The Haunted Bouncy Castle, A Queer Art Shop Building A Spooky Safe Space: Q and A With Creators Jinx And Jonas

If you weren’t already aware that June 1st marked the start of Pride Month, you would most likely have been reminded by the slew of big-name companies changing their social media icons to rainbow-tinted versions of their logos at the stroke of midnight. While it’s nice to see Pride acknowledged in the mainstream at this time of year, there are plenty of actual LGBTQ+-led creative businesses that are putting in the work for our community all year round and they deserve to be celebrated.

With that in mind, we’d like to invite you to step inside The Haunted Bouncy Castle – an online shop full of Halloween-inspired art, from plushies and stickers to mugs and t-shirts, all designed by two queer Glasgow-based creatives. We spoke to the creators of this spooky shop Jinx Peregrine and Jonas Holt about their art, the work involved in running both a shop and a micro-press, and how the joy from their community keeps them going.


Two of the Haunted Bouncy Castle’s new t-shirt designs for Pride month

Hi Jinx and Jonas! Tell us about the two of you as artists – how did you begin creating art together?

Jinx: I enjoy making spooky art. I do spoopy cute art too, as it’s nice to have a balance of both. I trained as an oil painter for over a decade, and worked as a budding gallery artist. I met Jonas in Berlin, when I was working with a gallery and doing artist residency programs there. We met in a comic shop, and kinda fell in love fast. We’ve been together seven years now – and I feel blessed every day that I have them in my life. We started making queer comics together when we first met, but after a while we just couldn’t sustain it as we were both growing towards other kinds of creative outlets. We still collaborate on art, crafty projects, our micro-press, and we are planning an illustrated horror book of our own in the future.

Jonas: I started out as an illustrator and comic artist and I love design work as well, but a few years back I discovered that what I really want is to keep learning new skills and that processes of fabrication are incredibly inspiring to me. Everything I do these days is based in spooky, spoopy or Halloween themes, and I love coming up with new things together with Jinx and finding ways to make them a real existing object, while ever expanding my toolbox of skills. Everything we make together is an extension of our interests, the things we love and care for, and our values and convictions.


“We wanted to create a place for people like us who felt excluded from the horror genre. A place where we could uplift each other and create a more inclusive community.”

– Jinx Peregrine

Where did the idea for ‘The Haunted Bouncy Castle’ come from?

Jinx: It’s funny, the idea actually came from an enamel pin we made some years ago. I love bouncy castles, and we came across a very gothic one in a mall in Berlin once. We were like, “how cool would that be, to have a haunted bouncy castle?”. Jonas made this amazing drawing, then it became one of our popular enamel pins. We had more serious names for our business planned, but we were like, who are we kidding – we love spooky stuff, but we also love a good sense of humour. 

The Haunted Bouncy Castle

What does running a shop like The Haunted Bouncy Castle involve?

The daily running can vary depending on new projects. Mainly it’s running several, if not too many, social media accounts. Designing the post, coming up with text for the post, and then posting at a decent time so people can see the post.

The fun part of our job is coming up with spooky designs for our plushies, stickers, print merch, mug, and t-shirt designs. We usually work on creating a new one monthly – but with pandemic times it’s been pretty stressful, so we’re trying to be kinder to ourselves. We also have a physical shop in Glasgow on standby that we are currently trying to renovate; but again, Covid times have made this a difficult and slow process. We are still excited to open it when it is safe again. 

You also run a micro-press, Artemisia’s Axe And The Corpse’s Tongue – why did you set that up?

Jinx: We set up Artemisia’s Axe and The Corpse’s Tongue because we didn’t feel seen in the horror genre. I’m a horror artist and writer who faced numerous barriers applying to art shows, publishing opportunities, and so on. It still is a very frustrating experience. We wanted to create a place for people like us who felt excluded from the horror genre. A place where we could uplift each other and create a more inclusive community for LGBTQ2SIA+  horror creators. 

The Haunted Bouncy Castle

What does the running of the micro-press involve?

It’s been a rewarding learning experience. We are new to the publishing world, so we are educating ourselves all the time on the proper structures so our creators feel safe working with us as well as uplifted by us. As we are only two people currently running this micro-press it is a lot of work since we do the formatting, editing and designing of our anthologies. Thankfully we have an excellent production place Comic Printing UK, who has been an absolute star in helping us produce our first beautiful anthology.

We are two neurodiverse people with varying disabilities. It’s hard running a business, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Hopefully in the future we can hire more people to assist with our micro-press work. We are currently in the process of putting together our second anthology Skulls and Spells, which we are so excited about.


“When we meet other people in our community, the response from them about our shop is heart-warming and validating. The positive response from our community gives us strength to keep going.”

Jinx Peregrine

What has the response to your work been like?

Jonas: The response from our customers has been a joy. Most are a part of our community, and are so happy to find people like us. We feel we are building a supportive and inclusive community of spooky loving people. As Jinx is also a streamer, we have been fortunate enough to meet people from all over the world who have bought spooky gifts from us, which is heart-warming. Every time we get an order for our handmade gifts we are delighted and excited. 

The Haunted Bouncy Castle

Why do you think it’s important that inclusive businesses like yours exist to support and amplify queer voices?

Jinx: As queer people, we didn’t feel seen or uplifted by our society. It’s hard on a daily basis to feel erased in media, online culture and job opportunities, just because we are queer nonbinary people. I didn’t grow up in a place that accepted people like me. When I finally moved away from that place to Berlin and now Glasgow, it was the first time I felt some sense of queer community – which is amazing and sad at the same time. If I had this feeling when I was a kid, maybe I wouldn’t have had so many years of depression, anxiety, isolation, and fear of being me.

That’s why when we started our small business we were adamant about being openly LGBTQ2SIA+, because we want to create a place where people like us feel safe, seen and supported. When we are able to have our shop in Glasgow and open safely, it will not only be a retail space but a place for community gatherings like movie nights, creative workshops, artist residencies, spooky markets, and cosy crafty get-togethers.

We would say that as an openly queer business we have hit some blocks I feel other businesses don’t receive. Most search engines actively suppress anything with the word queer or LGBTQIA+ in it, as it is deemed ‘adult’ content, so unless people have their adult content switched off we are likely not to be seen – hence us having to edit ourselves down a lot, which is really triggering for us. 

On the whole, being open about LGBTQ2SIA+ community is hard – but we wouldn’t have it any other way, as we are done being suppressed by mainstream media and culture. I was in the closet for a big part of my life, and I have no plans on going back in there. When we meet other people in our community the response from them about our shop is heart-warming and validating. The positive response from our community gives us strength to keep going.

Skulls and Spells, the new queer horror anthology from Artemisia’s Axe

What are your hopes for the future of The Haunted Bouncy Castle & Artemisia’s Axe?

We are hopeful that after we are vaccinated and the world is a safer place, we will be able to open our shop. It may sound small, but after the last year we are just so happy to be able to get a chance at creating our community space.

With Artemisia’s Axe we are planning on our Kickstarter for our second anthology, which we are hoping to release in the autumn. After this anthology we plan on doing more singular publications for LGBTQ2SIA+ artists that enjoy creating horror and gothic works. We have big plans for the future!


You can visit The Haunted Bouncy Castle here.

Artemisia’s Axe have launched a Kickstarter for their new queer horror anthology Skulls and Spells – you can find the Kickstarter link here.

