Vanity von Glow: in conversation on free speech and performance

Saturday 13 October, 13:1013:50, Free StageFestival Attractions

On May Bank Holiday this year, well-known drag queen Vanity von Glow performed at a London demonstration labelled ‘Day of Freedom’. Within hours, Vanity, whose real name is Thom Glow, found herself at the centre of a Twitter storm that seemed designed to destroy her career.

Her crime? Sharing a platform alongside speakers, the majority of whom hailed from the right of the political spectrum, at an event organised by the controversial former head of the EDL, Tommy Robinson. Much of the press coverage was critical, the demonstration dismissed as proof of the rise of the ‘far right’ and it was suggested that activists were using the principle of free speech as cover to advance an anti-Islam agenda. The ferocious backlash, particularly from leftish and LGBTQ commentators, led to Vanity losing bookings at a variety of clubs at which she was due to appear, such as queer cabaret bar Her Upstairs. ‘While like everyone she has the right to freedom of speech’, wrote one venue, ‘her alignment with such an event calls into question her motives’. Vanity was even described as a ‘fascist’ – presumably the first fascist to make her name belting out showtunes in a wig, stilettos and a shimmering gown.

While Vanity explained that she accepted the request to appear because she felt she ‘would be a hypocrite to only champion free speech when it suits my own ideological ends’, regardless her views were conflated with those of the organisers. This represents a new challenge to free speech: you no longer need to say anything offensive yourself, you can be found guilty by association.

For her first appearance at the Battle of Ideas, Vanity will discuss the wider implications of her experience. She will reflect on the state of free speech in the UK, and how guilt by association is becoming an increasingly familiar tactic of leftist activists. How did Thom Glow – a lifelong Labour voter – react to her peers on the left accusing him of affiliation with bigots and the alt-right? As someone who performed on the main stage at London Pride in 2017, a performer as camp as a row of pink tents, what was it like to be deemed persona non grata by leading lights in the LGBT+ community? Vanity will also perform a few songs from her musical repertoire.