George Michael passed away in December, but his torch was carried high at a memorial early this month in London. Deep in the woods of Hampstead Heath, in the cruising grounds so dear to his heart, hundreds of LGBTQ people and straight allies gathered to pay homage to the queer music icon who came to prominence as one-half of the musical duo Wham!.
"The party was planned to pay tribute to George Michael in all his depth, desires, and the legacy of sexual freedom that he left us," said Dan Glass, an activist who had previously set up London's first LGBT tour of London. Glass organized the event with Camden LGBT Forum. "His single 'Outside' is a reminder that we can respond to oppression, homophobia and fear with sass, wit and on our own terms."
Michael was effectively outed by the press in 1998 after being arrested for engaging in a "lewd act" at a public toilet in California, but refused to be pushed back into the closet. Instead, he defiantly asserted his sexual identity on tracks like "Outside," which cheekily referenced the arrest by sampling radio reports of his arrest. "Gay people in the media are doing what makes straight people comfortable, and automatically my response to that is to say I'm a dirty filthy fucker and if you can't deal with it, you can't deal with it," he told the Guardian in 2005.
It's impossible to know just how many members of the LGBTQ community he inspired with this honesty and bravery, but the afternoon showed gratitude in a way he probably would have loved. As one of the Post-it notes pinned to the tree of dedication read, "George, you were unapologetic about living a true queer life. Thank you." Photographer Bex Wade shot the joyous gathering, which danced the afternoon away to George Michael songs, tales of his secret generosity, and even a quiz about cottaging and cruising.
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"It was such a beautiful, hilarious, and defiant day," Glass said later. "A tribute to George and our queer soul."