Follow @BouncyHaunted and @ArtemisiaAxe on Twitter for the latest shop and micro-press updates.

You can also follow the shop on Instagram at @the_haunted_bouncy_castle.

Raze Collective, The Charity Protecting Queer Performance Spaces

Happy Pride! June is a big month for our community, marking the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall uprising – a turning point for the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement, and testimony to the importance of queer venues where we are free and safe to be ourselves. But behind the rainbow-tinted wave of support that comes with Pride, queer spaces are disappearing. We spoke to the dedicated group of people in the performance sector who are working to change that.

58% of LGBTQIA+ venues in London have closed since 2006.

Raze collective

Raze Collective is a charity that supports queer performance in the UK, helping to develop performing arts that are undertaken by LGBTQI+ creatives or explore LGBTQI+ themes. The charity’s name comes from them being established in response to queer spaces being ‘razed’, with iconic queer performance spaces in London such as Camden’s The Black Cap closing their doors in recent years, and many more of these spaces around the UK being threatened with closure. Raze works with people across all areas of these spaces, from performers and producers to venue owners and audience members, in order to protect and promote queer performance in all of its forms.

“Queer spaces are integral to the safety of queer people,” Cassie, who has been a producer with Raze for two years, tells us on why a charity like Raze is so vital. “Everyone needs spaces in which they feel they can fully express themselves as who they are without judgement, fear of violence and and negative repercussions.

“Queer spaces need protecting as they provide community in which people are able to meet others with similar experience – people who they may have never come across. Queer spaces offer social education where creativity and debate can thrive, and in which important change can be made to oppressive systems. Queer spaces offer queer perspectives that need to be celebrated.”

Raze Collective

The positive feedback Raze has had from the artists they support, Cassie says, is due to the “care and commitment” that the organisation has for each project. “Each commission we produce has been imagined by one of the team, so it’s really exciting to see the progression of projects, the artist interaction and the final products.”

Raze runs a program of events to support queer talent, including their Queer Performance Network, which provides networking opportunities for creatives within the queer community. The network is for everyone working in the performance sector, from performers to producers to programmers, and offers a rare chance to socialise and create relationships with other people working in queer performing arts in London. “It helps to be able to share resources, develop good contacts for the sharing of queer work, and to build a community of people with similar interests and artistic journeys,” Cassie says.


“We need queer spaces so the community can thrive and develop; so we can demand a seat at the table, be included in conversation, and create social impact.”

– Cassie Leon, Raze Collective

Raze continued to be a vital resource for the community during the pandemic, teaming up with Something To Aim For to run projects that helped queer artists develop and showcase their skills – adapting, as many of us did, to online spaces. “We were able to support 10 artists who usually work in live spaces to create a digital project, something which they were able to learn from and expand their digital practice,” Cassie explains. The project explored “how to build connections, conversations and social interaction whilst continuing to highlight critical voices in the digital space”.

Raze Collective

Raze Collective are now working with more artists than ever before, developing relationships with organisations to ensure queer representation. For them, the future entails continuing their important work to preserve queer performance spaces. “Without these spaces, events, and platforms that centre queer people, the world can often be isolating and frightening,” Cassie says.

“People need community, celebration and safety. Queer spaces also offer a chance to be represented and visible within the heteronormative space we often frequent. This is very important so the community can thrive and develop; so we can demand a seat at the table, be included in conversation, and create social impact.”


To find out more about Raze Collective and their work, you can visit their website here.

The LGBTQ+ Art Exhibition Showcasing The Joy Of Queer Lives: Q and A With Organiser Ash Green

What better time to be inspired by the work of our fellow LGBTQ+ community than during Pride Month? If you’re seeking your latest queer art fix, you need look no further – there’s a new exhibition heading your way.

The LGBTQ+ Positive Voices exhibition launches online this month, celebrating the positive experiences, lives and perspectives of queer artists and creatives. The exhibition promises an exciting range of creative work, mixing image, video and audio art. We spoke to exhibition organiser Ash Green about their own work as an artist, why they set up Positive Voices, and why dedicated queer spaces like this matter.


Hi Ash! Tell us about your work as an artist.

I mainly create electronic music, small digital games and interactive narratives. They often have a nod to early 1980s music and pop culture, folklore and superstition, and autobiographical elements. My game and narrative art can be hand-drawn pixel art, or manipulated / re-worked images and collages created by myself or other creators. My main work in progress at the moment, The Midnight Detective Club, brings all my interests together into an interactive lo-fi comic style 1980’s neon synthpop supernatural teen detective mystery.

Ash Green

What does LGBTQ+ art mean to you? Do you have a favourite piece?

My favourite pieces of art by others are ones that make me think about my own space in the world, and ones I can see myself reflected back in some way – especially those that make me feel happy about who I am. The Transworkers Photography Exhibition, and Kiss My Genders at the Haywards Gallery in London, have both included works that made me feel very positive about who I am. Without that art, I wonder if I’d have been so ready to come out.

Queer performance art has also had a similar impact on me. When I went to my first queer cabaret, Bar Wotever at The Marlborough in Brighton, it was eye-opening and wonderful to see so many performers claiming their own individual spaces around gender and sexuality.


“I wanted to provide people with a creative outlet for their positive experiences, and for others to see those positive perspectives of being LGBTQ+.”

Ash Green

What made you decide to set up the Positive Voices exhibition?

It had been in the back of my mind to set up something like this for a couple of years. It was inspired partly by collections such as the Transworkers Photography Exhibition and the Museum of Transology and the positive feelings they gave me.

Looking at the news and seeing how difficult it is for many LGBTQ+ / queer people to go about their lives without facing hate and ignorance, I wanted to provide people with a creative outlet for their positive experiences and for others to see those positive perspectives of being LGBTQ+. I recently participated in the Create Place arts programme, which gave me the confidence and opportunity to turn the idea into something real.

Ash Green

What is involved in the running of an exhibition like this?

I launched the project with a call for creative submissions at the beginning of March. That was open until the end of May, and the exhibition goes live in mid-June. I’ve been spreading the word to many LGBTQ+ networks and communities, and art communities as well. That has mainly involved identifying the organisations and emailing them, posting to relevant mailing lists and forums, and social media. I want to make the exhibition as inclusive and diverse as possible, so have ensured that organisations representing wider minority groups have been included in the call for submissions. I’ve had such positive feedback, with organisations sharing the call through their networks.

I’m also setting up the online exhibition space to host visual, audio and interactive works in a way that’s engaging and accessible. I’m very excited by the contributions I’ve received – so diverse, unexpected, interesting and beautifully personal. I’ve received performance pieces, videos, digital artworks, paintings, music, audio pieces and games, representing a wide spectrum of sexual, romantic and gender identities.


“There’s a need to provide a positive, non-judgemental space whose content is firmly focused on celebrating queer lives… a space to help balance out the negative focus we often encounter.”

Ash Green

What do you want the outcome of this exhibition to be?

Ultimately, I want it to be uplifting, both for those who have contributed to the exhibition, and for the visitors. I want it to be something that gives positive insights into LGBTQ+ and queer lives that others might not have considered before.

Even though the exhibition is launching in June, I want that to be the starting point of an exhibition that develops in size and inclusivity. For example, I’m also considering how I can enable people who don’t consider themselves to be creative to contribute, and if a related physical exhibition is a possibility.

