Cabaret Against the Hate Speech

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Alturi Contributor

Cabaret Against the Hate Speech is a newly formed collective based in Glasgow working to organize counter-protests against all forms of hate speech across Scotland through the use of live music, song, and dance. I conversed with a spokesperson from the collective to learn more about their work and to discuss the role art can play in activism.

Can you start by describing the work of Cabaret Against the Hate Speech?

Cabaret Against the Hate Speech is an ally and LGBT+ organization that runs counter-protests against hate speech. Our three main goals are to sing together, celebrate our community, and challenge hate. We are based in Glasgow, but we have done protests in Edinburgh as well, and we will always aim to travel to wherever there is hate, if possible. We’ve organized three large events, and each one has gotten bigger and bigger each time. The first one had only 30 people, the second one had close to 200, and the third one had over 100. It’s always a positive kind of vibe that we have, and we get a lot of positive feedback for the stuff we do.

What led to the founding of the collective earlier this year?

The collective started because our lead artist was attacked online last year for a show they do for kids. The attack was led by a political party called the Scottish Family Party, and they were the first people we protested. At first, our lead artist was just going to go along and protest by themself and sing songs. They told some of their performer friends, who said, “Oh, I want to come,” and these friends told their friends, and eventually, it turned into Cabaret Against the Hate Speech.

The protest got shared on Reddit, Twitter, and Instagram, and this was before we had a profile. We had drummers, singers, and musicians. There were only around 30-35 people there, but it was wonderful because the community came together. It was a wonderful day, and everyone felt very positive at the end, I think. From there, it has grown and grown. Now, we have people who are essentially the tech and sound group — they bring the speakers. Then we have some who volunteered to be stage managers for the day. They were like stewards or chaperones; they kept everyone safe. We have a dedicated videographer to document everything for promotions.

It started with one person, but it has really grown to encompass the community and showcase the talent of the community. It really is about the community coming together and celebrating us and coming together as a collective and as a family, a chosen family. And all to stand up against hate and show that it is not accepted in our country, our cities, and our towns. That it will always be challenged. I’m proud of how amazing our community is. People come and bring big banners, big signs — they take the theme of the protest and go with it, and that’s really encouraging to see.

What led the collective to specifically focus on music and dance as a way to counter-protest?

Our lead artist is a performer in Scotland, and they felt that they weren’t always clued up on politics and that they didn’t really know how to use their voice in the political realm. They thought, “How can I use my voice? Oh, I can literally sing.” They saw they could use their singing voice to combat hate and intolerance.

Talking to other performers, there’s this wonderful idea of using queer joy to combat hate. It is a great way of using your voice because it leaves people feeling more positive at the end and not so emotionally drained. No one gets sore in the throat from shouting chant after chant to people who aren’t going to be paying attention to you. That’s one of the reasons we don’t engage with protestors. They’ve made their mind up, and we’re not going to waste our time trying to convince them. We’re here to have a good time and to spread joy, love, and hope. The wonders and the power of queer joy are really transformative in a space. We have had people shout horrible things at us on multiple occasions, and all they are doing is shouting at people singing songs and dancing. It makes them look more foolish. It’s this kind of idea that we will always exist, we will always be here, and we will celebrate our lives no matter what. And that doesn’t just include queer people.

Our work is quite focused on the trans community right now, but we are always a voice for any type of hate speech. We’ve got a project coming up for pro-abortion. It’s a different protest, but it’s activism through art still. We will always be there to stand up against any kind of hate speech, whether it’s racism, misogyny, transphobia, sexism, or women’s rights — we’re always going to speak out against it.

Could you go into a little more detail regarding how counter-protests are organized?

We try to keep our ears close to the ground and keep an eye on certain groups that work in Scotland. These include the Scottish Family Party, UFT Scotland, and obviously the TERF organizations in Scotland that are quite active. We can’t be everywhere, so we try to pick the big ones. Right now, there are protests every weekend or every other day, it’s ridiculous. These people clearly have a lot of time to waste, standing outside buildings and shouting rubbish at people.

The first protest we knew about a month in advance. Our lead artist knew about that one because they knew about the Scottish Family Party so that one was planned well in advance. Then, Posie Parker, we knew about for a long time, and we knew they were going to be in Glasgow so that one was an obvious one to do as well. The third event was again the Scottish Family Party which went outside the gender clinic in Glasgow, which also does abortion. They announced their protest around three weeks before they did it, and we found out through Twitter. Someone tagged us, but we’d already seen it as well. People are now sharing stuff with us, asking, “Are you going to be here?” We try to either support them or offer advice if they need it.

