Spring, a prelude to summer promises future balmy evenings and the city streets are once again returned to us to be enjoyed and consumed. I am momentarily elated by the lighter longer days until I realise that the evening sun exposes my transgressive presence amongst the masses. My burgeoning seasonal optimism has already been challenged this year as I have experienced two incidents of homophobia whist gaily traversing the streets. As the creator of The Pansy Project you might expect that I would be resilient to such public displays of homophobia, yet it is, and still remains a shock. When a car full of men yell “Queer Bastard! You Fucking Queer Bastard!” I still recoil with a combination of fear, horror and embarrassment. I Immediately search for the nearest source of soil promising myself that I will return to plant a pansy - to resist, I attempt to convince myself that this is a protection, a defence.
In the five years since I began The Pansy Project I have spoken to hundreds of people about my experiences, the locations I have marked are seared into my memory, as are the names of the people who have been killed. With the increasing presence of 'social networking sites' like Facebook and Twitter a new context for discussion has emerged, like-minded people can gather virtually and explore the issues, offer support to bereft families and friends, with this a contemporary sense of solidarity is garnered.
Michael Causer's death last year in Liverpool is perhaps the most visceral example of this. His Facebook group with over six thousand members has brought together a community shocked by the death of this young man, beaten so severely that he died in hospital a few days later. Much has been made of the lack of media interest in this story, still even now many of my gay peers know nothing of the case. I have been contacted by various journalists and magazines to offer a view on the absence of coverage. I frequently suggest that the mainstream media believe that the problem of homophobia has been solved. The liberal left generally accept 'difference' though the majority of the public still read 'The Sun', which continues to demean and disparage the gay community, the mainstream still see gayness as a source of hilarity and reductive stereotypes are ubiquitous.
I have a platoon of pansies awaiting dispatch on my balcony, ready to mark the abuse I and others have experienced. Yet I am one man on a futile journey to combat homophobia. I have before invited others to plant pansies for themselves, I've asked that they take photographs and send them to me for addition to my website. This has proven to be a lot to ask from those with a passing interest, I dislike 'forcing' interaction, I believe the audience should want to get involved so have resisted asking too much from an already supportive group of people across the world who have showed interest in The Pansy Project. Though I fear my recent resistance to invite participation may have discouraged the few that may genuinely want to engage more directly with my project.
The image at the top of this page was not taken by me, it is a photo of a pansy planted in Brighton by Clara Lawes an interested member of the public who wanted to explore The Pansy Project herself. She asked if I'd planted any pansies in Brighton, I had not, I casually invited her to go ahead and plant one if she could find a location. She did and the image above documents the planting. I experienced a strange sense of 'Uncanny' when I first saw the image; I have planted thousands of pansies over the years, though could not recall the location. It is peculiar and heart-warming to suspect that others may want to participate in this way.
I now formally invite you to plant a pansy at a location of homophobia if you wish. It can be your own experience or that of a friend, you can do it alone or in a group, you can gain permission or not. It can be any colour (though I myself tend to abstain from yellow) when you have planted, take a photograph which in some way locates it in the place that it has been planted. If you have details of the abuse, this will become the title of the planted pansy, if you don't it can be dedicated to the person it's planted for. I would love to see the photograph, you can add it to The Pansy Project group on Facebook or e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org. I will then post a selection on this blog and the website.
Perhaps you will plant and perhaps you will not, you may just feel that you could if you wanted to, and for me that is the point. I mark every experience of homophobia with a planting, though until I do, it is the potential of the planting that I think about until it has been realised, for me this is a valuable part of the process.
Over the next couple of weeks I have four pansies to plant, two for myself in Manchester, another for a friend who was attacked on the corner of Whitworth Street. And I plan to plant one in Liverpool where Michael Causer was left for dead. I have sought permission from a family member which has been kindly granted. I will post the photographs here when they are planted.
My comments on the death of Michael Causer are due to appear in an article on Michael Causer in next months issue of Attitude magazine.
My Research Continues......