Ash Green

What do you think that queer artists, and queer audiences, get out of being able to showcase and see queer work in this way?

I hope queer artists who contribute will feel as if they are contributing to something worthwhile, and that, as part of the exhibition, they are able to share their work and the positive context of that work with a new audience.

I hope viewers appreciate the positive experiences from the perspective of the artists; and I hope they are also able to see something of themselves in the pieces in the exhibition, and feel positive, reassured, and/or happy about that. I also want to give queer viewers the confidence to feel that they can be part of this celebration as well, and contribute their own piece of creativity.

Why do you feel it’s so important to have dedicated spaces like this for LGBTQ+ artists?

I feel there’s a need to provide a positive online non-judgemental space whose content is firmly focused on celebrating LGBTQ+ / queer lives. One that allows us to tell our stories in the way we want to. A space to help balance out the negative focus we often encounter. And a space that provides people with the opportunity to connect with others like themselves anywhere around the world.


The LGBTQ+ Positive Voices online exhibition goes live on 19th Jun 2021 at www.lgbtqpositivevoices.org.

You can find links to Ash’s creative projects here.

You can also follow Ash on Twitter at @ggnewed.

The One Fifty Marchers Podcast On Bringing LGBTQ+ History To Light

When it comes to LGBTQ+ creative work, the stories we tell can often look back on our history as a community – reflecting a desire to make parts of our collective story, parts that have been buried or forgotten over the years, known to the world. 

The One Fifty Marchers podcast attempts to track down the 150 people who took part in the UK’s first ever LGBTQ+ march. Taking place on Highbury Fields, London, in November 1970, this march to protest the treatment of gay people is described as “the spark which began the UK gay rights movement”. However, as creators JD Stewart and Frazer Flintham tell us, this march isn’t an event that’s often mentioned when it comes to accounts of LGBTQ+ history – which is exactly why they wanted to create the podcast. “I was reading about [the first] Pride, and found out that this march happened two years before that,” JD explains. “So I messaged Frazer, who didn’t know about the march either. We had a chat, and we were going to do something theatrical because we’re both playwrights – but then the world turned upside down. Half-jokingly, we suggested a podcast – and then a snowball became a very fast avalanche.”


“Not only are you in the closet as a young person, but your whole history is in the closet as well. And then it feels like this door has been opened.”

Frazer Flintham

For JD and Frazer, embarking on the podcast has been a learning experience for them both. “We made sure to be honest at the very beginning and say [to guests] that we don’t know everything, we’re not an authority on it – tell us what happened,” Frazer says. The gaps in their own knowledge when it comes to queer history, they say, has allowed them to approach the podcast with a fresh perspective, and educate themselves alongside their listeners. “My whole adolescence was under the shadow of Section 28; not only are you in the closet as a young person, but your whole history is in the closet as well. And then it feels like this door has been opened,” Frazer explains. “We just want listeners to hear the people who were on the march, and know their stories – to know how much they did, and how hard they fought. Because there’s a lot of ignorance, and I include myself with that – it’s sort of inevitable, because we’re just not given the information, so why would we know?”

“We’ve both grown a lot through doing the podcast,” Frazer acknowledges. “Not only in terms of our knowledge, but I also feel like I’ve changed in terms of feeling really enthused and empowered by what we’ve discovered on a personal level, which I didn’t expect.”

The One Fifty Marchers Podcast. Banner by Rory Grimm @rory_scribbles on Twitter)

JD adds that the podcast hasn’t only taught the duo about events of the past, but has called attention to similarities with the present. “It’s fascinating how much it’s highlighting parallels to what’s going on now in the trans community, and the way that gay men were vilified then is the same thing that’s happening yet again,” he notes.

As the podcast is digging into a largely unexplored part of history, there is a sense of “great responsibility”, JD and Frazer say, in bringing these stories to light. “It’s been very emotional. There were certain interviews that we did where it was just harrowing and heart-breaking,” JD says. “That obviously adds a layer of responsibility, to portray those stories and convey them in an authentic way for people who are listening; and to honour them through that.”

“The responsibility has been quite advantageous, because I think there was a real urgency to what we’re doing,” Frazer points out, when it comes to hearing the stories of those who attended the march. “With these people, in another 20 years you wouldn’t be able to speak to them.” 

A plaque at Highbury Fields, Islington, commemorating the first gay rights march on 27th November, 1970, “When 150 members of the Gay Liberation Front held a torchlight against police harassment”.

The podcast has had a fantastic reception so far – from being shared on Twitter by Sir Ian McKellen on launch day, to reaching 2500 downloads by its ninth episode. The positive response has come not only from listeners but from guests, particularly those who had never before been given the opportunity to speak publicly about the march. “I think something that you find, especially with older LGBTQ people, is that they’re just so excited someone wants to listen, and someone’s taking an interest,” JD says. “For some interviews, we have hours and hours of people just talking because they’ve gone off in so many different directions, which just adds to the beauty of the whole thing, and it shows us that they don’t talk about it enough. I think for them it’s important that it’s remembered.”

The One Fifty Marchers also features interviews with current LGBTQ+ campaigners in the UK, and looks at other sections of queer history. JD and Frazer hope that their discoveries on the podcast will evolve into other creative projects. “If we can prove success, whatever that means, through this story in this way, then hopefully that might lead to other avenues – whether that be a documentary, or a book, or a film or television or theatre production,” JD says.

“This isn’t necessarily a story about tragedy, so that poses another problem for people because they love watching us suffer,” he adds. “I would like to think there are multiple forms that it could take. If those happen that’s a lovely thing, but our main goal was always to just share this story and have it as a resource for people.”


You can find out more about The One Fifty Marchers podcast here: theonefiftymarchers.buzzsprout.com

You can follow the podcast on Twitter and Instagram at @150marchers.

Listen to the first episode below:

Queer Film Exhibition CineQ On Prioritising QTIPOC Perspectives – And How On-Screen Stories Can Change Our Perceptions

Film and arts festivals may have taken a different shape over the past year, with Zoom being the new venue of choice, but their impact on the communities they cater to remains undeniable. Festivals that showcase queer work can help their audiences find a sense of belonging and pride, by giving them the opportunity to see their identity reflected back at them through collections of LGBTQ+ work that may be difficult to find elsewhere.

CineQ is a queer film exhibition in Birmingham, that prioritises the work of queer, trans and intersex people of colour. The four-day festival started out as a community cinema and was founded by Rico Johnson-Sinclair, whose passion for telling stories goes back to his childhood. “My love for storytelling was entrenched in actual books – because when I was younger, being from a poor background, the only way I could access stories was going to the library and lending books for free,” Rico tells us. “I used to be the kid that would very much love summer – not because I could go out and play, but because the sun would go down later so I’d have more time reading. I used to write my own books when I’d run out of books to read.”

CineQ

This hunger for stories soon moved into the world of film. “I started to watch all of the films that I didn’t have access to before, and realised that films were a magical and accessible way to create stories on the screen – but also that these stories had a profound impact on the way that the world sees those communities.” Rico noticed in particular the impact of LGBT storylines when they began to emerge in soaps, and how these affected the perceptions of those around him when he was a young teenager.  “There was a significant difference in the way that people treated me, as an openly queer person at age thirteen, after they watched these soap opera storylines to before,” Rico observes. “I saw that this was also reflected in the way that people engaged with film – if they’d watched a film with a queer side character, they would then coming up to me saying, “I watched this film and I understand, I get it” –  they didn’t, obviously, because they don’t understand what it’s like to be queer from watching a side character in a film – but it was some semblance of acceptance, which I hadn’t felt or seen before.”

