Return of The Bang Bus: ‘World AIDS Day Special’

Having interviewed him after the Bang Bus’ first raucous, irreverent journey through London’s queer history, HISKIND had the pleasure of catching up again with activist, agitator, and queer mischief-maker, Dan Glass, about what happened when the Bang Bus returned, World AIDS Day, and what it was like to grow up in the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

For those of our readers that are new to this, give us a quick recap on why the bang bus, and what happened during your first madcap, queer, bang bus trip?

On a sunny September afternoon the first ‘BANG BUS. HOMO HISTORY. HOMO HEDONISM. HOMO HOPE’ launched on the streets of London. This year, the 50th anniversary of the ‘Sexual Offences’ Act – the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales and the 50th Anniversary of the ‘Abortion Act’ has proved a monumental occasion to explore where our sexual freedoms have come from, where we are today and where we need to go.

The Establishment might like us to believe that we now the law has changed there is nothing left to fight for. But we all know that oppression is never far around the corner. People all over the world still live in fear because of sexist and homophobic persecution. With rising political bigotry that emboldens fascists to attack our freedoms – it is no wonder that LGBTQI+ hate crime is on the rise and that is why the struggle continues.

The theme of BANG BUS no.1 was protecting our queer spaces. ⅓ of spaces have been shut down in London over the past 5 years because of turbo-capitalism and hyper-unregulated gentrification. By visiting iconic queer clubs across London on the bus with the DJ’s, hosts, punters and dancers who helped make these venues so special catalysed an understanding that our journey has been one not of isolated coincidences but of a collective journey to create life through spaces to dance, love and thrive.

Since then the BANG BUS ‘Bus conductors’ team have been inundated with requests to bring stories of oppression and resistance to life and we now have themes for every monthly BANG BUS. The next one was World AIDS Day.

“Brilliant fun and wonderfully spontaneous. A fun and friendly whirl through traffic in a magic created world upon an open topped bus with laughter, joy and magic. Onlookers were seduced into viewing into an alternative world view whilst being reminded of a continuous and painful struggle. AIDS is not over was a clear message as well as the importance of preserving NHS HIV services and finally the duty for us all, collectively, to honour our past history with HIV/AIDS as a nation. We must create a tribute to HIV in London. It was the best AIDS show in town!”
— Jane Clendon, Nurse during the 80’s and 90’s.’

So on Saturday November 25th an open-topped double-decker bus draped in ‘Hands off Our NHS’ and ‘Tories Don’t Die of Ignorance’ drove around Soho and Westminster to take our message to Parliament to launch this year’s World AIDS Day celebrations.

The ‘BANG BUS – World AIDS Day Special’ was an immersive theatrical anti-stigma bus-tour journeying through the decades and places to bring the history of HIV+ in London to life. The Bang Bus exists to show gratitude for those who gave selflessly through challenging times, to demand a permanent HIV / AIDS memorial and to support the many minority communities face very specific issues that are still neglected.

High-profile pop-star Lana Pellay, along with other celebrities, performers and dancers involved in HIV+ advocacy, nurses, doctors and healthcare workers shared and performed to the audience on the bus about life on the frontline of the National Health Service (NHS).

This was to expose that any cuts to HIV or sexual health support services as part of the austerity programme is in direct contradiction to the welfare of the HIV / AIDS community and above we have to do everything in our powers as a community to protect the NHS. We wanted to expose the Government’s role in the continuing HIV/ AIDS epidemic and the lack of permanent memorialisation of those no longer with us who have died as part of the historic governmental controversies institutional failure and and pharmaceutical greed at the root of the epidemic. The bus finished by hosting a party to celebrate staff at ‘56 Dean Street’ – London’s busiest Sexual Health clinic – for their recent 90% reduction in HIV+ diagnosis – as we celebrated their huge contribution to the welfare of London’s marginalised, queer, sex-positive and vulnerable people. As we journeyed through the London on the bus on the afternoon, navigating through London’s iconic moments which have contributed to the rollercoaster of dealing with the HIV+ pandemic, it was an honour to pay tribute to the nurses at Dean Street who carry us forward.

Above all the BANG BUS – World AIDS Day Special was a sacred place for people to share love, loss, hope and solidarity to continue to weave our stories together and continue to strengthen the journey to end the HIV / AIDS pandemic.

“I support the ‘BANG BUS – World AIDS Day Special’ in memory of my friend Mark Ashton who did so much to make common cause with the victims of social injustice.”
— Sarah John Morris, singer with the Communards

“The freezing weather was chased away by the love and energy from an amazingly patient group of passengers. When the bus got stuck in traffic our little queer bang bus community raised their voices to those we loved and lost to AIDS as I led a good old fashion sing a long. Our version of TLCs Waterfalls was a particular triumph.” Alex Green. Singer/Writer/Activist.

