The Banning of Hotel Homophobia
Thissong was banned from being performed at a gig at The Albany, Deptford on Saturday 21 September 2019. The event was calledLegends and Legacies and it was essentially a showcase for older LGBT performers.
I was very interested in this, firstly because I organised the first LGBT benefit event in aid of LGBT Switchboard at the Albany in 1982. This event was part of my own legacy. But not, apparently the Albany’s, which is totally silent about LGBT benefits, including this one.
Secondly, it was heavily promoted withinOpening Doors London, the organisation for 50+ LGBT people, and several members I knew personally were taking part.
I got in touch with ‘Xnthony’ (Anthony Keigher) and offered my services; did a try‐out atThe Glory on their Werk in Progress night. (Anthony likes to mis‐spell things as a way of drawing attention. This corresponds to our own decision to call the legal Homo Promos company HP Produktions Ltd ‐ we thought the irritation factor would make it memorable.)
Anyhow, the try‐out went down a bomb. I’m not boasting, but I don’t think I’ve ever had such a rapturous reception as for the Song for Pride, an anthem written originally for Europride 1992. The other song, Treat Me Rough, got lots of laughs, thanks to pianist Mark Cox making me take the song slower than I had before. Buoyed by this we had a discussion of the event itself. Anthony was concerned about suitable material for a family audience, and I accepted that Treat Me Rough was too dirty for the occasion.
So, I offered Hotel Homophobia instead, which I think is a good song, and also has a political edge to it. I was slightly concerned, having seen Anthony compere at the Glory, that we might be in for a patronising, “Aw aren’t they marvellous for their age?” approach, when I wanted to say that we can be just as engaged and just as angry in later life as in earlier. We are not cosy and comfortable.
I was told again that this was not appropriate for a family audience. I’m afraid my hackles rose. Appropriate is one of those subjective weasel words which people use to censor work, in the name of protecting the sensibilities of people whom they haven’t bothered to consult. I think there was also some murmuring about cultural sensibilities ‐ the excuse for tiptoeing around practices associated with particular minorities for fear of causing wider offence. This is the fig leaf grasped by those who held back on investigating sexual abuse of adolescents in Yorkshire, or by Tower Hamlets Council in denying facilities for a charity fundraiser ‐ The Big Ride for Palestine.
Over the last twenty years we have seen the creeping rise of a new human right ‐ the Right Not to Be Offended, and an even more pernicious extension of it: the Right Not to be Offended on behalf of other people. Part of the LGBT community itself has colluded in this with a conflation of Hate Speech with Offensive Speech. Now it is coming back to bite us.
I am very clear that free speech is more important as a right than the protection of people’s feelings. Offence is a staple of satire and literature. You cannot claim your own right to be protected against offence and then deny the same right to those you disagree with, such as religious bigots.
So, I pushed back against Anthony’s decision. I asked what exactly he found problematic and offered to discuss the lyrics in detail. He claimed it wasn’t him, it was the Albany and Opening Doors.
Gavin Barlow, the Chief Executive at the Albany, said it wasn’t down to them, it was down to the organisers.
Adrian Beaumont, the ODL Member Services Manager, said this wasn’t an ODL event - and next day mailed out for ODL volunteers to staff it, pushing it like mad on Twitter. I found that everyone involved was hiding behind each other’s shirt tails and avoiding responsibility in the most cowardly fashion.
Nobody was prepared to engage with the song itself, the words in it, the politics of it. It made a mockery of the rubric on the event webpage on the Albany website:
"Following a series of workshops throughout the summer the artists will perform their best work, whether it be spoken word, song, comedy or drag. They can do what they want. Why? Because they’re legends with legacies. That’s why."
Do what we want? Obviously not. Or at least, only if it can be rigidly controlled.
If anyone has a right to be protected, surely it is the poor gay men prosecuted and murdered under Sharia law in Saudi Arabia et al.
I took steps to contact young people’s organisations and people of Muslim background. All comments were positive. This was from Lukasz Konieczka, a worker withMosaic Youth:
“I seriously can’t see what’s wrong with it. I would maybe add a trigger warning in the introduction for those who might be hit by it unexpectedly and might be sensitive for their mental health sake, but I wouldn’t make a big deal of it either.
I personally would be very comfortable for my 13 to 19 year olds to be at that performance. It might prove to be hard and difficult for them to hear it but it’s not as difficult as living through it and it’s a call to action instead of marinating in sorrow.”
The only comment which really made me think was from a parent who asked, “If this was a film, what certificate would you give it?”
I decided it was reallyCert 12A. This is suitable for 12 years and over. But I couldn’t for the life of me see what kids under 12 would be likely to come to an Older People’s Cabaret at 8 p.m. in the evening.
All the to‐and‐fro proved fruitless. A brusque email told me I’d been dropped. Briefly I considered performing with a ghetto blaster outside the Albany front entrance, in the good old theatre‐as‐guerrilla‐warfare style. However, the thought that several friends were taking part in the event deterred me. I didn’t want to spoil their evening. So, I consoled myself with the thought that I can still write stuff which will stir people from their complacency and cause argument and controversy. The old hand loseth not its cunning.
26 September 2019