CineQ / Rico Johnson-Sinclair

It was perceiving these changes that led Rico towards working in film. “I realised that I could use film to dismantle some of the prejudices – dismantle the misunderstandings and lack of empathy between communities.” After moving into film exhibition, Rico started to see a whole new genre of film – “The Marlon T. Riggs’ of the world, who was an incredible black filmmaker who lived with HIV, and created all these wonderful films like Black Is… Black Ain’t,” he tells us. “Seeing that there was a plethora of queer black film really reignited my passion about getting these films out – because if I had never encountered these films, that meant there was a whole bunch of people like me, who might have a lot of internalised racism and homophobia, who had never seen them either. So that reignited my passion about showing queer film.”

CineQ festival was born out of this passion. Instances of LGBTQ+ films being shown in Birmingham were rare, let alone films with QTIPOC representation – and CineQ wanted to change that, Rico says. “The attitude you’ve got to have is that if it doesn’t exist, you’ve got to create it.” Rico’s priority was ensuring that queer films were accessible to their audiences, after his own experiences as a young film enthusiast. “As a queer black man who comes from a low socio-economic background, I haven’t had access to film previously. I couldn’t go to cinemas, because I couldn’t afford to – and actually the only way that I could engage with film was through piracy,” he says. “For queer audiences that want to go to a cinema but their cinemas aren’t programming queer work, the only way they can access queer film is through sites like Netflix or Amazon, which the film industry is critical of because they see it as taking away from actual cinemas, or through piracy for those who can’t even afford the subscription to Netflix or Amazon.”

CineQ

One of the priorities of CineQ was screening films that showed the experiences of queer people of colour. “There are so many spaces for for white gay men, and there aren’t many spaces for queer people of colour – especially queer, trans and intersex people of colour,” Rico says. “I wanted to create a festival that prioritised their perspectives, but also in an authentic way; so we only show films that are by and for queer people of colour; and if we don’t, we show films that have had a genuine or authentic input by a queer person of colour, because that’s how films should be made.”

Showing these stories and creating safe discussion spaces to unpack them through events like CineQ, Rico adds, helps address the cultural divides in the queer community.  “These are stories that need to be told, because they’re going to make a difference in understanding our community as a whole – and really deal with some of the segregation that’s happening in our community. They’ll make a difference to the way that people interact with each other, and the amount of empathy that we have as a community.”

CineQ

The first CineQ festival in Birmingham was a huge success, selling out four of its initial screenings. The CineQ team were making plans for 2020, with hopes to increase their programme and make the festival more immersive, but had to make the “heart-wrenching” decision to cancel the festival just before the first lockdown back in March 2020. Instead, CineQ moved online to do a series of virtual events. When the exhibition can return, Rico plans to have a “hybrid approach”, with the festival partly happening digitally in order to make it both more accessible and more sustainable. “We’ll be looking at 2022 as a new date for the festival, and try and completely reinvent what CineQ is,” Rico says.

Like most of us, Rico eagerly awaits the day that sees the arts sector open and thriving again – and believes it will come back bigger and better than ever before. “I think the economy is probably going to flourish – but it’s also going to make space for some really interesting events, that previously would have been a huge risk because people just weren’t going out, but are now going to be completely viable because people want to do anything new,” he says. “I think we’re going to have a new Roaring Twenties – people won’t want to be in their houses, they’ll be out every day of the week. Nightlife culture and events culture are going to explode.”

Here’s hoping!


You can find out more about CineQ here: http://www.cineqbirmingham.co.uk.

Follow CineQ on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at @cineqbrum.

Bookshop Queer Lit On Making Space For LGBTQ+ Literature

What’s your favourite queer book?

The book lovers among us will know what it’s like to see ourselves in what we read; a lot of us may even remember the first time we found a character in a book who shared our identity, and how that validation felt. However, with the mainstream still dominated by heteronormative storytelling, it can be difficult to find titles with decent LGBTQ+ representation.

Queer Lit decided it was time for a change. An online store dedicated to LGBTQ+ titles, with plans for a physical shop to open in Manchester after lockdown, Queer Lit was set up by Managing Director Matthew Cornford after he struggled to get his hands on queer literature. “Whenever I went onto Google and typed in LGBT books, the same 40 books just continued to show up,” he tells us. When Matthew visited the Waterstones branch in Manchester, the self-proclaimed “biggest bookshop in the North”, he was told that they had got rid of their LGBT section. “I thought, you know what? That’s just not good enough.”

Queer Lit & Matthew Cornford

It was then Matthew decided that queer readers needed their own dedicated space to find books that catered to them, and embarked on every avid reader’s dream – opening his very own bookshop. The first step, he tells us, was contacting the publishers who dealt primarily with queer literature. “We had a really big conversation with them – and thankfully all of them said they’d been waiting for somewhere online to come and create a space that has all of this literature; they really wanted to get behind us and support us,” Matthew says. “From there it was about looking at how to stock them, and how to get online. I think it took us about four or five months just to get the online shop to the place that it is now.”

The store is also focused on helping queer authors who may have experienced difficulty in getting their stories published, having ordered stock for over a dozen independent LGBTQ+ authors. “It’s great for us to be able to say, “Ok, you’ve not been picked up, or you’ve decided to publish independently – we’ll support you how we can,” Matthew says.

Queer Lit

Queer Lit started with seven hundred books – a number which now, five months on, has almost doubled. The website has over eighty categories, so that shoppers can find exactly what they’re looking for; whether it’s a certain genre, or a particular type of representation. Asked if there have been any particular stand-out books since Queer Lit opened, Matthew names Christine Burns’ Trans Britain, which has been an “enormous success” for the store. “I think it’s because we’ve got more people within our own community trying to become better trans allies,” he says. “It’s the perfect book to be able to digest all of that information, because there’s a lot of things that have happened within the trans community that has forced them to struggle more than many other parts of our community. Books like this are really opening up our own community to learn more and be more inclusive within ourselves.”

There’s little doubt, then, of the significance of having access to queer literature – whether you’re reading for education, entertainment, or escapism – not just for the LGBTQ+ community to find ourselves, Matthew says, but for those outside of the community too. With queer books such as Booker Prize winner Shuggie Bain (Douglas Stuart) and the multi-award-winning Cemetery Boys (Aiden Thomas) leaving their mark on mainstream literature recently, making queer literature accessible to the masses helps to normalise LGBTQ+ experiences. “Even within our own community, there’s still so much stigma around whether we challenge and accept ourselves,” Matthew says, citing the stereotypical or side-lined characters we see all too often when it comes to queer representation in fiction. “I think the more we can just read a fiction novel or a sci-fi fantasy novel and just see some queer characters in it, the better – most readers aren’t asking for an aggressively sexy storyline, they just want to be able to identify and see themselves within that representation.”