What can revelers expect from the return of the Bang Bus?

I’m a BIG FAN of anniversaries. ‘None of us need anniversaries to remind us of what we cannot forget’ says the great writer and activist Arundhati Roy and next year’s 30th anniversary of the beginning of ‘Section 28’ is one such occasion. “Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay.” – Margaret Thatcher, October 1987. Shortly after she made this statement Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 was introduced that prohibited local authorities from “promoting” homosexuality or gay “pretended family relationships”, and prevented councils spending money on educational materials and projects perceived to promote a gay lifestyle.

So to mark the beginning of 2018 – ‘the year of ‘Sexual Freedom’ our first BANG BUS will be a journey of queer sexual freedom journeying to places that have historical relevance to queer sex such as famous cruising spots. Each stop will be reinterpreted through an erotic art performance enabling everyone to think about the future of queer sex as a way of resistance in heteronormative spaces and celebrate it in itself as a political action. We will reflect on how, even though we’ve made progress with the teaching of homosexuality as acceptable, there’s still a huge stigma surrounding queer sex and the education of queer sex.

“On Saturday I felt again the solidarity that saw us through the worst of the plague. Charming, anarchic and community based.It felt like a hug.”
— Eoin Whelan

We live by the motto ‘All struggles are connected’. The BANG BUS exists to harness our history to provide our empowerment for the present. That is why we are also prioritising giving free tickets to some of the most marginalised amongst our queer family. There has been a great deal of interest from LGBTQIA+ migrants, homeless and others who want to come on the bus but have no cash. Our team involves experienced human rights advocates, community workers, theatre makers and world -renowned 1960’s / 1970’s feminist and LGBTQIA+ rights activists. Through our growing networks the opportunities we see in our communities is the ability for people to confront the existing structures that enable homophobia. We will continue to utilise a dynamic array of creative, cultural, artistic and performance methodologies which give queer history a renewed and colourful lease of life.

Spanning all corners of London the March BANG BUS will commemorate International Women’s Day Special as well as marking the 100 years of the Suffragettes and April’s BANG BUS will be an LGBTQIA+ Migrant Special – to coincide with the discussions on overturning global homophobic legislation at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) the BANG BUS will drive outside it and serve as the public cultural platform agitating for a global movement of creative activism to decriminalise homosexuality everywhere and provide true freedom for all. It will enable LGBTQIA+ artists from places of conflict to tell their stories, share their cultures and take part in a life-changing experience.

Aswell as the BANG BUS we will continue with our regular walking tours and special events – themes are (1) Power (2) Sex and Identity and (3) Spaces – their historical and contemporary significance and how these have changed under processes of capitalism, austerity and gentrification. We have been inundated with requests to repeat our 2017 events including a series of ‘Polari and voguing queer history classes’ as well as the ‘George Michael Wants you’ celebration of cruising party on the anniversary of his arrest in the Miami toilets – all details here

What was it like to live grow up through the height of the epidemic and how did this impact your choice to run this project?

I was born in 1983, the year that ‘HIV’ was recognised as ‘HIV’ rather than the gay plague. I grew up hearing about HIV/ AIDS and was always interested. It was until I was infected that my face was slammed against the window to try and understand the gulf behind the laudable policy intentions and the impacts on the ground. The UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously said “Any set of social and economic arrangement which is not founded on individual responsibility will do nothing but harm. We are all responsible for our own actions” (General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 1988, p. 5). Years after Thatcher’s statement, the UK, is the 7th richest country in the world yet the most unequal in the developed world (Wilkons, 2005). The state of healthcare being a key indicator to a nation’s development. Thatcher unsuccessfully attempted to dismantle the NHS and now her protégé Theresa May is attempting to do her justice by aiming to do the same.

As an HIV / AIDS community development worker, I am endlessly amazed by the difference between the public and the private face of HIV; between what the public is told and what’s explained in shiny NGO propaganda. The growing gap between the grandiose intentions of HIV policy makers, and the impacts on the ground change daily before our eyes. Cars get sleeker and the offices even slicker. ‘Cut-throat’ tactics and ‘hostile takeovers’ of other HIV groups are not only enabled but lauded as model conduct (Guardian – Poverty Matters Blog – 2012). These are NGO’s who refuse to discuss politics when they present their proposals to government ministers. Disconnecting the economics from the politics causing the inequality, unmet needs and the human tragedy of inequality is like separating a calf from its mother, it only spells danger. Indeed, widening the gulf on an international level, UNAIDS state that their 2012 goal is to ‘build an HIV/AIDS free generation’ (UNAIDS, 2012) whilst, at home, HIV is seen as a ‘soft target’ as thousands of people have their benefits removed. Every day you bear witness to the obscenity. Society may no longer herd people with HIV / AIDS into colonies like we used to but physical, emotional and psychological imprisonment is still rife in our mainstream economic policy making. It makes me wonder, what do I need to understand in terms of political economy to cultivate a society wide practice of ‘freedom for all people?’

