Louise Wallwein, the acclaimed poet and playwright, gave an impassioned call for progress and equality in a speech in the Sheldonian last Wednesday.
Wallwein stressed the importance of pushing for equality, despite inevitable setbacks, say- ing: “What we’re fighting for, we’re not always gonna win now … we’re always gonna be fighting. There will always be someone that is unequal.”
As a playwright, Wallwein’s notable works include her poetry collection Glue (2018) and her poem The Dropkick from God (1997).
In a wide-ranging address, Wallwein emphasised the broadness of the LGBTQIA+ community and unity within the community: “I believe we all have to stand for trans people … Don’t let anything break our community apart.”
Wallwein, who identifies as a lesbian, implored the audience to fight for equality for all peoples, saying “how are you going to bring them up? How are you going to stand by them?”
The working class Wallwein was entered into a foster home at birth by her parents in 1969. Her time in care was turbulent, she acknowledged, having been placed in thirteen different children’s homes and foster placements.
She overcame homophobic discrimination during her time in care, finding her “chosen family” in the form of the LGBTQIA+ community. Of the community, she said: “we’re family and we must stay family to each other.”
Introducing Wallwein, the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Louis Richardson, called her story “inspirational,” describing Wallwein as a “renowned and award-winning poet, playwright and performer.”
Richardson admitted the University had failed to admit enough students that had lived in care, saying there “[is] no greater testament to the amount of talent we are missing than the current speaker.”
After Richardson’s introduction, Wallwein looked to the ceiling of the Sheldonian and said: “how does a working class butch dyke end up here?”
In her speech, Wallwein used poetry to illustrate her life, including excerpts from Glue, such as Dream Riding.
Beginning her remarks, Wallwein described her younger years, commenting “how did [I] survive everything that I survived? No idea.”
During her time in care, Wallwein was groomed and abused by older men within the care system. “What happened in Rochdale,” she said, “it happened to most kids in care. I’m not lying.”
Despite going on to achieve notable success, Wallwein was told during her youth that she “would end up in prison, or a prostitute, or dying.”
Glue, the story of Wallwein’s search for her birth mother, concludes with the two making contact after thirty years, and her mother not taking issue with Wallwein’s sexuality. As Wallwein put it, “I stood in front of the woman who gave birth to me and she didn’t judge me. How lucky am I?”
Wallwein, a committed socialist who doesn’t “believe in borders,” later said that she considered fighting anti-trans figures on social media to be futile. “There are no other sides. It’s just people in power who make lots of money off us all divided.”
Wallwein has been involved with a number of political causes throughout her life, including campaigns against refugee de- portations, apartheid, and Margaret Thatcher’s Section 28 which stated that local authorities and schools could not “promote ho- mosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality.”
The playwright’s care for refugees comes from, she confessed, her feeling of being “internally displaced in this country. I had no home.”
Wallwein was appointed an MBE in the Queens Birthday Honours in 2018, and won the Best Performance Manchester Culture Award in 2019.