Queer Lit

The impact of having access to LGBTQ+ books doesn’t stop with adults – Queer Lit has a range of almost one hundred books for kids, too. The team is currently packing up some of their books to send to schools because, as Matthew tells us, LGBTQ+ books are the most stolen titles from school libraries. “It shows that children need and want to read them, but it also shows they’re not comfortable enough to sign it out and they need to steal it,” he says. “There are so many great kids’ books out there that start to explore not just their gender or sex, but also conversations around race and religion, and being inclusive as a behaviour. Racism and homophobia is taught – so if we can get hold of children and inspire their minds whilst they’re at a young age, before these core beliefs are built, we can make those core beliefs be inclusive and diverse.”

They’re just getting started – but what do the Queer Lit team hope for the future? Matthew says that they already have a list of authors keen to do in-store events, once they are able to open their bricks-and-mortar Manchester shop. Much like Gay’s The Word, the famous LGBTQ+ London bookstore that opened its doors in 1979 and is still flocked to by queer readers from around the world, Matthew hopes that Queer Lit can be a place of belonging for local LGBTQ+ bibliophiles. “Bookshops are very much a pillar of the community; they become a safe space, a community space. Gay’s The Word is an absolute an icon for the LGBT community, and we would love to be the North West version of that.”


You can visit Queer Lit at https://www.queerlit.co.uk/.

They’re also on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at @queerlituk.

FEATURE: Drag Queen Aaron Carty On Creating “The Beyoncé Experience”, Performing Worldwide, And Being Unapologetically You

Drag has long been a huge part of LGBTQ+ culture – from its origins on the stage, to the drag balls that established it as a queer art form, before finding its way into pop culture. Today – thanks in no small part to RuPaul’s Drag Race – drag has its heels planted firmly in the world of mainstream entertainment.

One of the drag shows out there, bringing the house down wherever it goes, is The Beyoncé Experience. Headed up by Beyoncé impersonator Aaron Carty, if you happen to be a Beyoncé fan (who isn’t?), this drag show promises to be the “next best thing” to seeing the pop superstar. “The reason I call it Aaron Carty’s Beyoncé Experience is because it’s my take on it; it’s very much my version. If you want to, you can just go on YouTube and watch Beyoncé live. So we want to make it slightly different,” Aaron tells us. And you’re more than welcome to call him a poor man’s Beyoncé. “I did have one person on Twitter call me a poor man’s Beyoncé, and I said, “You know what, you’re bang on right! That’s fantastic, I love that!” Everyone who loves Beyoncé but can’t afford to go to her – just come and see my show, after one drink you’ll be having the full Beyoncé Experience!”

Aaron has performed around the world with The Beyoncé Experience for several years now – but how did he first get into drag? When he became a police officer aged 18, it was the furthest thing from his mind – “if you’d told me then, “In 10 years’ time you’re going to be travelling the world and dancing as Beyoncé,” I would have said, “Absolutely not, that’s not for me!””

Aaron Carty’s Beyoncé Experience

But everything changed within the space of one weekend, when Aaron went to Sitges Pride back in 2014. “They had a drag night, and I said to my friends, “Let’s just get in drag, let’s be part of it.”,” Aaron recalls. “We had it in our heads that we’d put all this drag on, and two hours in we’d be so drunk that the wigs would be off and the heels would be in the field,” he laughs. “But as I started walking down to the beach, locals kept coming up to me and saying, “Beyoncé! Are you performing tonight?” By the time I got to the beach, the organisers came up to me and said, “Everyone’s been asking if you’re the Beyoncé impersonator performing tonight” – and they didn’t even have a Beyoncé impersonator on!”

The event organisers then asked Aaron to perform a song on stage – and when he insisted that it wasn’t for him, they invited him back on Saturday with the added promise of VIP backstage passes for Aaron and his friends. Aaron finally agreed to perform, “But what I didn’t know is that Saturday’s obviously their biggest night – they had this huge stage at the beach, set up for an audience of ten thousand people. I was absolutely shitting myself!”

But the fates seemed to align for Aaron’s first performance. “During the day I was sitting on the beach talking to my friends saying, “What the hell am I going to do for makeup?!”” Aaron remembers. “We’d gone to Primark, and just bought bits and bobs. And then this guy turned around and said, “I just overheard your conversation – I’m a makeup artist on the TV show Modern Family, and I’ve flown from LA to Sitges. I’ll do your makeup if you want.” So he came around and did my makeup – and I’ve never looked any any better than I did that night,” he laughs. When the video of Aaron’s first performance at Sitges went up online, the reception blew him away. “I thought after doing Beyoncé that all the trolls would come out in the comments section, but it was so positive and encouraging.”

Aaron On Britain’s Got Talent. (ITV)

It was up and up from there; Aaron’s next performance on the UK’s biggest talent show catapulted him into the celebrity stratosphere – and into the tabloids – overnight. “My next performance was on Britain’s Got Talent. Obviously being a police officer then came back, because the press found all these articles – there was a time I was involved with Jade Goody, and all of that came out. I was in Closer magazine in my police outfit. So the hype was real,” he recalls. “And off the back of Britain’s Got Talent – those three minutes on television – I had literally thousands of performance requests. They were going online and finding my work email address, my personal email address.” Aaron decided to go along with his newfound fame. “My best friend said, “Look, you should just run with this. Have some fun with it, even if it’s something you do with a hobby to take your mind away from work.”” Taking that advice has changed his life. “I’m in another world. I’m 35 now, I’m dancing with dancers who are 20 years old and traveling the world with them – and just doing that opens up everything. I’m still going to be doing this at 60!”


“Everyone can get on the stage and perform in front of twenty thousand people – I genuinely believe that.”

Aaron Carty

Aaron was even the first drag queen to perform at Everest Base Camp. “I’d been wanting to do Everest base camp since I was about ten years old. Everyone was jokingly saying, “Are you going to do Beyoncé up there?” And I was like, “No, are you kidding me?! It’s gonna take all of my effort just to get up there!” It’s a seven-day trek, and it is horrendous – it’s so gruelling. But I thought, I can’t go all this way and not do Beyoncé. So I packed up an easy costume and decided to do it. What I didn’t know was that there would be limits to how much stuff we could carry, so more than 50 percent of my bag was the costume – I was basically wearing the same tops and trousers for seven days just to fit in wigs, costumes and boots. 

“The day before we reached base camp, I got really ill. I had a really bad migraine – and I thought, I’ve come all this way, it’s freezing cold and wet, and I’m not going to be able to do it. Then the next morning we were up at four o’clock to walk up. It was such a hard climb. When I got to the top I thought, I can’t do it – I’m freezing, I can’t stand here and take all of my clothes off to put a costume on, in front of probably about 100 people from all around the world, and dance to Beyoncé!  And then this Scottish guy came up to me and he said, “I’ve got a mankini in my bag – would you help me take my clothes off to put my mankini on?” I didn’t know him! And I was like, “Ok, but only if you can help me get into my drag.” So we helped each other. It was absolute fate. As I started walking towards the main rock, everyone parted and formed a semicircle to watch me perform. It was so cold – it was so cold I couldn’t even put my other clothes back on. But I’m so happy I did that. I mean, I looked absolutely terrible, but I didn’t care what I looked like; what was important to me is that I did it.”

Aaron Carty’s Beyoncé Experience

Even now, after performances around the world, Aaron sees himself as an unlikely drag queen. “I think there are a lot a lot of drag queens out there nowadays who are pretty much the same in and out of drag; they’re full of energy, eccentric, and bubbly the entire time. I’m not that – I’m such a normal boring person,” he laughs. “But sometimes I do this as well. I think people can relate to that a lot more.” He also thinks that anyone can follow in his footsteps. “I think everyone can get on the stage and perform in front of twenty thousand people – I genuinely believe that. I think the only thing holding them back is what other people are going to think about them.”