Three decades of the global AIDS crisis has been an expensive ordeal. For years HIV / AIDS research has brought infamy and questions have been asked relating to the disproportionate impact on already marginalised communities. The predominant affected communities are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBTQI), the drug using community and the tragic devastation Africa, Planet Earth’s already most financially exploited continent. Aswell as the cultural impacts, damaging HIV research has also impacted these same communities. Many poor, black, drug abusing females and their infants were prescribed Azido-Thymidine (AZT), the first HIV/ AIDS treatment. Prisoners who test “HIV positive” were administered AZT without informed consent. Many have doubted that if the rich and powerful were the unfortunate ones impacted by HIV/ AIDS, the crisis may have been resolved a long time ago. This doubt can sow seeds of critical inquiry, as keeping people oppressed because of inequitable control of assets, sparks a constant threat of revolution.

In order to be a force for change, we must understand what the economic system prioritises for all people’s survival. Privatising health services and prioritising only those who produce goods for the economy not only renders mainstream economics mantra’ of ‘scarcity’ obsolete, it further makes the economy unstable in the long run. Indeed, without comprehensive and holistic support for those affected by HIV, the lifelong costs will only be a further drain on the economy as subsequent illnesses rear their head. Binge drinking, drug abuse, depression, suicide, relentless nihilistic hedonism and other manifestations of a severe lack of self-love, are all interwoven in living with the precarity of terminally-declining conditions.

The real tragedy however, is that as we are effectively excluded from society we often internalise the blame and guilt and many of use begin to believe we not good enough for anything. Do we want to even attempt to quantify the signs of unmet indicators, so that we can uphold the market? If so, how? Can we put a price tag on the increasing number of HIV/ AIDS suicide’s? What’s the economic cost of loneliness, surely the thousands who are depressed and alone in their beds at night could be more economically valuable? And how much money is lost to the illegal drug trade for people to falsely satisfy their needs? I could go on. However this defies the point.

You can’t quantify human tragedy. Scarcity-based economics does not account for qualitative value so everything, every feeling, every experience, every relationship becomes an opportunity to sell to the highest bidder. This is why critical community activism becomes a crucially important tool for awareness-building among the oppressed as it unveils the forces protecting power. It helps us to understand the hegemonic gridlock behind marginalisation of the HIV community and exposes a dynamic process where the awareness of oppressed people(s) is articulated and provides a platform to act in the context of our own communities, take our history into our own hands and move forward.

How can our readers get involved in the Bang Bus next time around?

The Bang Bus exists to celebrate previous generations of queer activists and cultivate the next generation of artists, activists and changemakers dedicated to ending homophobia, transphobia and all forms of oppression.

Each Bang Bus costs between £2000-3000 to organise including paying our hosts the London living wage, because we want to create a queer-economy, and includes props, costumes, banners and more fun – and that’s without core organising costs. We want to support a team of emerging queer artists in the archival and curatorial process of creating each BANG BUS. This takes approximately 2 months per BANG BUS (to do it justice) and harvest the stories from a wide range of people which can be feed into the bus’ communications, aesthetics and political outcomes.

If you have money please support us! And fundamentally get involved, share your stories and climb aboard the BANG BUS to send a message from London telling the world we exist to build strength, unity and passion within our LGBTQIA+ community, that we honour our history and won’t let our futures – or our spaces – be written over by anybody. THE BANG BUS. HOMO HISTORY. HOMO HEDONISM. HOMO HOPE.

What would you like to see this World AIDS Days 2017?

In the run up to the BANG BUS I made a presentation to the nurses at Dean Street Sexual Health Centre in the heart of Soho London. Personally I was a blubbering wreck as for so many years of living with in HIV+, in my loneliest moments, nurses have been the ones who have held my hands, wiped my brow and jabbed my arm to check my blood levels. Now we have to be there for them. The privatisation of the National Health Service (NHS) by groups such as by Virgin Care are life-threatening. 2017 is the 30th anniversary of ‘AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power’ – an incredible grassroots movement demanding access to healthcare for all. This World AIDS Day I would like to celebrate our incredible creative history for social change and reignite the necessity for grassroots mobilisation as services are threatened.

(All pictures by Holly Buckle)