For instance, Posie Parker is going to Ireland next month. She’s going to Belfast and Dublin, and a group in Belfast said they were inspired by us and created the collective Songs for Solidarity, and they are going to do the exact same thing we do — they’re going to dance, sing, and have a good time. I think it’s beautiful that they’ve taken what we do and made it their own. They’re going to have dancers and performers and a safe space for afterward.

We can’t do every protest. We’ve got another one maybe planned for the end of April, which is to protest the film Adult Human Female, a TERF documentary being shown at Edinburgh University. We are still trying to work out the logistics. We have a small team, so we need to get the resources for sound equipment and tech, but it’s also whether the people who are organizing these sorts of protests want us to lead. They have to understand we have a set way of doing things, and as long as they are on board, we are happy to help.

For the most part, we show support by just being there as a person. We have plenty of people on our team who just turn up to a march or protest to show face and show support but not lead the event. I’m well aware there are times when I’m going to have to take a step back and let someone else take the lead when it’s not to do with me. Especially if we decide to do more things based on racism or with people of color. It’s not a good look if a white cis guy is leading something like that; it’s better for people of color to be leading or at least more involved in the process.

The community is really good. They tell us when stuff is happening, and they tag us, asking if we can come along and support them. We’ve had a lot of people raising money for stuff who ask us to share stuff, and we do that a lot, or we share other people’s protests. I think what I see with the protest groups is that we are all there for each other. We are all fighting the same thing, we’re standing up for the same thing. Half the battle for any of these events is getting the word out, making sure people know about it, and encouraging them to come along, or if they don’t want to physically join, to share it. I remember the first and second events we did; I was scared, especially the one with Posie Parker, because I knew it would be huge. It was the biggest one she had in the whole of the UK, people traveled from London and Ireland to come to Glasgow. It was in the middle of Glasgow, in George Square. There was a huge amount of people and a lot of police presence. We had a lot of incidents of confrontation as well. But overall, it was an amazing day.

What responses have you seen to your work?

The feedback has been really great. A lot of people have emailed us afterward, thanking us for putting it on. We hear things like “I left feeling so energized and positive,” “I felt so hopeful,” or even just along the lines of “Oh, I had a great  time; it was a great day out,” or “It felt wonderful to be a part of my community and to celebrate, and to not be so drudged down by the negatives of this stuff.”

The negative side is that we have received a lot of hate and the obvious sort of rubbish that transphobes, or any kind of hate speaker, sprouts. But it doesn’t really bother us because they’re not who we are creating this for. We only care what our community thinks about us and if we are doing the right thing. That’s why we like to try and keep it open as much as possible, to keep the community involved as much as possible. If someone knows better than us or has more experience, or wants to do something, we will always try to accommodate and encourage them to participate in the Cabaret. That’s what makes it special, that it’s not just one person, it’s a community coming together.

At the second counter-protest, we had someone doing a Jewish prayer because there’s a lot of Nazi stuff happening right now. That was beautiful to hear. We’ve had the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence — they’re a worldwide queer nun organization raising money for AIDS and HIV — bless us and do a poem. Then we had a trans country singer sing for us. We are always taking requests from the audience, like “What do you want to hear? What do you want to sing?” And if the lead artist can’t sing it, we’ll just put it on and have a little dance party to it. We had a conga line one time, a vogue party another time — it’s just really nice.

How do you deal with safety concerns and any online harassment? 

Our lead artist was doxxed pretty much immediately, but that was expected because they are quite well-known in Scotland. There have also been right-wing Nazis at protests, and they’ve shared stuff on Telegram saying horrible things. At one counter-protest, someone was filming our lead artist very intently. But all they’re getting is people singing songs. It just looks foolish what they are trying to say.

We have also had instances of confrontation happening, but the more we do these events, the more we’re learning how to keep everyone as safe as possible. We are working with the police liaison as much as possible to make sure that happens, and we always have guidelines for the day to keep everyone safe and all on the same page. We don’t want to prohibit anyone from how they want to protest, but if they want to join our Cabaret and our protest, they have to stick to our rules for the day. It just keeps everyone safe, and that way, we are aiming for the same goal. It’s like stage directions, everyone is going to stay in the same spot and hit their marks. But if someone did want to protest another way, we can encourage them to do that on the outskirts or outwith our protest. We believe protests come in many different forms, and this is just one way we like to do it. We think there is a much valued time and place for the chanting, the shouting, and the marching, those more militant and more traditional forms of protest. That is a very valid way of protest, but we choose to do it this way.

