I have a tiny confession to make. I’m the B in LGBT

This was shared with us by an amazing person – Olly! Please take the time to read and think about how we can all be a little more inclusive of everyone xxx

stf,small,600x600-c,0,0,1000,1000Pride; it’s the time of year to break out the badges, dust off the flags, and don’t forget the glitter. Traditionally held in June, the season is (pleasingly) getting longer and longer, with Pride events being held around the country, between May and September, according to Stonewall. My first Pride, many years ago, was in London. Like a true newbie, I accepted all the free stickers, pens and leaflets from every stall, I chatted with complete strangers, and it rained constantly; I had a great time.

Now, I have a tiny confession to make. I’m the B in LGBT. I own a number of labels, including queer, non-binary, genderqueer and ravenclaw (ok so one of those is not the same as the others), but bisexual has been part of my identity for over half my life. However, admitting to being bisexual in a LGBT space can be similar to what I imagine it must be like to telling people at a vegan convention that you work in a butchers shop.

That very first Pride, I was treated to a chant of “here come the breeders!” as my beloved pink, purple and blue flag came into view during the parade. Since then I’ve heard the lot; “bi now, gay later”, “you’re doing it for attention”, “it’s a phase”, “you’re a bunch of cheaters”… etc etc.

There’s a fashion for identity-policing events like Pride, especially if you belong to the bisexual/pansexual/ polysexual community. Where I believe that identity is lived experience, there seems to be an expectation from certain sections of the monosexual community of performance in order to “earn your place”. This can – and has – led to a lot of awkward situations, usually involving the misgendering of either myself or a partner (my type, just by the by, is femme pansexual scorpio hufflepuff – not exactly something totally obvious to the naked eye of your average biphobe).

It’s always rather bemused me, especially considering that the mother of Pride, Brenda Howard, was bisexual herself. According to statistics (Pew Research) 40% of the LGBT community identify as bisexual, making us the largest single group in the community. We have some wonderful people on our team, including Kristen Stewart, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Mara Wilson and Amandla Stenberg, to name but a few.

Despite (or maybe because of) our increasing visibility, the erasure and biphobia in LGBT spaces – especially Pride – has become more noticeable.

Nothing compares to seeing your flag raised at a Pride event – especially if you’re one of the letters further down the acronym. It’s a visual statement of “I’m here, I’m represented,”, and I get a happy shiver every time I see my colours, and those of the lesser-known flags.

However, I have honestly been to Pride events where cats have had more representation than bisexuals. Memorably, one Pride event I attended seemed to a have a tent for just about every identity you could think of (including a bear tent) but no bi rep. Not even a table. Pride in London infamously came under fire earlier this year for totally failing to include any specific bisexual groups in the parade.

It’s disheartening, to say the least. This is our community; the B stands for Bisexual.

Anyway, fast forward eighteen years from my first realisations that attraction to multiple genders is a thing; this particular bisexual is now living away from London down on the Isle of Wight.

It sometimes feels like the only places for members of our community are London, Brighton and Manchester. The reality is, there are plenty of people – young and old – who live LGBT lives in more rural communities. I try to be an active member of the BiWessex group in Southampton, and I travel up to London for LGBT events whenever possible, but I often thought that it would be nice if there was something a little closer to home.

As if reading my mind, Isle of Wight Pride 2017 suddenly popped into view.

I must admit, I was both excited and fearful of what an Island Pride would be like. I don’t want to name and shame, but there was one Pride in its first year that successfully managed to advertise without mentioning the letters “LGBT” at all, perhaps hoping that the rainbows would give it away.

Going back to Brenda Howard, the first Pride in 1970 was a march, a protest in commemoration of the year since the Stonewall Riots in New York, often seen as the birth of the modern “gay rights” movement. These days the protest march has morphed into a parade, and the politics has somehow dissipated, with protest transformed to celebration. A common criticism – especially of the larger, more commercial Prides, is that they’re more GGGG than LGBT. The Pink Pound has attracted the eye of big businesses, and you’re more likely to find Barclays than bisexuals leading the main parade.

Prides should be a space where the community can come out for the day and be themselves in whatever shape or form or identity that is. They should be safe spaces, especially for the younger members of the community just working themselves out and finding where they fit in the world. As long as it can see be seen as a revolutionary act to hold your partner’s hand, or simply go into a shop to buy clothes, Pride will be relevant. It’s that time where we make it unapologetically clear to the cisgender heterosexual community that we are here, we exist, and we’re not going to keep quiet and invisible because it makes them uncomfortable.

