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London Prise Voices4
Photography Poppy Marriott

The UK’s newest LGBTQ+ activist group Voices4 marches for those who cannot

Forming originally in response to the persecution of gay men in Chechnya, the direct action group is setting its sights on Boris Johnson’s Britain

Founded in 2017 by activist and writer Adam Eli, Voices4 is a direct action advocacy group whose members are using their privilege as out, metropolitan New Yorkers to magnify the voices of queer people around the world. The group initially formed in response to the genocide in Chechnya, a wave of persecution which saw over a hundred queer people rounded up, detained, and tortured by police in the Russian Republic. But two years on, Voices4 has rapidly expanded the issues that it responds to. Whether focusing on intersex and trans rights or redressing the marginalisation of people of colour within the queer community, its work is refreshingly intersectional. The group's slogan “queer people anywhere are responsible for queer people everywhere” speaks for itself.

A few weeks ago, at World Pride in New York, Voices4 participated in the Queer Liberation March – a march with no police and no corporate floats. A grassroots alternative to the heavily coopted New York Pride, the Queer Liberation March is less about marketing and more about making change – a sentiment supported by the forty-five-thousand people who joined to ‘reclaim pride’ as they walked up Sixth Avenue. Voices4 chose to march under the banner “Marching for Those Who Cannot”, holding placards scrawled with the Instagram DMs sent from queer teenagers around the world (from Turkey, to Yemen, Egypt, Russia and Iran) and wearing white t-shirts, jeans, and pink triangles; a uniform inspired by the group's activist forebears Act Up. It was organised, it was modern, and it was powerful. 

In the UK, there’s a similar disjunction between the relentless mainstreaming of Pride and the reality of existing as an LGBTQ+ person: the number of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers being deported has risen by 52 per cent, while 53 per cent of young trans people have experienced a hate crime or incident based on their gender identity, and, to top it all off, Boris Johnson, a man who described gay men as “bum boys” and black people as “piccaninnies”, has just become prime minister. In what feels like a pretty bleak climate, Voices4 has decided to launch in Britain to set a vital agenda for queer people and their allies, educating on issues that affect the LGBTQ+ community. From the die-ins, kiss-ins, and whip-sharp Instagram broadcasting of its actions on the other side of the Atlantic, Voices4 is bringing the same savvy approach to the UK to achieve its goal of queer liberation. 

Two days before Pride In London, to launch its new London chapter, Voices4 London announced it would be holding an alternative meet up and march. It started in the LGBTQ+ homeless shelter and community centre The Outside Project, and sure enough, within an hour, the place was packed with young queer people from around the UK and abroad. The youngest I spoke to was 16 years old. 50 years after sex workers, trans women of colour, butch lesbians and homeless youth took to the streets in the Stonewall riots, here is a new generation of queer people who have been brought together by social media. 

“Voices4 lays out a really beautiful space for empowering the queer community and most importantly, educating people” – Harris Reed 

The goal that day was to march alongside other queer-focused non-profits and charities, behind the main Pride In London procession, which contained the likes of Barry’s Bootcamp, The Met Police and The Home Office. “The corporates are only here for one day a year and then the rest of the time they don’t give a crap,” points out Darren Mew, one of the Voices4 London organisers. 

At The Outside Project, signs were made, T-shirts were spray painted and make-up was applied as everyone got ready together. Wednesday, one of the UK organisers, was adamant about the need for a group like Voices4 in the UK: “There needs to be a dramatic change in terms of allies being prepared to do even the bare minimum for us. Many of us are now hoping to mobilise to support and empower each other.”

As designer Harris Reed pointed out to me at the meeting, Voices4 provide a framework for that mobilisation to happen: “Everyone’s looking every which way to find answers and Voices4 lays out a really beautiful space for empowering the queer community and most importantly, educating people”.

By the time of their next meeting, a couple of weeks later, the work that the London chapter had done on the streets and online (it had recently launched its own Instagram @Voices4London) seemed to have taken effect. With only a few weeks notice, over a hundred people showed up. “I was blown away by the turnout… you couldn’t help but feel inspired to start making a difference. The energy was electric,” noted writer Tom Prior. 

During the meeting, members discussed their intention to collaborate with those affected by the issues they want to tackle – in this case, Transmissions, an activist group fighting for trans, non-binary, intersex and gender non-conforming people’s rights. Voices4 decided that it will also be working closely alongside Lesbians and Gays Support the Migrants, as well as The Outside Project with whom they share the meeting space. 

Voices4 organiser Prishita Maheshwari-Aplin explains: “One goal is to provide education for those working in fields where they might come into direct contact with members of the LGBTQ+ community; we’re looking to collaborate with UK-based social enterprises to deliver educational workshops to students, teachers and healthcare workers.” 

Last week, a contingent from Voices4 London assembled at Fck Govt Fck Boris, the anti-Boris Johnson protest in central London, braving the sweltering heatwave that, for the first day of the new prime minister’s leadership, was aptly compared by some to hell. Sal Morton, who was at the protest, sees Voices4 London as a part of a larger tapestry of resistance to the current establishment: “It is so noteworthy that our march today was led and organised by people of colour… queer, anti-racist, anti-fascist, environmentalist, and leftist groups showed up today to march against Johnson. A man who is a climate change denier, as well as sexist, racist, classist and queerphobic. It feels like we’re at a crux, a turning point.”

Whereas activist groups of old may have focussed on the one issue, what’s clear about Voices4 London, and the generation of young people it represents, is the ambition and scope. Its members are clued up, willing to learn, and resolute about the breadth of issues they want to tackle and the importance of collaboration when covering them: “We try to provide a support system while decentring ourselves from the narrative; inviting to our platforms the people who need to be heard most,” explains Andrea di Giovanni, a Voices4 London organiser. 

Looking forward, Voices4 London’s overall mission is to help draw attention to issues of oppression faced by UK-based and international members of the LGBTQ+ community, as and when they happen. The impression one gets, again and again, speaking to these young activists, is that they are anything but complacent. Tao, one of the many young people who decided to spend their Pride marching with Voices4, gets it: “If any member of our community is being oppressed then so are all of us. None of us are free until we’re all free. Voices4 is a way of tackling that.”

Follow @Voices4London on Instagram for news and upcoming actions. Their next meeting will be at The Outside Project, 42 – 44 Roseberry Rd, London, August 9