How would you describe the current atmosphere in Scotland, or more broadly across the UK, in regard to LGBTQ+ rights? What about more broadly in regard to racism or women’s rights?

I think Scotland is at a really interesting moment right now. We passed the GRR bill, which makes it easier for trans people to self-identify with a lot less red tape and dehumanizing procedures. Then that got blocked by the UK parliament. And all I am saying, and all we are saying, is that trans hate is constant. Even with the shooting in Nashville, the focus is just on that it was a trans man. It’s any excuse to be transphobic, no matter what it’s about. There’s no need to debate someone’s existence, but it’s just constant. And the media is not helping. It’s just constant clickbait fueling fake outrage at things that don’t actually exist.

For instance, Posie Parker was in Australia and New Zealand, and she got chucked out of New Zealand. Both countries called her an anti-trans activist, and that’s what she is, that’s what she focuses on 99.9 percent of the time. In the UK, she’s called a woman’s rights activist, and it’s very different marketing in the media for her. She’s hailed as this champion of women’s rights who got kicked out of New Zealand, and it’s ridiculous. Then you’ve got the rise of the far-right in general, where Nazis are walking the streets now with no shame. They’re not even hiding this kind of stuff anymore.

I think that because Scotland passed the GRR bill, it’s put a magnifying glass on the country. We’ve got J.K. Rowling, who lives up here as well. It’s a lot in Scotland, and it seems like nowhere else in the UK talks about it as much. It’s just constant clickbait, excuses for transphobia under the guise of protecting women and children, false narratives, and half-truths to demonize the trans community.

On top of that, you’ve got blatant misogyny related to abortion rights. Currently, 40 Days for Life are here in Scotland. They stand outside abortion clinics for 40 days, for 12 hours each day. We did a little protest, just two people next to them, and it was crazy. They do hourly shifts, they swap in and out, and they use children and disabled people as emotional, manipulative tools. It’s just disgusting. Scotland is going to pass legislation requiring buffer zones probably by the end of this year, so soon, like what’s already happening in England, people are going to be arrested because they refuse to stay away from abortion clinics.

Everything is just a lot. Speaking for myself, as a cis gay man, none of this at the moment truly affects me, but it affects my friends, my colleagues, and it affects my community. And I know in my heart of hearts that as soon as they take away trans rights, they are going to take away lesbian and gay rights, and then they will come for women’s rights. It’s very clear how that starts. For example, look at Iowa, where they are taking away trans youth healthcare. They want us not to exist, so they will take away everything to stop us from participating in society. It starts with toilets, then it’s healthcare, and so on.

Compared to the rest of the UK, Scotland is pretty forward-thinking on LGBT rights, and I think that’s why they passed the GRR bill. They knew it was important. And next year, new hate crime legislation will come into effect. If someone is in the street saying trans women are men, they will be done for a hate crime just like who would shout anything about Jews or black people on the streets right now. 

Is there anything you wish to add?

It’s great to see people taking our ideas and turning them into something else of their own, like in the case of Belfast. I was really touched by that. And I’m so glad they are doing something. Looking at what happened in New Zealand, and in Melbourne, Canberra, and Hobart, especially, it seems like Posie Parker is on the run. She got run out of Australia and New Zealand, that’s what it looks like. She won’t say that, but that’s what happened. We don’t endorse violence, but the tomato juice was hilarious. The fact she’s comparing it to actual assault is laughable, considering she endorses the sterilization of trans men and has said to straight men that they should go into women’s toilets with guns to protect them.

They just don’t understand what they are saying. If their genuine concern was about women, why can’t it include trans women? The reason trans women will never be included in their minds is because they don’t see trans women as women. That is the crux of their argument. No matter what you say to them, they don’t see trans women as women, they just see them as men in dresses. That’s why there’s no point debating with TERFs because there will never be a compromise. I think this way of protesting is a great way of doing it because you get to celebrate and have a good time and make them look silly. All their photos and videos are going to be of people singing to ABBA and Cher and musicals and show tunes. They’re like “Look at these people, these monsters,” and we’re just singing “You can dance, you can jive.” They just look really silly.

I’m glad the word is spreading. If all goes well, we’ll continue and even if we don’t, I think it’s made a good enough impact for others to take the idea and turn it into something else.

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