We, members of the queer and trans* community in London and beyond, are glad to see that Paris Is Burning is no longer being screened at T Club, as it would have been inappropriate to show a documentary about the reality of Black and Latin@ queer and trans* lives at a party that appropriates and ridicules that lived experience. Gendered Intelligence has now decided to move the screening to Birkbeck University in light of the dispute surrounding the 'Ghetto Fabulous' event.
We would like to express our grave disappointment in the T Club organisers’ conduct. We are also disappointed at the lack of response and action from Dalston Superstore. We have received no contact from Dalston Superstore, despite the petition being emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org in addition to a direct email from us to the manager of the venue.
This petition was made after members of the community publicly tried to hold the organisers accountable on their event page, but were met with verbal abuse and ultimately silenced. We hoped that the petition would make clear that many people within the community are appalled by the 'Ghetto Fabulous' theme and the way that folks' concerns were dealt with.
The petition still exists because no real changes have been made by the organisers. We feel that the very small changes that were made are insufficient. These were self-congratulatory attempts to placate people and evade the real issues at hand. It is not enough to begrudgingly change the event name from 'Ghetto Fabulous' to a minutely different 'Get Fabulous', and to switch 'ghetto of fabulousness' out for 'borghetta of fabulousness'. ‘Borghetta'/'borghetto' are diminutive forms of the Italian word 'borgo' - this is where the term 'ghetto' comes from. These are both attempts to avoid being held accountable for still holding what is essentially the same event. Although the event name has been changed on the poster, the graphics still mimic an Afro-Carribean aesthetic to form a tenuous link with the original ‘Ghetto Fabulous’ theme and to reinforce a sense of blackness.
The rest of the event description still uses language that is specific to American ball culture and Paris Is Burning. For example, the description states that there will be a "ball in our own house, in vogue and drag", and that attendees will create their own "golden age". Drag balls, the ballroom community's house system, and vogueing are still elements specific to American ball culture. The historical era that is documented in Paris Is Burning is often referred to as the Golden Age of New York City drag balls. The event still seeks to imitate facets of this Golden Age by basically making the party a drag ball.
One of the organisers has stated that T Club is a safe space. However, a space cannot be considered safe when oppressive events are being held in that space, and people voicing their dissent are verbally abused and silenced. Claiming that an event is inclusive doesn’t automatically make it a reality. Many of us feel excluded by this event and that it would be unsafe to attend it.
There has been no acknowledgement from the organisers that the event under its 'Ghetto Fabulous' name was problematic, nor have there been any public apologies. Unfortunately, it is very clear that the organisers are still choosing not to listen to the growing number of voices in this community and understand that this is about a culturally appropriative event and the organisers’ subsequent refusal to engage with the concerns of folks in this community.
This is not an attack on an individual based on personal vendettas. No one who has voiced their concerns about the nature of this event stands to personally gain from calling the organisers out. This petition and the efforts of various individuals to try and reach out to the organisers are all part of a growing sense of commitment to making this community more inclusive.
Being inclusive means acknowledging that our positions of privilege and oppression are not static, and that solidarity shifts with those positions. Just because a person is queer and suffers from violence and oppression for that, doesn't mean that they are incapable of perpetuating violence against people along other lines of oppression, for example race. Solidarity is about acknowledging that, and acknowledging that queers can be racist.
It is not the place of privileged groups to decide what is and isn’t oppressive. This is up to the people that the oppression actually affects.
Moving forward, a number of demands & requests have been made by folks within the community:
- Change the theme entirely or cancel the event.
- A public acknowledgement from T Club that the ‘Ghetto Fabulous’ theme is inherently appropriative of a black working class culture and ball culture, and an apology for attempting to hold a racist, appropriative event.
- A public apology to the people who were subjected to one of the organiser’s unreasonable and abusive responses to concerns that were raised.
- A public apology from Dalston Superstore for their complicity in this event
- An assurance that Dalston Superstore will not approve racist and culturally appropriative events at their venue in future, and work towards a better awareness of the impact of such events on the community.
We hope that this statement has cleared up any questions or misunderstandings, and that the organisers will reconsider requests for genuine change in action and thought about the issues around this event.
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Many of us are regulars at nights held at Dalston Superstore, and we’d like to continue to attend events at the venue without the risk of entering a space that is oppressive and exclusionary.
The names below represents a list of everyone who will boycott the venue so long as Dalston Superstore continues to host racist, culturally appropriative events.