So… Isle of Wight Pride.

Putting to rest some of the Ghosts of Prides Past was the survey that went out, asking for peoples’ opinion on what they would like their Pride to be. It was clearly an LGBT event, loud and proud. Further to that, it wasn’t going to be just for one day; there was going to be lots of events in the build-up and the wake of the Pride itself. It was bringing LGBT visibility back to the island and setting down some important roots. It boded well for the main event in July.

The week leading up to 15th July was a little bit like waiting for Christmas. The whole island seemed to be ready to get its rainbows on. I went to a performance of Queer Bash at the Apollo Theatre, and there in the corridor outside the bar was a whole array of flags – some of which even I couldn’t identify! That, I think, was when I knew this was going to be good, that all my worries about inclusivity and intersectionality might very well be unfounded in this instance.

The day itself was magnificent. The island turned out and did itself proud.

The atmosphere was incredible, there was so much positivity, so much pure delight at just being there. I was waiting around, helping out with some volunteers at the starting point of the parade, and it was a sea of colour. My flag was there – and not just because I was holding it! Some people in trans flags approached me to ask about my genderqueer flag, and everyone was visibly excited to see everyone else. The face paint was being passed around, and there was such an air of anticipation to see this inaugural Pride get started.

The community turned out, and I don’t mean that businesses somewhat cynically put a rainbow in the window in the hope of catching some passing trade. The island boasts a number of local independent businesses, and many of them did something to help make Isle of Wight Pride a success. One of my favourite things was the Alum Bay glass made especially for Pride, while Mermaids gin had a special edition bottle for the occasion.

Inside the arena, it was noticeably political, with all but the Conservatives making an effort to turn out and show their support. The Greens were giving out sachets of Green Tea, which I thought was a nice touch. A number of Trade Unions were there, with helpful advice on your rights in the workplace as well as other LGBT issues. Stonewall and Amnesty International had their stalls, with petitions raising awareness for the dire plight of our LGBT siblings in Russia. Even the police – historically not the best friends of the LGBT community – had their LAGLO tent, raising awareness of how to report homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. Even on stage, there were political speeches as well as entertainment. It demonstrated that you can mix protest with parade, and demonstration with celebration.

It was evident that a lot of thought had gone into the accessibility of the event, which from experience I know to be something of a rarity. The main arena on the beach had a sturdy path for those with wheels, and those a little less sure on their feet. There was a BSL interpreter doing a sterling job on the main stage. There was also a family friendly area and tea tent – quieter spaces perfect for those of us with sensory processing issues.

Everyone I spoke to said variations of the same thing; what a great day. There was none of the usual inter-community squabbling, no negativity, and no trouble. It was intersectional, accessible and embracing of the full community – not a GGGG event, but a bold LGBT event that saw a good portion of the island – LGBT and otherwise – come together to enjoy itself at the beach on a sunny day in July.

Our little island certainly has something to boast about; in the weeks that followed, the story of our success made it into the national Pink Press, praising us not only for being the first Pride to be held on a beach (which is definitely worth shouting about) but also for playing host to such a brilliant day. It gives me a glow to know that someone’s first pride was that positive – that a young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, pansexual, asexual or any other label or identity – came to Pride that day for the first time and felt at home and safe in their community.

It has also made a massive difference to me personally. I now have the opportunity to be involved in LGBT events without having to travel up the M3, and a certain amount of faith has been restored in the monolith of Pride. My hope now is that the momentum is kept up and that 2018 continues to build on that good work. Connections have been made with Southampton Pride, with plans for joint events next year. More recently, Bisexual Visibility Day, which coincided with the Isle of Wight Day, was marked with extra Bisexual flags on the march through Ryde.

It would be good to mark occasions such as International Transgender Day of Visibility, Coming Out Day, IDAHOBIT, and Transgender Day of Remembrance (as well as other important LGBT days throughout the year) with local events, to continue the good work of last year. I look forward to being part of it (as a proud bisexual genderqueer ravenclaw).

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Look out for…IW Pride Art

There have been so many contributions, support and a lot of hard graft put in by so many people over the last year to make all aspects of IW Pride 2017 happen – and this is the week where you will be seeing the results of this all coming together!

It’s been a privilege and a pleasure to work with a diverse range of enthusiastic, creative and supportive people from IW communities on the Pride 2017 Art projects – and this is what to look out for…

Pride Peep board:

IW Pride peep board on Ryde Esplanade train station until 14th July, then near the stage at the Main Arena.

