“The UK has a strong history of protest; it is a very British thing to do”


I was deeply saddened to see the removals and arrests made at the peaceful vigil for Sarah Everard, after her murder. There is something very wrong if women in the UK are not allowed to hold public vigils to grieve the loss of our own. It was only days before that, I watched with shock at the lack of police intervention, as thousands of male football fans broke lockdown rules to take to the streets of Glasgow in revelry celebrating the Rangers win.

I believe that it is right for women and their allies to resort to peaceful protest. Having recourse to public protest is a human right. It is how we have always sought to create a fairer society, when politicians and the law fail to do so. Peaceful protest is not silent. It is not hidden. It is loud and disruptive, and is intended to gain our attention and create solidarity.

Until this shocking moment, where women were forcibly removed during the vigil, the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill was being rushed through Parliament under the radar, despite organisations such as the Prison Reform Trust raising concerns that the bill would “likely perpetuate inequalities… in the treatment and outcomes for Black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system”. And this same bill, which would perpetuate systemic racism, proposes to effectively outlaw public protest. This bill affects us all, and we need to stand together in solidarity to stop it.

Protest is also a vital part of intersex activism and equality campaigning in the UK. People born with intersex variations in this country are not included in the Equalities Act 2010. We are campaigning for equality and protections. We also continue to protest for the right to bodily autonomy, so that intersex infants and children in the UK are not subjected to harmful, cosmetic, genital surgeries. We believe that no one has the right to decide how our healthy genitals should look whilst we are children. Nor should anyone have the right to inflict this upon us surgically. But we do not currently have the right to stop this medical practice in the UK.

The Intersex Justice Project’s peaceful protests outside the Lurie Hospital in Chicago, US, show the success of protest where legal recourse and consistent lobbying of politicians fails. The IJP’s protests resulted in the Lurie Hospital finally acknowledging the way they treated intersex kids must be reconsidered. Although they agreed to stop some of the surgeries, the changes need to go further to include protection for all intersex variations.

As a queer, lesbian, intersex woman, who is also a mixed person of colour, I’m keenly aware that throughout history all the rights we have gained so far in the UK have come through protest and been hard fought. The UK has a strong history of protest; it is a very British thing to do. In recent times, the massively disruptive and emotionally charged Fridays For Future movement is an example of this, where school children take to the streets in protest instead of attending school.

As a member of the general public, seeing reams and reams of school children marching through the streets chanting, whilst holding banners and placards, moved me to tears. They completely disrupted the city centre where I live, and were very loud. But this is what peaceful protest looks like. Seeing public protests teaches us, the general public, that something in society is alarmingly amiss, and that we need to do something about it.

We don’t ever take to the streets lightly. But where continued injustice is being ignored, we have always resorted to public protest. In these last weeks, I have felt grief and sadness and anger and shock, but I have also felt intense solidarity and hope. Because our voices are powerful, and I believe, through continued, peaceful, public protest, we will be heard.

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