Liv Little on the importance of allies and why we all need to listen more

Calling all allies: this one is for you.

Founder of gal-dem magazine and Gay Times Honours winner, Liv Little, has teamed up with Absolut and LGBTQ charity Stonewall to co-curate an online guide in a bid to encourage society to pledge their allegiance to marginalised communities.

A Drop Of Love sees Liv enlist an Avengers-style team of LGBTQ talent for the project, including Nadine Artois (co-founder of Pxssy Palace), Shon Faye, Jay Jay Revlon, Tanya Compas and Bitch, Please!

The campaign also sees Absolut release a limited edition bottle where the ink used to create the labelling has been extracted from hate signs at racist and anti-LGBTQ protests, and repurposed to spread a message of love and inclusivity.

We caught up with Liv to talk about the campaign, find out what she thinks makes a great ally, and why it’s important that we all know our LGBTQ history.

In your view, what makes a great ally?
For me it was about, how do we challenge? And how do we do that in a productive way to make space for other people’s voices? I’m speaking across all minority groups, including disability, gender, race and sexuality – people who are not usually in those spaces or those rooms. Often I’ll be the only person who is in that room that might look like me, or identify as a member of the LGBTQ community. I think one of the most invaluable things is how do people make space and step aside and know when it’s someone else’s space to have the platform to play with. Not only that, when you are in those environments people do.. I’ve been in so many situations where people don’t have certain sensitivities, or certain levels of understanding. They make comments that are racist, or sexist, or homophobic, and I think it should be on the onus of people who are not LGBTQ to stand up and challenge those things. Too often we’re expected to do the emotional labour. Being a good ally is sometimes speaking up in those spaces without expecting a pat on the back, or some sort of reward. To just see it as the right thing to do. I think that is so important.

Who do you currently consider a great example of a visible ally to the LGBTQ community?
Oh visible ally? That’s a hard one. I feel like the people who are doing… for example on a personal level, my biggest allies are not necessarily people who are visible. I’ve had quite a few good people in various spaces that I’ve worked with who have really pushed those voices. There’s a woman called Lisa who was a creative director of a production company who was the biggest champion for people who don’t normally occupy those spaces. Someone like her is great. But to be honest, all of us can be allies. There are certain privileges that I have that other people won’t have. There are experiences I have that other people don’t. It’s about how can we be allies to each other?

You’ve pulled together a great group of people for the A Drop Of Love campaign – how did you decide on who you wanted to work on this guide with?
The possibilities are pretty much endless. There are so many people doing good work. One thing that was really interesting was that a lot of the people are under the age of 25. There was a massive list of potential contributors, which were slowly whittled down. I kept being like, ‘Are you sure? There’s no way we can include all of these people?’ These are an amazing group of people, but there were so many more that I would have to include, but we just didn’t have the capacity to.

Stonewall’s statistics show that more than a third of LGBTQ people worry about holding hands with their partner in public. How do we create a society where holding hands with someone you love – no matter who they are – is not something to fear?
What we’re talking about here is unnerving. It’s hundreds of years of discrimination. I think, fundamentally, it’s unlearning and opening up a dialogue. When we talk about those people who have always been in the upper echelons of society who have remained there, they recognise that marginalised voices should have rights, but for some reason they view it as taking away from their own. That is something that needs to be unlearned and broken down. That shouldn’t be something to be feared. It’s interesting because when I’m in Jamaica visiting family, I don’t talk about my sexuality at all. As we know, because of buggery laws it’s just not a thing. Here I feel more able to be myself, but there’s still moments, incidents, places or areas where I feel like, ‘Oh my god, me and my girlfriend shouldn’t be close, and we shouldn’t be holding hands.’ We’re further ahead than somewhere else in the world, but there’s still a lot to be done. I’d say it’s about how we allow people to unlearn what it is they currently know and think. Part of that is potentially through having intergenerational dialogue. There’s a bit of an ‘us and them’ dichotomy, so how can we have a more productive conversation. It’s a mammoth task. Fundamentally it is around education, and some people just don’t want to be educated. That hurts because how do you convince someone of your humanity who isn’t open to hearing or listening? That’s the importance of having allies who, maybe, those people will be more receptive to.

And it’s hard for someone who is told they’re wrong to admit it.
They get so defensive. It’s tricky.

Those Stonewall figures also show that more than a third of trans people have faced discrimination while at the shops – what can cisgender people from within the community do to be better allies, having spoken with the people you’re working with on this campaign?
Fundamentally we should listen to what it is various groups say that they need, what they want, or things that would be helpful. We need to figure what of those things we’re able to support with. That doesn’t mean you need to be physically present, it could mean you contribute financially, you have access to safe spaces, whatever it is it’s about opening up. It’s the thing I said about challenging. If you’re in a position where you’re able to challenge, do challenge. People’s humanity is fundamentally not up for debate – especially when it’s not your lived experience.

It comes back to the fact that people need to recognise their own privilege.
Privilege is a scary word. People get really scared of it because it implies you are like ‘them’. But it’s so important for all of us to recognise that in ourselves. I always think about how I can use my privilege to provide a platform to bring people into certain spaces. I just worked at a major broadcaster, so you have to recognise those things and use them to benefit others. It doesn’t always have to be a grand act, it’s something you can just build into your daily practice. Maybe if we focus on those daily things, it might seem less scary for people.

As we mark LGBT History Month, how important is for LGBTQ people and society as a whole to know about the queer pioneers that came before us?
Our generation is sometimes guilty of thinking we’re the first at doing something. I think it’s really important to know LGBT history. For me, being a black woman is such an intrinsic part of my identity, so because of my journey in recognising who I am and my sexuality, I’m so fortunate to be a part of this amazing community. I feel really accepted and at home like this is where I am supposed to be. I think being at Gay Times Honours, accepting that and being recognised, that was really significant for me – and for my girlfriend. Because for us there have been cultural things we’ve had to navigate. There have been difficult conversations we’ve had to have with family.

So the point I’m trying to make is that I now feel very much a part of the community, but now I’m going on that journey of learning about LGBTQ more because my identity as a black woman was my main focus before. We’re all constantly going on a journey. I recently did an interview with Christine Burns and it was really interesting to map the 50s, 60s, 70s and the different experiences. But also how legislation has changed. It’s important for us to understand that and know our history across the board.

I say this from a Black British perspective, but it also applies to LGBTQ: it’s important to know the perspective of what happened over here, and not necessarily what happened in the States. A lot of the lessons I’d learn about Black history would be American-focussed – and I’m not saying that’s not important – but it’s good to be in a space where you are able to find out about the movements, changes and work that’s happened over here. So for me, having someone like Lady Phyll who I can ask questions to – and she’s a superwoman extraordinaire – so being able to have that dialogue is amazing. It is happening more. I think people are wanting to spend time and have dialogue across generations.

And finally, I want to know what your first reaction was when you heard about how and where Absolut collected the ink from for their Absolut Drop bottles?
I thought it was a really interesting concept, creatively. I liked the idea of subverting negativity and using that as an opportunity to turn it into something positive. The fact they were working with Stonewall and wanted to build quite a comprehensive guide is what made me want to get involved. Often I’m quite dubious about getting involved with certain campaigns, but this one felt more organic. There was genuinely an open process of dialogue and discussion with what the topics should be that we cover, and it felt quite seamless. There are always going to be things you want to add or more words that you want to say, but I think as a creative person who likes working across different forms, it felt right and it made sense.

The limited edition A Drop Of Love Absolut bottle is available now.

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