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2017 Property Awards
Photography Bex Wade

Queer activists disrupt housing awards with shit and bugs

The Sexual Avengers protested London’s Property Awards to demand a better system for LGBTQ people

On the morning of the Property Developer Awards, I wake up coughing in a dank, windowless box which costs me £500 a month. The rent I constantly struggle to scrape together could just about secure a single seat at the £400-a-pop luxury gala, where the people driving London rents to sickeningly astronomic levels congregate to celebrate another year spent flogging penthouses to non-domiciled businessmen as a quirky addition to their retirement funds.

So when I heard that queer direct action group Sexual Avengers were planning to shut the show down by dumping manure and cockroaches on the doorstep of London’s Grosvenor Hotel –“shitting on their doorstep like they shit on ours” – I had to get involved.

The attendees are utterly homogenous. It’s white-tie tuxedo, figure-hugging cocktail dresses, and white faces as far as the eye can see. One smug twenty-something estate agent evidently feels his man-bun is an earth-shatteringly radical assault on the gender binary. The contrast between the pasty sea of capitalists and the rowdy mob of 50 or so protesters couldn’t be more stark, as a divine septuagenarian drag queen rubs shoulders with masked-up, black-clad anarchists.

The stats which brought this gorgeously varied crowd together are chilling: one in four homeless kids are queer, one in four queer people have suffered domestic abuse, one in five trans people have been denied housing because of their identity. But until I linked up with the Sexual Avengers in a McDonald's down the road from the Grosvenor, it was difficult to really understand how lethal the housing crisis can be to many queer people.

“Until I experienced it myself, I never understood how easily a person can slip through the net,” an Avenger named Dina tells me, as other activists peek into a box full of hundreds of live cockroaches and run around shrieking in horror. Dina is trans, and recently dropped out of uni because of a severe mental health crisis. (Nearly half of all young trans people have attempted suicide, while queer people are three times more likely to experience mental health issues than their straight counterparts).

Dina will shortly have to move back to her conservative hometown in the countryside – triggering a “serious deterioration” in her already fragile condition – or end up on the streets. Only the support of a charity stands between her and homelessness. The creation of a dedicated queer homeless shelter, which London currently lacks, is one of the demands the Avengers press on the property developers scuttling through a phalanx of screaming activists into the plush safety of the bar.

“To be honest, I only really feel sorry for the cockroaches. It is gross – but I know people who wake up with cockroaches in their kitchen every day” – Tabitha, Sexual Avengers

But though the protesters scream in the faces of the property magnates – “stop killing us”, “give us some free cocaine”, and so on – the bigwigs seem profoundly unbothered by all the commotion. Some stop, smirk, and shoot iPhone pics, but they’re soon safely ensconced behind a swelling barrier of cops.

That changes when two Avengers make their way through the crowd and upend an enormous black bag of manure onto the marbled steps of the hotel. It’s crude but effective, leaving a bevy of bowtied businessmen bumbling around in confusion and surrounded by snarling squatters. As they’re shuttled off in a panic to a side entrance, another Avenger dumps a writhing mass of cockroaches at their feet, while a sign reading ‘SOCIAL HOUSING NOT SOCIAL CLEANSING’ is planted in the steaming pile of dung.

“To be honest, I only really feel sorry for the cockroaches,” says Tabitha, another Sexual Avenger. “It is gross – but I know people who wake up with cockroaches in their kitchen every day.” Tabitha emphasises that the rising tide of queer homelessness is only the peak of a crisis which affects many LGBTQ* people. Queer people work in precarious jobs and lack family support networks, she says, leaving them trapped in insecure, unsanitary housing across London and the country. “We want 60,000 affordable homes built in London each year, at least, and a rent cap.”

Another activist, Stacey, spent last year nursing her terminally-ill partner, only to be faced with eviction when she died as the housing company refused to accept that their relationship was genuine. “(They were asking) why did I deserve the house where we lived, where I cared for her and where she died?”, she asks in disbelief.

It is difficult to know whether the protest had any real impact on the attendees. Faced down by a dwindling band of protesters as they crawl boozily into black cabs at the end of the night, some seem a little out of sorts, the evident pain in the activists’ voices touching a nerve through the haze of champagne.

But most seem profoundly unconcerned, mildly pissed and happy to clutch their “Occupier of the Year” award without thinking about the queer youth they are pricing out of their homes onto the cold streets of London. A security guard uses a ‘PROPERTY IS THEFT placard’ to shovel away the manure, and the cockroaches are ground beneath heavy police boots.

Outside a petrol station two doors down, a homeless woman is huddled in a sleeping-bag, shivering in the biting wind. Property developer after property developer sweeps in, buys his Marlboro Golds and sweeps out, without giving her a second glance.