Last night’s Sunday Service was one of the last events of this years trans festival. Previous Sunday Services – held as part of the fringe events around the reopening of the Ulster Hall in May – used actors to revoice famous speeches by Martin Luther King and Hitler amongst others. Taking anti-disestablishment rhetoric from history, stripped of their original context, to ponder how they have changed history for better, or worse.
Last night in the Black Box, three snippets of oratory were interspersed with music from the colourful and amazingly joyful Koko and the Boomtown Cats.
Noel McGee replayed a 1993 speech by Urvashi Vaid which talked about “mainstream” perceptions of gay people. Hearing the speech sixteen years after first given, it did make me wonder whether (or how much of) the Christian Church still treats the LGBT community as freaks?
Grainne McCann read from an anonymous 1990 manifesto that was handed out during the New York Gay Pride march. It could be summed up as angry. Very angry. Whereas Vaid sought liberation and justice through the lesbian and gay community working within mainstream groups, this second speech asserted that the marchers “must fight for ourselves - no one else will”, quoting examples of society not standing up against prejudice and institutional failure to deal with HIV and Aids and the associated persecution.
Strong stuff. And anger that resonated with some of the imagery in the Psalms where David voices his frustration. Maybe even shades of Jesus’ anger in the temple?
The final speech came from Harvey Milk, read by Niki Doherty. A message of hope from the murdered San Francisco politician in the 1970s.
“Unless you have dialogue, unless you open the walls of dialogue, you can never reach to change people's opinion ... Once you have dialogue starting, you know you can break down prejudice.”
It struck me listening to Milk’s more upbeat message that for most of it the terms gay and lesbian could be substituted for Muslim or Polish or Roma or immigrant and the argument would still have been strong.
But amongst the seriousness of the historic words – and the reality that many in the LGBT community still suffer prejudice, discrimination and bullying – Koko and the Boomtown Cats entertained with flamboyant and at one point (faux) emotional songs. And it’s quite possible that the wide variety of percussion included a wooden spoon playing a wooden block in the shape of a banana. Well it was the beginning of this year’s week-long Belfast Pride Festival ...