hungary, whose government recently passed a law banning the sharing of LGBTQ+ education or material with anyone under 18. Think about how in 2021 homosexuality is still illegal in 69 countries and punishable by death in six, while being trans is criminalised in 13 UN member states.
With contributions from the likes of Peppermint, Andrew Gurza, Olly Alexander and Owen Jones among others, We Can Do Better Than This shows how the only LGBTQ+ stories that make the cut in the mainstream media are the most palatable ones. As Amelia Abrahams poignantly writes in her introduction, “We see queer happiness, queer love and queer success stories – and we should: those things are vital and intrinsic parts of our lives. But, what we see and hear about less is what it’s like to be queer in parts of the world without LGBTQ + rights on paper and where lives are under threat, or the lasting effects of shame and stigma in places where we are supposedly ‘accepted.’ We might see news stories and Instagram posts, but we do not always hear queer people’s experiences of discrimination firsthand, in a way that is non-essentialising and nuanced. It is rarer still to learn what we can do about all of this, how we make it better.”
In a revolutionary bid to counter mainstream narratives and encourage reflection, this invaluable collection of essays is divided into six parts: "Safety", in which the safety of queer people in different countries as well as on social media and dating apps is explored and paradoxes are discussed such as that of Brazilian popstar Pabllo Vittar, who gained popularity as a drag queen in a country with the highest rates of LGBTQ+ being murdered. “Visibility” deals with themes such as media representation and tokenism, with an enlightening piece on transphobia in the UK media by Juliet Jacques in which she states: “If I could change one thing for LGBTQ+ people, it would be the way the mainstream media – especially the print media – treats trans and nonbinary people. This matters because there is a huge population who don’t pay attention to fashion magazines, Netflix or social media, but are instead influenced heavily by conservative-leaning TV and radio, and especially newspapers.”
“Dating, Love and Family”, among other themes, explores the intersectionalities of a queer identity with disability, as well as some of the issues within the LGBTQ+ community itself, and Andrew Gurza writes about how inaccessible a fairy-tale love story can be as a visibly disabled gay man. Their essay “Happily Ever After Isn’t Accessible to Me” stood out to me as I am a physically disabled woman and I experienced much of the ableism they talk about in the dating world, both online and in real life, with the added hurdle that queer spaces are inaccessible at best and overtly ableist at worst.
The section on health and social care examines the most urgent frontiers of LGBTQ+ access to mental health support and education, while “Beyond the Binary” and “Community and Organising” deal with questions of gender nonconformity and allyship respectively.
We Can Do Better Than This is for everyone inside and outside the LGBTQ+ community and provides strategies to rethink the future of queer activism because “knowing we need to do better and actually doing better are two very different things.” This book can act as a guide to explore the interconnectedness between sexuality, gender and allyship and how everyday choices can make a difference. Most importantly, it teaches us that the LGBTQ+ community itself isn’t perfect, especially when it comes to the intersectionality of multiple marginalised identities. And when we realise this, we’re already on the path to doing better.