The Just Stop Oil activist who threw soup over Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” hasn’t been put off by the right-wing, anti-LGBTQ+ abuse that followed their headline-making protest.
Anna Holland, 20, made global headlines when they hurled a tin of soup at “Sunflowers”, which is worth £76 million and is protected by glass, with fellow activist Phoebe Plummer.
While Holland expected backlash to the stunt, which was covered by major news outlets from the BBC to the New York Times, there were two things they didn’t expect.
Firstly, that the action would inspire climate activists across the world, from mashed potato being thrown at a Monet in Germany, to Canadian activists hurling maple syrup in the Vancouver Art Gallery.
The second was the level of anti-LGBTQ+ hate they would be targeted with.
“If I had a pound for every comment I’d received since the action based around my queerness, I would be able to afford my energy bills,” Holland tells PinkNews.
“When the right-wing press focus a lot on mine and Phoebe’s queerness, it’s a way for them to try and ridicule us as individuals, and therefore ridicule our action, and therefore ridicule Just Stop Oil in general.”
They add: “It has really brought to the surface just how easily people will resort to homophobic comments and general homophobia, when they are angry at you, and when you publicly do something to cause that anger.”
Just Stop Oil activists Anna Holland and Phoebe Plummer express how they feel at the National Gallery. (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images/Just Stop Oil/Handout)
It’s ironic because, as Holland explains, queer people are among the minorities being disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis.
“It’s been a common trend throughout history, whenever any sort of mass disaster or mass destruction happens, minorities will suffer worse because of it.”
As well as in the wider climate crisis, this will soon become evident as the UK struggles with a winter energy crisis, Holland adds.
“Two-thirds of UK families are going to be forced into fuel poverty. We’re going to see people being forced to choose between heating their homes and feeding themselves and their children.
“And considering how many queer people are already being forced into homelessness, forced into dangerous situations… queer people who already have incredibly limited access to facilities like food banks are going to suffer even more.”
There’s never been an act of civil resistance that hasn’t been met with controversy and backlash.
Just Stop Oil’s demand is simple: that the UK government stops the production and licensing of fossil fuels. The Van Gogh stunt aimed to shock and spark conversation about the value of life on our planet versus that of material things, and was designed for “massive coverage and also massive controversy”.
The Just Stop Oil climate protesters throw tomato soup at Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”. (Just Stop Oil/ Anadolu Agency via Getty)
“Because, as history has shown us, there’s never been an act of civil resistance that hasn’t been met with controversy and backlash. But that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been successful,” Holland adds.
Queer people have always stood up to injustice
Oliver Clegg, 19, is also a Just Stop Oil activist. He found the group through his involvement with Extinction Rebellion, and has taken part in several actions, including football pitch invasions and road blockades.
He feels that the LGBTQ+ community is particularly driven to fight the climate crisis because being at the forefront of activist movements is “in our bones”.
“It’s always been the case that queer people have stood up to injustice,” Clegg tells PinkNews.
“Obviously in the cases of homophobia, transphobia, AIDS, fighting for equal marriage, but it was also the case that there were queer people at the forefront of fighting for Black civil rights. And whenever there’s been injustice, there’s always been queer people that have been at the front, fighting it. I feel like it’s in our bones as queer people to see injustice and to stand up to it.
“It’s as part of that continuing tradition that we see the climate crisis, we see one of the biggest disasters, and we don’t sit by whilst that happens, we fight, we do something.”
The aftermath of the spraying of yellow paint on the walls of the Bank of England by members of Just Stop Oil. (In Pictures via Getty/ Richard Baker)
With anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes skyrocketing, and recent revelations about institutional homophobia in services that are supposed to protect us, it would be understandable if queer activists like Holland and Clegg were fearful of their bold actions resulting in arrest.
But, as Holland puts it: “When you compare that fear to my fear of the climate crisis, and the fact that this year we’ve had the worst drought in 500 years, which destroyed a third of our wheat crop and half of our potato crop, the fact that next year, we are potentially going to face mass food shortages, when scientists have predicted that we will run out of clean drinking water by 2040… I don’t see a future for myself beyond the next few years, beyond the next decade, potentially.
Just Stop Oil activist Phoebe Plummer is arrested after Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” had soup thrown on it. (Getty/ Martin Pope)
Clegg says: “It’s such a powerful expression of our queerness to take direct action.”
Holland agrees: “We need to translate our anger into action. As our own personal history as queer people shows us, that is how we get things done. That’s how we win our rights back. That’s how we win the right to a future.
“So even if your form of action is just posting more about issues on your social media, or if your form of action is doing something as rash as throwing tomato soup at a painting, whatever your form of action is, it needs to be taken.
“It doesn’t matter how scared I am getting arrested, because what will happen if I don’t fight, and if we don’t win, is so much scarier to me.”