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  • Interview

Anti-fascist, pro-trans rights: lessons from Honor Oak

Sita Balani talks to organiser Ada Cable about anti-fascism and community defence in the face of increasing attacks on queer spaces

5 to 6 minute read

Three photos: one showing a large crowd; one showing a police cordon; one showing an activist being dragged away by police

While racism persists as a key force in far-right movements, its prominence has been partially displaced by a renewed focus on gender. This shift has drawn in more diverse constituencies than fascist groups typically attract.

We are seeing a rise in moral panics surrounding gender variance and ‘sexual deviance’, which condenses into the myth that shadowy forces – the ‘woke mob’, the globalists, the QAnon ‘deep state’ fantasy – are trying to corrupt children. Though transphobia has long supplied some of the mood music in British life, it plays a more distinct role in this new hard right which presents itself as an insurgent project – ‘trying to wake up the sheeple’. This formation – which Richard Seymour refers to as ‘inchoate fascism’ – comprises wellness gurus, gun-toting libertarians, incel podcasters and more.

For the American hard right, drag queens have become a proxy for lurid fears about the corruption and sexual exploitation of children. Although drag is now thoroughly mainstream, associations between drag, queer nightlife and gay men remain ripe for fearmongering. Drag Queen Story Hour, an anodyne family-friendly entertainment launched in 2015 in San Francisco, has become the key target of protests across America.

An offshoot, Drag Queen Story Time, has been taken up in Britain, to the delight of many parents. Here, too, the events have drawn relatively small protests from old-fashioned British fascists, most prominently in Honor Oak, South London, where anti-fascist counter protests have been highly effective. In April 2023, 700 people gathered to counter a demonstration against ‘Drag Queen Story Time’, outnumbering the far right seven to one. As numbers and public attention diminish, however, violence and state repression have become more pronounced. Recent demonstrations saw fascist attacks and arrests.

Local organiser, Ada Cable, gave me the view from the ground.

Sita Balani

You’re building links with a local church. How did you make that connection and what role has it played in the mobilisations?

Ada Cable

We got in touch with them by talking to the vicar, who was coming down to the event to support it. Then I went down to their afternoon tea for a month or so and got to know people involved.

I didn’t go down just to make contact with the church for this, but to build longer-term relationships with my community – I’m still going down, despite our victory. I’d like to volunteer with their scout troop. We donate to their food bank as a group.

Sita Balani

Have there been explicit racial elements to the protests?

Ada Cable

Yes. It’s been both in the policing and the fascists themselves.

Black and brown people are targeted by police officers for violence and arrested far more than white people of similar experience and who are taking similar actions. We’ve also seen the continued display of white-nationalist symbolism, like the celtic cross on police officers uniforms, and broader racist and fascist symbolism like the ‘thin blue line’ badges.

The fascists have had explicitly racist chants, and their banners have done things like target Diane Abbott – who knows why? She’s never been down! – but there’s also deeper roots. Many of the people organising these protests come from explicitly racist groups – Combat 18, Blood and Honour, and, for some reason, ‘Keep Bromley White’ have a significant chunk of ex-members involved in targeting Drag Queen Story Time. And the same panic over grooming has direct links to the panic about ‘south Asian grooming gangs’ in the 2010s, with the same people organising. It’s all based on a fascist narrative – ‘This group are coming for your kids’ – that goes back to the blood libel and before.

Beyond racist chanting and their targeting, it’s difficult to point to individual explicit instances, simply because it’s so deeply embedded within their movement. Every action they take is embedded in white supremacy – it’s always a blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby on their banners.

Sita Balani

What would you advise people to do, to build a community presence able to respond to far-right activity?

Ada Cable

Local networks are local networks. A church food bank is as good an organising base for anti-fascism as an anarchist affinity group or party branch.

The important thing is to know and be friends with people in your local area, especially people who are not in the stereotypical left/ anti-fascist mould. Don’t go down to convert, recruit or organise people, and don’t go to things where you won’t be able to fit in – if you’re a survivor of religious abuse, or a militant atheist, steer clear of the religious spaces.

The ideal place is somewhere which does things you don’t disagree with but which is outside your comfort zone, where you might have to explain your pronouns, but not somewhere you’re going to be murdered. A food bank, a local befriending programme, a playgroup which needs volunteers, a PTA, a sports club, a conservation society, whatever.

Get to know people. Do the work you’re there to do, talk about what everyone is talking about and also what’s going on in your life and what you’re doing politically – you’re not undercover. Make jokes about running away from cops or talk about protest laws.

The key thing is to be a normal human being in your neighbourhood, with other normal human beings. Not because you’re not queer/trans/black/brown/ wearing 20 anarchist patches/ covered in bruises from a fight with cops/whatever, or because you’re not political, but because those things are normal to be.

When the time comes and fash march in your area (or there’s an eviction, a problem with police, or a plan to gentrify the area) you can talk about that. Your networks will pay off in unexpected and rewarding ways, including less invisible ones. Talking to people about politics for a few minutes a week will make them that much better when their friend comes out as trans, or their family member experiences police violence.

But you have to get out of your comfort zone. Maybe get misgendered a few times. Have to talk to a person about their anti-semitism. Whatever. Just be a normal person in your neighbourhood.

This article first appeared in Issue #242 Fighting Fascism. Subscribe today to support independent socialist media and get your copy hot off the press!

Ada Cable is an organiser involved in the defence of the Honor Oak

Sita Balani is a senior lecturer in English at Queen Mary University of London

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