Background: Sponsored by Hover Travel, IW Pride has its very own peep board in the style of the traditional saucy seaside postcards that can be seen in Ryde’s Donald McGill museum. Come and get your photos taken at Ryde Esplanade Station until 14th July, while taking a peek at Joanne Hummel-Newell’s Rainbow Garden on Platform 2. The Pride peep board will be set up next to the stage in the Main Arena on 15th July.

TransVisibility interactive art show:

Interactive art exhibition by IW Breakout Youth, first shown at Quay Arts earlier this year, and on display at the Apollo Theatre, Newport all though Pride Fringe Week.

Background: ‘Open Your Eyes’ was first displayed earlier this year for TransVisibility Day 2017 at Quay Arts, Newport. Over a number of weeks IW Breakout Youth group worked with IW artist Jo Kori to find ways of creatively expressing issues around their visible and invisible identities. Each artwork includes QR codes which, when scanned with your mobile phone, reveal aspects of IW Breakout Youth members as individuals and personalities, beyond the black and white ‘label’ of Transgender. The show also includes their own version of a Transgender timeline.

Babadooks:

Wearable sculptures created by Medina College students and Ventnor Youth, worn by redTIE Youth Theatre members in the IW Pride parade, and displayed afterwards on site in the Main Arena.

Background: Starting in late 2016, the character of the Babadook was portrayed in Internet memes as an unlikely gay icon on Tumblr and other social media sites. Despite the absence of overt references to LGBT culture in the film, fans and journalists generated interpretations of queer subtext in the film that were often tongue-in-cheek, but occasionally more serious, highlighting the character’s dramatic persona, grotesque costume, and chaotic effect within a traditional family structure. In June 2017, the Babadook trended on Twitter and has been recognised as a symbol for the LGBT community during this year’s Pride month.

Fence Art project:

Fence art created by IW artist and Greenham Common ‘craftivist’ Elspeth Moore, who will be running a family arts drop-in at the Sand Kingdom alongside IW Pride sponsor the Needles and their rainbow sand-filling stall in the Main Arena.

Background: The IW Pride site has a fence around it for the day, and a corner of it has been put aside to commemorate 50 years of protest marches and activities that Pride communities all over the world have organised in order to fight for equal rights.  As a child in the 1980s Elspeth was taken to the Greenham Common site by her mother and joined in the ‘craftivism’ activities on site. The IW Pride Fence Art project is designed for public contribution on the 15th July – come along and make fence art with Elspeth based on the IW Pride theme #LoveWins.

Pride wedding dress:

Installation created by IW artist Donna Jones MBE, who will also be running a spoken word corner event in the Pride Village tea tent with redTIE Youth Theatre members and other performers.

Background: Wedding dresses have historically been associated with heterosexual marriages. With the acceptance of gay marriage within UK law for gay couples, wedding dresses have been re-appropriated as a symbol of #LOVE WINS within the LGBT community. Donna has linked with the different LGBT groups on the Isle of Wight through writing workshops on the IW Pride theme of #LOVE WINS. Individual stories and poems are written onto a full-sized paper sewing pattern that has been stitched to form an actual wedding dress.

Wishing Tree interactive art project:

Interactive digital installation containing sound & visual recordings by students from Medina College and IW Breakout Youth – on 15th July this will be stewarded by redTIE Youth Theatre interviewers to collect contributions from IW Pride visitors.

Background: Interactive QR codes containing links to spoken word and musical recordings on the IW Pride theme of #LoveWins, collated by IW artist & Pride Art Manager Jo Kori, will be hung from the Wishing Tree in the Pride Village. IW Pride visitors will be able to scan these QR codes with their mobiles to gain access to YouTubes of these recordings, and will be invited on the day to continue to contribute (video/audio). Post-IW Pride, the Wishing Tree and visitor recordings will be uploaded to an online portal with public access.

IW Pride Art

It’s an honour to have been asked to be Visual Arts Lead/Manager for IW Pride and over the last 3 weeks I have been planning the logistics of this wonderful creative challenge. I am in the process of finalising no less than 10 extensive art projects with IW artists, communities, schools and colleges leading up to end of June, plus a range of art-based activities designed for all ages run by artists on site throughout the day itself (15th July).

Art can be an evocative and accessible channel for communicating important messages sensitively through different forms and media. I see it as my job to make sure that IW Pride is not only presented as a welcoming, positive and rainbow-coloured occasion, but that there are plenty of creative and interactive opportunities for collaborative thought and communication.

