Last night, a crowd of LGBT+ activists and allies gathered in East London’s Hackney Showroom to support the announcement of plans for a new London LGBT+ Community Centre, as well as a crowdfunding campaign to help bring the project to life.
Alongside performances and a screening of the crowdfunding film, the night also featured a series of powerful speeches, one of which came courtesy of Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott.
Fresh from a Channel 4 interview, Abbott began her speech – which was frequently interrupted by cheers and whoops of delight – by stating simply that she would do anything in her power to help further the progress of LGBT+ rights.
She then highlighted the progress which has already been made, stating:
When I first joined the Labour Party, you couldn’t win a vote in a Labour Party conference on LGBT+ rights.
I’ve lived to see a Tory Prime Minister take through equal marriage, and that is a testimony to the campaigning and the struggle of people in this room.
Abbott then quickly followed up this initial optimism by explaining that there is still work to be done. This is undeniably true: the mere fact that the UK capital lacks an existing LGBT+ community centre is sufficient proof that more should be done to unite, support and galvanise young LGBT+ people.
But Abbott homes in more specifically on media demonisation of trans people, saying:
I have been horrified to see, in the media, the shocking attacks on trans people.
We have to be shoulder-to-shoulder with trans men and women, [because] this has become the new, publicly-acceptable face of homophobia.
As well as fuelling insidious rhetoric, which has already seen a sharp rise in transphobic hate crime, articles debating the validity of trans identities have also delayed proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act. Not only is media misinformation harmful, it’s genuinely halting progress.
Organisers want to bring a visible and open, multi-functional space for the LGBT+ to London - something which the capital, unlike many other cities in the UK and across the world, currently lacks.
The centre aims to be a completely accessibly space, open from morning until night for individuals, the community and campaigning groups. The space aims to serve as a cafe, meeting point, workspace, play space and social centre, and aims to have facilities for performance, exhibition, information and outreach.
Josh Willacy, one of the team members behind the project, points to obstacles like these as "less obvious and hidden from view." He continues:
Overcoming them is no less urgent, no less of a necessity. Every community deserves a space to exist in that's safe, secure and filled with love and solidarity - and ours should be no different.
LGBT+ community centres have existed in cities like New York, LA, San Francisco, Berlin and Zurich for decades. Now, our time has come too.
Physical hubs like these can be a crucial outlet for those suffering with mental health problems. These issues are particularly prevalent within the LGBT+ community; a combination of stigma, misunderstanding and systemic barriers contribute to the disproportionate number of young, LGBT+ people suffering with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and other common mental health struggles.
Fellow member Sarah Moore highlights that this potential has already been picked up on:
What's obvious is that so many people see the potential of an LGBT+ community centre in London, a place for mutual support, intergenerational contact, service provision, celebrations, education and improving physical and mental health.
Another one of the organisers, Joseph Alloway, added:
There are already many amazing organisations doing incredible work to support the LGBT+ community in London. We hope that this space will be able to support what is already being done, and create a new space for our community.
In order to transform the centre into a genuine reality, volunteers need to raise a total of £50,000 before 13 June this year. £5,000 has already been raised through various small fundraisers, but the wider aim is to build a large, fully-equipped space with numerous facilities.
These include an event space, gender-neutral toilet and shower facilities, an office, an outdoor area and a series of advice and clinical rooms, all of which would accommodate affordable counselling sessions, health checkups and personalised advice.
The team is also looking to build a large cafe which would double up as a co-working space, filled with healthy, affordable food for those seeking a welcoming work environment or a place to unwind. Pay-as-you-can events are also on the menu, designed to nourish those unable to afford London's usual full-price fare.
If successfully funded, the centre would undeniably create vital space for LGBT+ people in need. With support already flooding in from influential figures such as Sadiq Khan, Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn, the landmark project is already well on its way towards enacting genuine change.