- Tower Hamlets
Homophobic posters which have appeared in recent months are to be systematically replaced tomorrow, in an east London, community-based protest aiming to spread a message of love and solidarity.
The original stickers declare the area “a gay free zone”. Posted around gay venues in Shoreditch, on Whitechapel High Street and outside a school, they say: “Arise and warn. Gay free zone. Verily Allah is severe in punishment.”
“Upset and appalled” by the sentiment, a group of friends have decided to publicly protest at the stickers and their apparent agenda. The event is called “Help Yourself to Some Love,” but is being referred to by many in the media as “Love Bombing”.
Tomorrow at 9am volunteers will gather at Shoreditch Town Hall, and walk through East London, posting their own messages of community and solidarity where the homophobic posters hang.
Wendy Richardson is one of the protest’s organisers. The actress, 42, said of the original posters: “It beggars belief that people could be so hateful”. Many of her young friends were quite upset by the posters, which spurred her into action.
“You don’t want anyone to feel upset or unsafe in their own community, everyone deserves dignity and respect.” Ms. Richardson said. “But this behaviour has stripped an entire section of our community of that, and it’s really important to not just complain about it but somehow try to counter it.”
The posters show quotes from famous writers and politicians, all on the topic of love and society.
“I just think you’ve got to stand up and say everyone’s significant and everyone’s a human being. We intend to do this every Friday for a few weeks anyway, but if the posters persist we’ll do it every week until it stops.”
A police investigation is ongoing, though it has been suggested that the culprits may not be an Islamic group, but a third party looking to stir up community tensions. Jack Gilbert is co-chair of Rainbow Hamlets, the LGBT organisation for the borough. While Mr. Gilbert felt it inappropriate to comment on an ongoing investigation, he did say: “The reality is, whoever this extreme grouping or small number of individuals are, their purpose is simply to cause trouble.”
When asked about tomorrow’s protest, Mr. Gilbert said: “We welcome all initiatives that build community relations. We know that the majority of people aren’t interested in this kind of filth, and everything we can do to help build good relations, we will.”
The protest has met with some controversy however, with suggestions that the event is just empty rhetoric, or that the use of the phrase “Love Bombing” is an Islamaphobic reference to alleged involvement from religious groups.
“The original name ‘Love Bomb’, was an off-the-cuff choice of words that has been picked up by the media,” said Richardson. “It was never intended to offend or make connotations.” Richardson insists her group are not trying to “guess or pass comment on who did this,” but simply hope to promote understanding in the face of hatred and anger.
“I understand that people feel it’ll take a lot more to counter hatred, but we feel it’s important to do something. There’s room for every approach, and there’s nothing wrong with taking a loving one.” she says.
Similar actions against homophobia, which are being coordinated through Facebook, are taking place in Newcastle and Birmingham. Richardson is co-operating with police to run the Shoreditch event.
Police have already removed and gathered forensic evidence from some posters. Anyone who sees one is urged to take a photo and contact them immediately. If it is possible to remove the poster in one piece without touching the sticky side, citizens should do so and bring it to a police station where it can be tested.