Dan Glass: Standing on the shoulders of giants
This LGBT+ History Month, we are profiling the work of Dan Glass, an activist with AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP), as well as a writer, performer and presenter. His new book, Queer Footprints, guides readers through London’s scandalous, hilarious and empowering LGBTQIA+ story. Dan spoke to us about the importance of Queer Herstory, his favourite book, and first ever act of protest aged 12.
Tell us about your first memory of activism?
I was 12. At my Hebrew Sunday school, we were only allowed to have lunch at kosher bakery Carmeli’s – McDonald’s was strictly forbidden. The school’s conservative, homophobic and rote-learning methodology meant my rebellious spirit needed a release. I didn’t know how to deal with the actual roots of it, so organised a ‘We Love McDonald’s Not Carmeli’s’ protest. My rabbi was not amused.
Why do you think it's important to tell Queer history?
Queer herstory – history told from a feminist perspective – is soul food: rejuvenating, nourishing and grounding. For centuries the LGBTQIA+ community has been denied the right to exist, love and thrive. Grounding ourselves in our herstory allows us to listen, intervene and continue creating spaces and telling stories that celebrate our queer Lineage.
‘Queer Footprints - A Guide to Uncovering London’s Fierce History’ is both a book and a practical launchpad to continue the process for full liberation. Questions woven throughout Queer Footprints include; How have things changed across the generations in housing, health, education and more? How do movements win? Where does allyship begin? How do we speak our realities? How do we meet our needs? How do we become fully visible? How do we become fully alive? How can we stay and fight? Ultimately we can continue to use our narratives to co-create our realities and design entire curriculums and queer utopias around it.
What was your most surprising discovery when researching the book?
I had my suspicions, but the research confirmed the queer community and our allies are the funniest, fiercest and most unapologetically fabulous community on the planet. Even when facing indescribable hostility, our wit, satire and self-deprecation have been a powerful force for change.
From the ‘Why wank for five years’ placard in 1971 at the Gay Liberation Front Youth Group demo against the unequal age of consent, and ‘Aids Coalition to Unleash Power’ (ACT UP) putting a giant condom over Nelson's Column at the height of the AIDS pandemic in 1989. The laughter continues and our creative brilliance continually astounds me. We (the LGBTQIA+ community and our allies) really are the people we have been waiting for.
Can protest make a difference?
Without a shadow of a doubt. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the masses of people occupying government offices and pharmaceutical companies demanding access to HIV medication: I’ve been HIV positive for 18 years and a healthcare activist with ‘AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power’ (ACT UP) for 15 years. I count my lucky stars every damn day that I stand on the shoulders of giants who sharpened their strategies of protest and capabilities for building revolutionary loving communities ever since.
The future of Queer activism is …
The ‘F*ck off This is My Culture’ party that happens every Summer in one of George Michael’s favourite cruising grounds in London. It is both a protest, and a cultural celebration, with speeches by legends of the movement followed by oil wrestling and joyous rituals smashing pinatas of those who have tried to silence us.
If I could read Bernardine Evaristo’s Mr Loverman every week for the rest of my days, I’d be one happy giggling queen.
My friends think I am …
A duracell bunny. My friends are my family, my lifeline and total joy… They know I'm a liability - but hopefully one with a good heart.
What is your proudest achievement?
Helping to found ‘Friends of the Joiners Arms’, a response to the closure of our favourite east London LGBTQIA+ club and now a vibrant community-run movement organising regular club nights; and Bender Defenders, a queer and trans martial arts community empowerment movement in response to rising hate crime.
Tell us about your next book?
It’s a compilation of extraordinary movements celebrating the revolutionary potential of endless curiosity – from London to Palestine to West Papua and Beyond.
Queer Footprints: A Guide to Uncovering London’s Fierce History is out now, and available at the Amnesty Shop.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.