“It really unleashed the creativity in me – which I think I’ve always had, but I had never really been given an opportunity to see how I would try it. I think that comes from growing up hiding big parts of of my personality, and my values, just in case someone found out I was gay.”

Aaron Carty

For many of us, the fear of getting up to perform in front of others is often too much to overcome – how do you get past that? “It does take a lot to perform in front of a crowd,” Aaron acknowledges, “And I never thought I’d be the one doing that. Even now, if I go to a show and there’s audience participation, my heart will instantly start racing, I’ll start sweating, and honestly if they come anywhere near me to try and talk to me I’ll literally die. To the point where if I know there’s audience participation, I’m not going,” he laughs. “But that just goes to show that this fear that we have is stopping us from doing some very simple tasks, which you never know might lead on to something else. Yes, not every opportunity is going to lead you to what you want, and for every success that I’ve had, I’ve had ten really bad failures. But if this year has taught us anything, it’s that if you’re thinking about doing something, you have to just go for it, whatever it is.”

And, Aaron stresses, you don’t have to wait until you’re more polished or better prepared, especially when it comes to drag. “I was watching a drag makeup tutorial the other day, and the drag queen said, “Stay in your bedroom until you get your makeup looking amazing.” That’s pretty bad advice!” he says. “Go out with no makeup and just a wig, like I did in Sitges – with some lashes and a cheap plastic wig – who knew, five years later, I’d be wearing full 60-inch human hair, the best makeup in the world and enormous, expensive makeup collection? We all have to start somewhere.”

Aaron Carty’s Beyoncé Experience

Each performance of the Beyoncé Experience involves not only intense choreography for Aaron and his dancers – but he has to rock his best Beyoncé looks while doing it too. Every show requires a lot of preparation. “It really takes a village,” Aaron says. “I spend hours mixing music, hours doing makeup. Normal hair takes 45 minutes to wash, blow dry and style, and I have to do that every time. I’m in a wig, dancing for two hours – you can’t just brush that out. I make all of my costumes myself, and I make all the girls’ costumes as well, so that’s four times everything I need to make. And even from a fitness level – only this year I started running 5k every day just to keep up that stamina, and then I work out three times a week and I’ll cycle 40 miles a week. It really takes that much all behind the scenes. 

“For what I’m doing – normally a drag queen will go on space and perform for three to five minutes as part of the night, but we’re doing two-hour shows most of the time. That’s enough to wear you out for the rest of the day. I think the biggest energy stealer is costume changes – when you’re really exhausted halfway through a performance, but then you’ve got 30 seconds to completely get a costume off and on. The mess, the carnage, the chaos! I rehearse getting in and out of costumes – after I have my 5k run, I’ll quickly run downstairs, put a costume on, then try and take it off and put it back on again while I’m sweaty and a bit exhausted, because that’s the real test.”


“There are so many reasons why people can’t attend Pride themselves -and they need to know that this world exists. We have such a bigger responsibility than just throwing a party; we need to give these countries [where it’s illegal to be gay] visibility. It’s our duty.”

Aaron Carty

Despite the hard work, being at the helm of the Beyoncé Experience has been more rewarding than Aaron could ever have imagined. “It was the best thing I could have ever done. I genuinely feel it saved me from becoming bogged down with the day-to-day of running a business, and it really unleashed the creativity in me – which I think I’ve always had, but I had never really been given an opportunity to see how I would try it,” he says. “I think that comes from growing up hiding big parts of of my personality, and my values, just in case someone found out I was gay. When you’re in the closet, you don’t want to show too much of yourself or express yourself for fear of people realising. I’m so happy it happened to me, because I know there are so many people that never went down that path, and they’re still feeling that now.”

Aaron Carty’s Beyoncé Experience

For someone whose livelihood revolves around performing, lockdown has of course been a huge adjustment. Aaron took it as an opportunity to update costumes, and filmed performances at home to put online – but nonetheless, being unable to perform shows in person took its toll. “After every performance, the next day I’d always get the performance blues – when you were on stage last night as Beyoncé, and everyone was screaming and cheering, it’s such a euphoric moment that when you go back to your day job you naturally get the blues. To have that continuously for so long really affected me.” But receiving messages from fans during lockdown has given Aaron a renewed sense of appreciation. “To have people message and say, “We’ve really missed you” – that’s been really encouraging. I’ve been made more aware by our followers how much they relied on our performances as a part of their own well-being and entertainment.”


“We don’t want to be tolerated – we need to be accepted. So you need to be yourself unapologetically.”

Aaron Carty

Aaron is certain that when in-person audiences can start up again, the Beyoncé Experience is going to come back stronger. “I’ll definitely appreciate every single show so much more.” Until then, moving performances online has had the benefit of making them more accessible to parts of the community who otherwise may not be able to see them; something Aaron has seen first-hand as the head of marketing for UK Black Pride. “There are so many reasons why people can’t attend Pride themselves – whether it be where they live, financially they can’t afford it – and they need to know that this world exists,” Aaron says. “When we started doing UK Black Pride online, even through our Facebook page we were getting 24,000 views from people in countries where it’s illegal to be gay. We have such a bigger responsibility than just throwing a party; we need to give these countries visibility. It’s our duty. It means young people are going to see that and think, “This is my path.””

The impact on young queer audiences is clear – what does Aaron want people to take away from his performances most of all? “I’m unapologetically The Beyoncé Experience, and I really want that to resonate with people in all of the events that we do – you’ve got to be unapologetically you,” he says. “When people say we need to tolerate people and their lifestyles – no, you need to accept them. We don’t want to be tolerated, we need to be accepted. So you need to be yourself unapologetically, and for those that aren’t ready to, or don’t know how to, I  hope at least they can get something from my story, and that it might help them get that one step closer to being unapologetically themselves.”


To find out more about The Beyoncé Experience, visit their website: https://www.beyonceexperience.co.uk/

You can follow Aaron on Instagram and Twitter at @aaroncarty.

Sappho Events On Why We Need Queer Social Spaces

The past year has been an isolating experience for us all – and particularly for LGBTQ+ people, lockdown has meant the connections with our communities and chosen families – that were vital for so many of us – have been severed. But perhaps one good thing about being stuck inside all these months is that we’ve seen a huge surge in virtual groups and events, which a lot of us have turned to to keep ourselves going.

One of these new initiatives is Sappho Events. Named after the famous Greek poet and the “godmother of gay women”, the Sappho team runs a programme of social events for LGBTQ+ women and non-binary people, based on common interest areas such as literature, film, and crafts. Sappho was created out of a need to see more dedicated queer spaces where we can make connections with one another, founder and director Maryann Wright tells us, and was an idea that had been brewing for years.

Sappho Events

“When I came to London about three and a half years ago, I was really excited about a bigger LGBTQ community – because I came from Australia, and a lot of people said, “You’re going to meet so many awesome gay girls!”” Maryann says. “But I found that there was nowhere for me to go – I would spend hours on Google searching and find nothing.” The fact that Maryann wasn’t a “club and pub kind of girl”, she says, left her with little options to connect with her fellow community. “There was just this massive gap of events for people like me. And I thought, this is a completely untapped part of the LGBTQ community that needs something like this. The opportunities are endless, and there are just so many incredible people out there.”

