How ILGO & ACT UP went to Belfast

Belfast's queer community center, Queer Space turned 10 this year! So we were thinking back about its history... which starts in New York, in the tense, grubby meetings of ILGO and ACT UP. They asked for a birthday letter (although it was started as a collective, I was technically the mommy. Ten points for Irish Queers!) so here are snippets from it. You can read the rest on mishmoshkeleh.

Queer Space is ... a direct offshoot of the truly revolutionary direct action organizing of [ILGO and] ACT UP – the movement built on the lesson of AIDS ... that we had to stand up and demand some space in the world, and stop worrying about being polite and safe, or we would die. ... Queer Space has transformed Belfast just by existing. It’s just a crazy example of how taking the risk of breaking silence, saying things out loud that are maybe considered irrelevant or obnoxious (like “Hey, I’m queer!”), can change everything.

[In 1995] I went along to an ILGO meeting and told them about the plan to make a new queer space in Belfast, and asked if they’d help fund it. I thought I was very bold going there, and I also remember that the meeting was intimidating as hell. It was nothing like Belfast... These were Irish immigrants who were talking about challenging the Cardinal’s homophobia, which seemed unbelievably brazen. Their analysis ... was based on big ideas about democracy, anti-imperialism that included Irish republicanism, and breaking old chains like the one that says people should behave like good little boys and girls even as they’re marginalized... When I asked about money for a queer library in Belfast, they looked a bit blank, said they had no funding themselves – and got right back to the subject of how to change New York.

I stayed anyway. I never asked about money again...[but by] the time I ... was ready to go back [to Belfast], ILGO and ACT UP had completely changed my sense of what was possible.

The plan was ...to run an organization without bosses... to politicize queer identity, to explicitly refuse to hide the existence and nature of this queer place. And to sit down with each other to make deliberate decisions about what a Belfast queer community should look like aside from a pub crew or a population targeted for health outreach.

[1997] We took Belfast by storm, hanging flyers for events and sometimes just flyers about the fact that queers existed; we posted the word “queer” all over the city. We got lots of media attention, sent out press releases, maintained e-mail lists, made connections with queer groups in other places. We formed a little direct action cell called Queer Action Belfast which had a particularly great logo, and made t-shirts, and protested Newt Gingrich and posted signs asking “Do you love the lesbians in your life?” To me, it was like the sun coming up.

(More: "Queer Space, you old dog!" on mishmoshkeleh.com)