On 15th July the Isle of Wight becomes the Isle of Pride – I’ll be posting regular blogs with pics with details about the  creative work we’re making with groups from all over the island leading up to this date. My next post will list what we’re planning – if you see an IW Pride art project you’re interested in taking part in, just let me know!

Pride and Place – exploring England’s LGBT history

2017 marks 50 years of partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales following the publication of the Sexual Offences Act 1967.  As a gay man who is 50 next year, I have seen how this important first step has lead to a succession of changes making it more easy for me and others in the LGBT community to live an authentic life.  

The road to towards equality has not been smooth however.  An unequal age of consent being 16 for heterosexuals and at first 21 then 18 for homosexuals had a direct impact on me and my husband as we first met at college at the age of 18 in 1987 and our love was in effect seen by society as an illegal act.  We had to be cautious about how open we were only being authentic with our closest friends and with or families when we came out.  Looking back there was much about the 1980s that was pretty bleak.  Section 28 was enacted preventing ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools making it difficult for teachers and staff to provide the support needed to children struggling with their sexuality and being the brunt of bullying behaviour.  My memories of sex education are not at all positive as it was completley focussed on hetero-normative narratives with any (pre Section 28) gay content being seen as a ‘novelty’ and being subject to ridicule by fellow classmates.  There was little focus on love or respect but a lot about biology!  Then of course there was the AIDS epidemic and the fear and panic that this caused with gay men being seen as part of the problem rather than victims needing help and support.  The goverment tombstone adverts were horryifying and for a young gay man in their teens the equivalent of bromine in your tea.  Thankfully in the 1990s and 2000s things have moved forward with legal protection at work, legal rights regarding access to goods and services without discrimination, the right to have our relationship recognised through civil partnership and the right to have that then converted and back dated to a marriage.  Retrospective pardons for those prosecuted for homosexual acts prior to decriminalisation is one of the latest acheivements.  There is still much to do as we are surrounded by subliminal hetero-normative information in terms of advertising, films and tv, newspaper articles but thankfully LGBT characters are now appearing in mainstream programmes and media including advertising.  

LGBT visibility is so important and not just in relation to today but also in relation to people and places throughout history.   I was so glad to see that Historic England and the National Trust have both taken the opportunity to promote LGBT links to their properties and places as part of the 2017 celebrations of partial decriminalisation.  As a boy and young man there were few contemporary gay role models and those that there were were largely stereotypes portrayed for laughs (laughed at or laughed with was not always clear).  There were certainly few if any real historical role models other than Alexander the Great and the ancient Greeks (often with a focus on pederasty) and Edward II and his unfortuate demise as the result of a red hot poker.  So to now see more and more varied and interesting stories of LGBT lives, both current and historic, becoming known and part of the mainstream is a wonderful step forward for all society.  I know that there will be some young person out their who will see a role model in the sports person, presenter, music artist, artist, novelist, scientist, doctor, garden designer, police constable vet or one of many thousands of jobs and professions and know that what ever they want to do they can acheive with there being no bar because of their gender or sexuality.

Take a look at the Historic England Pride of Place webpage https://historicengland.org.uk/research/inclusive-heritage/lgbtq-heritage-project/ and the National Trust https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/exploring-lgbtq-history-at-national-trust-places.

For the Isle of Wight there is a great story about John Seely (later Lord Mottistone) and his longterm professional and personal realtionship with Paul Paget with whom he ran a successful architectural practice.  The Shack, at Mottistone Manor was a favourite place for them to spend weekends together.  https://www.historypin.org/en/prideofplace/geo/50.827065,-1.551786,9/bounds/50.326486,-2.833066,51.322333,-0.270505/pin/1037264 and more information about their story can be found on the Brook Village History website http://www.brookvillagehistory.co.uk/index.php/people-main/reknowned-visitors-a-villagers/150-seely-and-paget

It seems fitting that in this celebratory year we will be holding our first IW Pride.  I am so looking forward to what promises to be a brilliant day of fun and community cohesion around our strapline #Lovewins and to this becoming an annual event with many more fringe events taking place across the Island throughout the year.

Embracing the spotlight

No matter what stage in your life, questioning your sexuality can be a very difficult and scary place. When you add a religious and homophobic background on top of that, contradicting your thoughts and feelings, it can be extremely hard to come to terms with. 

Starting off as a gospel singer, Katy Perry found herself in the spotlight from a young age. During her childhood, she was taught to fear and hate people who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community by her religious background and family.