Sappho Events

As part of Sappho Events Maryann has also created the Lez Be Ann’s podcast with Ana Ndekwe, a fellow member of the Sappho team, which is all about the joys and challenges of being LGBTQ+ in the UK. “We would often sit on the phone together, way before Sappho was created. We would just talk about being lesbians and all the things that come up, and have a massive laugh,” Maryann says. “Then we realised this is probably stuff that you only really understand if you’re a gay woman in in the UK. And then we thought, this is just too good to not share. It came from a space of making a place that people can come to if they’re gay, to feel like they’re not alone.”

While the long-term plan for Sappho is to host events in-person, having to do things virtually has been a good opportunity to trial out what people enjoy and make things accessible – from craft sessions, an LGBTQ+ book club, and speed dating, to events focused on helping people look after their health and wellbeing. “When I was putting together the business plan, I was expecting Covid to be done by now,” Maryann admits. “When it turned out it wasn’t, I saw it as an opportunity for accessibility and to be UK-wide, so the people who come to Sappho’s events are up and down the country, and there’s nothing that stops them from meeting really interesting people. For people who it takes a lot for them to muster up the courage to go and put themselves out there in person, this is a much more gentle way to ease people into these spaces, and show how welcoming and positive they are.” 

Sappho Events

The team has had “great” feedback from those who have attended events so far, and Maryann hopes to see audiences continue to grow. “Every day we get bookings from people from up and down the UK. The challenge now is keeping that momentum going, and expanding the number of people who know about Sappho. There are lots of people who want this but they don’t know about it, so it’s about trying to make sure that we’re continually reaching new people.”

For Maryann and the team, the future will be about making sure that Sappho Events can thrive as a business. “I’ve been self-funding to kick us off, and I’m not making any money from it myself so I have to rely on having a full-time job, which obviously isn’t sustainable in the long run,” Maryann says. “My bigger ambition is to learn about how to grow and make it sustainable, and then I want to make it into a franchise so that people can run events all across the UK.” 

Sappho Events

The Sappho Events website describes the “life-affirming” process of finding a group “who not only understand you, but have walked a similar journey to yours” – and the importance of having dedicated queer spaces is undeniable, not only for individuals who can find a sense of belonging through events like this, but for the community as a whole to unite. “I think when we’re in when we’re in a marginalised group of people, which is the LGBTQ community, where in the past we’ve faced a lot of prejudice and discrimination, having an inclusive space that is very much about empowerment and inspiration and having a nice time together is essential,” Maryann says. “It’s really important to me that people feel Sappho is a safe place they can come to, and there’s not going to be judgment . It’s about a community.”


To view Sappho’s programme of events, head to their website: https://www.sapphoevents.co.uk/events.

You can listen to the Les Be Ann’s podcast here: https://www.sapphoevents.co.uk/podcast.

You can also keep up to date with Sappho Events on social media – find them on Instagram and Twitter at @SapphoEvents.

“It’s Changed My Life”: The Pink Singers On Performance And Community As An LGBTQ+ Choir

The Pink Singers are Europe’s oldest LGBT+ choir. Formed in 1983 for London’s Pride march, at a time when the age of consent was still unequal and the first case of AIDS in the UK had been diagnosed only two years before, over the decades the choir has grown into a group of over 90 members who perform across the world.

“I think for lots of people in the choir it’s about finding a community where they can be themselves, and we can all connect through our shared love of music,” says Nicki Wakefield, a member of the Pink Singers and the choir’s marketing and publicity lead. “It’s all sorts of ages, genders, backgrounds – and it’s just so lovely to connect with people who you maybe wouldn’t meet in ordinary life. We’ve all got each other’s backs, and we support each other. It’s such an amazing community.”

The Pink Singers on stage - a large group of people singing or smiling, dressed in colourful clothing, with multi-coloured balloons scattered on the stage around them.
The Pink Singers

It was this sense of community and belonging that first drew Nicki to joining the choir five years ago; despite having a background in music, Nicki hadn’t stepped into that world for a long time. “I used to be a classical musician back in the day – I went to the Royal College of Music,” she says. “It was a very competitive environment, and I wasn’t one of the better ones, as it were, so unfortunately it beat music out of me. I ended up not really doing very much in music for 20-odd years. The Pink Singers has brought the joy back to music for me.”

Since discovering the choir and reigniting her love of music, Nicki now works as part of the choir’s management team; the whole team is made up of choir members, who ensure that everything runs smoothly – and they are certainly kept busy. “Probably about two thirds of the choir are involved in some way in the running of it, and everyone wants it to succeed,” Nicki says. “There are things like choosing the repertoire, doing the choreography, running the rehearsals, and managing the venues. We work with choirs around the UK and overseas – sometimes they come and perform with us, sometimes we do trips – so there’s a lot of stuff going on.”

The Pink Singers at a Pride March in London - a group of people with Pink Singers t-shirts on, flying pink balloons, and holding up a banner saying "Pink Singers".
The Pink Singers

As is the case for most of us, lockdown has been a big adjustment for the choir. Finding ways to keep singing together from home has come with some teething problems. “You can’t actually sing together because of the delay factor on Zoom – if you’re all off mute, it sounds like a mess,” Nicki laughs. But the choir has found ways to continue their work virtually, creating two videos during lockdown with performances of Coldplay’s Fix You, and then the rather apt Together In Electric Dreams.

Once the choir had chosen the songs they wanted to sing, the logistics of making a virtual singalong happen were unlike anything they had attempted before. “We all had to listen to the backing track in our headphones, and sing along to it into our phones,” Nicki recalls. “Then we were all given scripts on what we needed to do for the video, and we filmed ourselves on mute miming along to the audio.” With over 120 choir members past and present taking part in the Electric Dreams singalong, it was quite a feat.

The Pink Singers performing on stage - in the midst of performing choreography, with each member lifting their arm in the air. Two members stand at the front in superhero costumes, holding hands in the air.
The Pink Singers

When the small matter of a global pandemic isn’t in the way, the Pink Singers can be seen getting involved with a whole host of community projects, fighting for LGBTQ+ rights, and connecting with other groups around the world. Back in 2015, the choir ran a year-long project with India’s first LGBT choir, Rainbow Voices Mumbai. At the time, ‘homosexual activity’ was still illegal in India due to Section 377, introduced in 1861 during British rule. The project aimed to share music and culture between the two choirs, while raising awareness around the status of LGBT+ rights both in India and the UK. “It was all about understanding what’s going on in different parts of the world, and trying to help fight for rights and support people,” Nicki says of the project. “It was an amazing experience, with such brave people putting themselves out there.”

The Pink Singers plan to continue their work around the world this year, with the upcoming Eastern Europe Project. Like the India project, this initiative will focus on raising awareness of LGBT+ rights, specifically in Poland and Russia, through a shared connection and love of music. “We’ll keep connecting with people in the community,” Nicki says of the choir’s hopes for the future. “Keep singing, keep performing, and try to be as inclusive as we can be.”

