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Powerful new LGBT+ anthology with Beth Ditto, Peppermint and Olly Alexander is a vital call to action

Patrick Kelleher June 20, 2021
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Amelia Abraham, editor of We Can Do Better Than This.

Amelia Abraham, editor of We Can Do Better Than This. (Vic Lentaigne)

Amelia Abraham’s new LGBT+ anthology is a powerful manifesto on the future of LGBT+ rights around the world – but as she explains, it’s about more than legal battles.

We Can Do Better Than This is a fascinating anthology featuring personal essays from a wide-range of queer activists and artists, including Olly Alexander, Pabllo Vittar, Amrou Al-Kadhi, Juliet Jacques and many others.

Each contributor brings their own unique perspective on the future of LGBT+ rights. The result is a timely reflection on how far we have come – and it serves as a vital reminder of how much further we have to go.

When publishing house Vintage approached Amelia Abraham and asked if she would edit the anthology, she jumped straight on board.

“It kind of fit into the things I’d already been thinking about,” Abraham says. “It was really obvious that I would say yes to editing it. We talk a lot about this idea that we haven’t come as far as we think, but I do feel that there aren’t enough conversations about what we can do about that, and how we can actually take action to make life better for queer people.”

We Can Do Better Than This confronts those questions head-on by including perspectives from people across the LGBT+ spectrum and from all across the world. Divided into six sections, the book’s contributors discuss safety, visibility, dating, love, gender and activism, with each writer bringing their own experiences into the mix.

Amelia Abraham spoke to PinkNews about progressing LGBT+ rights, the importance of keeping the fight global, and why human stories are vital in the battle for equality.

Queer identities are still criminalised in so many parts of the world. Did you set out to draw attention to that fact in We Can Do Better Than This?

Yeah, I think so. Sometimes I think we need to hear human stories in order to really understand, so I hope one thing the book does is to give a platform to a handful of activists from different countries where their identity or even talking about their queer identity is forbidden by law. And that includes contributors from Bangladesh, Russia, Nigeria and Uganda. I think also sometimes there’s – rightly so – a sensitivity in terms of talking about the situation in other places, about other cultural contexts, especially as a lot of those laws that exist in places, for instance, Bangladesh being a great example, were in place during British colonial rule. And so the most important thing we can do is hear from activists working in those countries about how we can help them achieve what they need.

We Can Do Better Than This Amelia Abraham
We Can Do Better Than This by Amelia Abraham is published by Vintage. (Provided)

Beth Ditto’s essay, and many others in the book, draw attention to class as a prism through which we need to look at queer liberation. Were you particularly keen to bring class into the equation? 

Yes, totally. That was hugely important to me, so I was really happy when that came up because it feels hugely important, and it is something we don’t talk about enough both generally and in terms of LGBT+ rights. I think Beth makes some really good points on that subject. For instance, class affects LGBT+ people living with disabilities in terms of access to healthcare, or if you’re unable to work and you’re on disability benefit, then if affects your overall ability to survive. Beth talks about how she has an autoimmune disease and how expensive her health insurance is, and so she thinks very often about other queer people who might be living with similar disabilities that aren’t able to access healthcare in America, where they don’t have an NHS. She also points out that this is the case for trans people in America – you might not have insurance or healthcare packages that allow access to lifesaving hormone therapies. 

Class is really important, and it comes up in quite a few essays. Carlos Siciliano writes about LGBTQ+ homelessness and how a lot of the gender non-conforming, non-binary or trans youth that he worked with over the years as the founder of the Ali Forney Center were engaging in sex work in order to survive, and this could put their lives at risk in certain situations. So many queer people are disproportionately put in these situations because they’re being thrown out of their homes. And also because they’re not accepted by family and because of disproportionate workplace discrimination. It’s important to talk about class for all of these reasons because already marginalised queer people can be further marginalised by class.

The book also touches on transphobia in the British media – most notably in Julie Jacques brilliant essay. What can we as a community do about the toxicity that has become so rampant in the press? 

We can stand up to it, complain about it, report it when we see it, and we can share our thoughts on social media, write in and make formal complaints when we see something transphobic. There needs to be more regulation around media transphobia and that’s something that Juliet [Jacques] talks about in her essay. We can also create alternative spaces where we tell positive stories about trans and non-binary people. Something I’ve always tried to focus on in my career is opportunities for trans and non-binary people to be profiled or platformed or commissioned to talk about and write about things that are beyond just being trans or non-binary. It might be their art, or their science, or whatever people are working on. 

I think that books, films and TV shows can go on to have a bigger and more lasting life than transphobic comment pieces that certain “gender critical feminists” write on the internet. So ultimately these platforms are really powerful spaces for us to tell our stories. And I think the impact of Pose or Paris Lees’ book or different forms of trans storytelling – they’re going to be so much greater than anything a transphobe can write online, and that’s brilliant. It’s a great way to focus our energy on storytelling through literature and art.

Amelia Abraham
Amelia Abraham. (Olivia Thompson)

There are so many amazing contributors in this book – was there anyone you would have liked to include that didn’t get in there? 

I definitely asked one or two people who my Mum’s heard of who weren’t able to partake in the book but I’m really, really happy with the final list. There are some household names that will captivate people’s attention who might not normally buy a queer book, but there’s also loads of absolute queer legends and heroes I think queer communities can kind of get excited about and geek over. I’m really happy there are some people that the core queer readership will be able to be thrilled about. 

I’m also really grateful that I got to ask people that maybe no one will have heard of that I’ve met over the years who have incredible stories that need to be heard by the world. I think Mazharul Islam is a really great example of that. He has lived through so much, having to flee Bangladesh after his close friends were murdered in a homophobic hate crime and his life was at risk. And then every year he stages a vigil outside the Bangladesh High Commission in London for his friends and calls for decriminalisation. To be able to uplift the message that someone like that is putting out is really great.

We Can Do Better Than This specifically deals with the future of LGBT+ rights, but it’s not all about rights on paper. Was that important to you? 

When you use a term like LGBT+ rights it can sound a little bit unwelcoming, because you think you might just be reading about legal frameworks, but we’re really not just talking about rights on paper. If anything the book is about what we need beyond rights on paper, and it does talk about rights on paper like decriminalisation, but it very much takes that as a point of departure and it talks about all the change we need to see in the world beyond legal change – although those things are fundamental. But how can we erase HIV stigma, for instance, or how can we see more trans-masculinity in the media? Or how do we take care of LGBT+ elderly people? I hope that people discover that it is about LGBT+ rights, but it’s also about so much more than that. It’s ultimately about caring for one another better, and it’s about improving people’s lives.

We Can Do Better Than This, edited by Amelia Abraham, is out now and can be purchased from Bookshop.org.

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Related topics: Beth Ditto, Lady Phyll, Olly Alexander, peppermint

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