Most of my unconscious adolescence, I prayed the gay away at my Jesus camps.

When she first released her song ‘I kissed a girl’ in 2008, it became an instant hit. At the time, I don’t think a lot of people gave it much thought – merely a drunken memory from a party, or just something that happened out of curiosity. Not many people people would second guess the lyrics, and it’s clear now that Katy cleverly designed it that way.

Personally, I was never a big fan of her pink and over-the-top style and music videos – it all seemed to fake, like she was trying too hard to fit in. Which turns out to be exactly what she was doing. It wasn’t until she released her song ‘Part of Me’ that she stood out to be this strong, independent woman. 

Last week, Katy Perry accepted the National Equality Award at the Human Rights Campaign Gala, and gave a speech that pulled on the heartstrings of many in the LGBTQ+ community. She spoke out about how she’s struggled with her sexuality from a young age and it was in fact a group LGBTQ people that she became friends with that helped to change her life. Despite her hardships and battles to get where she is today, she is an inspiration to us all. 

It’s very important to have LGBTQ+ issues highlighted in the media – it gives many of us hope and ‘normalisation’.

End of a long and varied week in sight….

IMG_7889.JPGWhat an exciting week for IWPride its been, we have finally been able to release exciting news about the Rainbow Gala Dinner which promises to be a fantastic evening and I really cannot wait! Miss Jason always leaves me in tears, sometimes by her quick wit and loving humour, sometimes with her amazing vocal talents!

It will be great to catch up with Kat Kai Kol-Kes again, we spent a brilliant crisp spring day walking along Ryde Esplanade back in Feb and she won me over! She’s an amazing human being with a passion and energy for life! She also taught me that I know absolutely ZILCH about African geography!

Cormac De Barra is coming to stay at ours! And will be lulling me to sleep with his Harp and his Irish accent! Heaven!

Having a full time job, full time dog, being Chair of Governors for two large colleges whilst trying to revise for two important exams leaves me with very little time to sit and chill. I fill the rest in with attempting to do what I can to help make Pride as successful as it can possibly be.

This week has been no different to any others, except with work being so busy, I have felt the stresses of life. This makes my Sulley Dog an amazing treat and to be able to wander along Appley beach, with a creature that is excited by lifes simple pleasures, really is a fantastic tonic against the backdrop of stressful times.

I would encourage and discourage people to get into school Governance in equal measure. It CAN be the most rewarding experience and varied experience, whilst also being stressful and upsetting, when all we want is the upmost best for our young people, setting them up for the big wide world in the best possible way.

As for Pride, when I do get some down time, there are lots of exciting plans being hatched and things being put into reality. A sponsored bike ride, a weekend camping and outdoor lads experience but to name a few, alongside the eagerly awaited Gala Dinner, the BIG summer event on 15th July is shaping up to be a really BIG deal!

In the meantime, I will raise a bottle of beer to an amazing team of people working hard to make PRIDE happen on the Island. No individual can do it all and as with other areas of my life, the team can sometimes face challenges, but its the hard work that makes things happen!

Cheers everyone xxx

When We Rise-ABC’s mini series,  a harsh reminder of how far we have come. 


Sitting down yesterday evening in anticipation of the long awaited Dustin Lance Black mini series, I could feel goosebumps as the opening music started.

Released in four parts, the first airing on 27th February, the Oscar Winning ‘Milk’screenwriter sets the scene on what will be a rough reminder of the shocking violence and discrimination endured by the LGBTQ community in America around the time of the Stonewsll riots in the early 70s when so many fought a bloody fight for the rights of themselves and others. 

The first episode introduces you to some key characters, young activists and a groups of people all preparing to take a stand, the talented cast including Guy Pearce, Michael Kenneth Williams and Mary-Louise Parker. All take their place and prepare to take you on a journey through violent riots and the rise of the gay activists, the AIDS epidemic where so many young men lost their lives and the confusing 90’s where so many still felt the shock of what had come before and what the future might hold for them.

All the characters are setting the scene for their individual stories in particular the story of a young gay African American man in the Navy at the time of the Vietnam war and his struggle to be accepted whilst being a minority because of his colour and hiding his sexuality in the navy but also in the LGBTQ community where his race saw him being pushed out by the people he thought would embrace him with open arms. 

When We Rise has a soundtrack which goes hand in hand with the series and the lyrics of the songs fit perfectly with the story that is unfolding on the screen.

I recommend you take time out to watch the series and view this stark reminder of not only how far we have come, but how far we still have to go. 

Xx