A closer shot of the Pink Singers performing on stage, showing a group of the singers all dressed in black suits and dresses, mid-song and waving their hands in the air.
The Pink Singers

Of course, performing in front of audiences is one of the most rewarding aspects of being part of the choir, and its members hope that physical performances can start up again soon so that they can, as Nicki puts it, “Share some of the joy with other LGBT people who might be more isolated”. For such an out-and-proud group, performance is all about queer visibility.  “I’m sure there are people in our audiences, particularly when we perform at mainstream events that aren’t specifically LGBT spaces, for whom it has a big impact just to see us, and know that it’s normal,” Nicki says. “It shows that you can be who you are, you can have a community, and you can perform.”

And it’s not just its audiences who get so much out of the choir. Just being able to see each other in person again is something that Nicki and the rest of the Pink Singers are looking forward to most of all, as joining the choir has given many of its members the sense of belonging and community that queer people are often left searching for. “These people are our chosen family,” Nicki says. “We’re proud of who we are, and we’re proud of what we do. For lots of people in the choir it’s been the impetus to come out to their family and other people, and not be ashamed anymore.”

And for Nicki, there’s no doubt as to how much being a Pink Singer means to her. “It has absolutely changed my life, being part of this choir,” she says. “I have some really good friends in the choir; people who have been really important to me, and who I hope will be for the rest of my life.”


To find out more about the Pink Singers, visit their website: https://www.pinksingers.co.uk/.

You can also find them on Twitter and Instagram at @pinksingers.

You can listen to their latest album here: https://ampl.ink/1lVJR

“Your Queerness Is Your Superpower”: Polari Creative On Making Space To Tell Queer Stories In Film

When was the last time you saw an LGBTQ+ character on the big screen?

GLAAD’s Studio Responsibility Index, which looks at the number of LGBTQ+ characters in the movies released by the eight biggest film studios every year, paints a picture of where we’re at with queer representation. Take 2020, where 18.6% of films released by the major studios contained LGBTQ+ characters – in other words, 96 out of the 118 films that came out in 2020 didn’t have any queer characters in them at all. With LGBTQ+ representation lacking in mainstream film, it’s little surprise that many queer filmmakers feel the need to carve out their own dedicated space to tell diverse queer stories.

This is exactly what Polari Creative is doing. Established in 2020, Polari is a brand new film company that champions queer storytelling. “I set up Polari, first and foremost, because I’m infatuated with queer people and our stories,” says founder and creative producer Luke Davies. “The experiences that stem from queer lives are so extensive in scope, and yet media that claims to centre our stories – whether we are the intended audience or not – typically revolves around identity crises, tragedy, stereotype, and/or heteronormativity. There is so much more joy, beauty, independence, expression, and complexity, and that is what I plan to spotlight via Polari.”

After finishing the BFI x Film Hub North Creative Producers School in 2019, Luke knew that he wanted to set up his own film company – an exciting and daunting prospect in equal measure. “The beauty, and sometimes terror of it all is that, unless you’re in a partnership with someone else, you get to decide what your company stands for and what stories you want to champion,” Luke says. “I’d say to anyone going down the same route, go ahead and focus on that, and you’ll figure out the rest when it comes.”

Luke Davies filming on location on a bridge overlooking a river. Luke us smiling and pointing to something off-camera, and a cameraperson is filming him.
Luke Davies / Polari Creative

Polari’s ethos promises to, “Honour the boundlessness of queer lives”, and Luke is open to telling all kinds of stories through the company’s projects,So long as each project is doing justice to an individual or collective queer experience.” The minimum criteria for every Polari project is modelled on GLAAD’s Vito Russo Test; to pass this test, a film must do the following three things:

  • Contain a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.
  • That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity. 
  • The LGBTQ character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect. Meaning they are not there to simply provide colourful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or (perhaps most commonly) set up a punchline.

This criteria was borne out of a desire to see more – and improved – representation of LGBTQ+ characters on screen. Is the current state of queer representation in film something that Polari is expressly seeking to challenge? “Are there great films and shows with queer representation coming out right now? Yes,” answers Luke. “Are we still assessing the worth of queer stories through the lens of heteronormativity? Also yes. Depicting queer lives in ways that reach beyond our ability to be loved, or how closely we match the conventional – exclusionary – portrayals of “sex appeal”, focusing instead on stories where we remain undiluted and three-dimensional, will only serve to further enrich all of our lives. It would also help dismantle the idea that a person’s story or being must be contained within a framework to have value.”

Filming taking place for Polari - a cameraperson is in a small living room, holding a camera and pointing it at an arrangement of photographs laid out on a coffee table.
Luke Davies / Polari Creative

Why is it so important for queer creatives to have their own spaces to tell their stories? For Luke, working within his own community means not having to restrain his ideas – and he believes that building these spaces where like-minded people can collaborate will help the queer community move past the challenges we face, “As well as uplift those who are perpetually shoved aside within said community.”.

“I think queer people have always found inspiration and empowerment within spaces that feel specific and secure, so it seems only natural that we would continue to do this on a more professional level as filmmakers or creatives,” Luke says. “While there are so many nuances to moving through the world as a queer person, talking to someone who’s familiar with some of those nuances provides comfort, and when we’re comforted we can begin to clarify those foggy parts of ourselves that will further enrich our work.”

Polari is currently in early production on its feature documentary, “Other,” which explores the themes of identity, belonging, and family. There are also two short films and a comedy series in the works. Luke hopes that, pandemic conditions permitting, filming can take place in the summer. From there, Polari has big plans in the pipeline. “Looking into the future, I want to collaborate with artists both here and outside of the UK,” Luke says, “Especially on stories by those living in places where laws that are discriminatory and dangerous to queer individuals are on the rise. We’ve seen that film and other types of art can aid in the fight for change, so contributing to that fight in any way would be an honour. Oh, and more queer joy,” he adds. “Lots more.”

Filming on location for Polari - three people in masks are seen against a backdrop of rolling hills. They are all wearing waterproof clothing with their hoods up, and masks on. Two of the people are looking at the camera and holding up "peace" finger signs.
Luke Davies / Polari Creative

While Luke acknowledges that it’s a “dog-eat-dog world,” for creatives, particularly when it comes to paid work and funding, his advice is to be open to change. “Whatever you think a great career or a great life will look like, things will change and you’ll find yourself opening doors to things you never even entertained before,” he says. “In the meantime, you might simply have to find a way to pay the bills. Then, hopefully, you’ll be able to survive – and thrive – solely on income from your creative work, but it can certainly take time. That is the beautiful, and sometimes uncomfortable, unpredictability of working in the creative industries.” In other words, if you’re pursuing creative work, patience is key – and so is remembering that you have a whole lifetime to tell your stories. “Storytelling has been and will be around forever,” Luke reminds us. “So if you’ve put a time limit on achieving your dreams before you throw in the towel, feel free to take this as permission to let that shit go.”

Luke leaves us with the most important thing to remember for any budding queer creatives out there. “Your queerness is your superpower. You possess a unique kind of strength and intuition that remains omnipresent whenever you write, direct actors, design a set, or assist on a production – it’s something that nobody can take away from you. The industry, like life, has its cold patches and even colder people, but so long as you’re connected with the community and speak truth to power, there is so much fun to be had.”


To find out more about Polari and their upcoming projects, visit the website: https://polari.xyz.

You can follow Polari on Twitter and Instagram at @PolariCreative.

You can also find Luke on Twitter and Instagram at @lewkdavies – if you have any questions about routes into the industry, or managing finances in the early days of setting up a film company, he’s always happy for you to reach out.