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Rosa Kusabbi, Ben Youdan and Dan Chan were all tasked with celebrating Liverpool’s diverse queer identity across its public spaces through a series of artworks. Featuring an illustration of flamboyant cosmopolitans, empowering ransom note typography and flora in righteous bloom, all three pieces were commissioned by LGBTQIA arts and culture festival, Homotopia, in response to a spate of violent homophobic and transphobic attacks over the summer.
Within just four days of going on display as part of the festival’s outdoor Queer the City exhibition, Kusabbi’s Hate Has No Place In Liverpool on School Lane was ripped from its wall, while Youdan’s Queer With No Fear at FACT was discovered scrunched up in a ball inside the Bombed Out Church premises. While both of these pieces were an attempt to send a unified response to the rise in anti-LGBT+ hate crime, their titles alone speak to the extent to which it has already infiltrated our streets.
The recent vandalism of LGBT+ artwork doesn’t just qualify as hate crime – it represents an attack against queer visibility, against art as activism, and an attempt to erase queer identity from our public spaces altogether. After a summer in which hundreds of people protested to affirm the rights of LGBT+ people to simply exist, homophobia has struck under the cover of darkness to remind us once more that this city has a problem, and this problem is more entrenched than many of us are prepared to admit. Because while Liverpool has much to be proud of, it continues to be plagued by a debilitating case of myopia. The belief in the city’s infallible exceptionalism is not only grossly tone deaf – it’s something that should make all of us very uncomfortable indeed.
Homophobia doesn’t always manifest through demonstrations of physical violence or with beautiful artworks being torn down from walls. The tentacles of this often invisible force stretch out to corrupt our micro interactions, our urban planning, and our justice system. Its diseased tenets are passed down into our children’s playgrounds where they are legitimised, before rising up again in the bowels of social media echo chambers where algorithms serve up hate and division in feeds funded by big business.
It thrives in indifference and spreads through inaction. Now more than ever, the share of responsibility falls on each and every one of us to ensure this city is one where its queer communities can be both visible and safe, both celebrated and believed in. In our local leaders’ discussions around regeneration and urban renewal, plans for how the city should look and operate must take into account the lived experiences of those for whom it has let down for too long.
The beautiful thing about cities is that different people experience them in different ways. But for many in this city, their daily experience is one that negates, challenges, and disputes their existence. We must acknowledge that, despite continuing to be rightly admired for its historic solidarity, community spirit and visceral identity, Liverpool has a long, long way to go before it can truly be a welcoming home for our queer friends.