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The Almanac that paints a picture of LGBT London

The Almanac that paints a picture of LGBT London

Kairos in Soho – a small lesbian, gay bi and trans organization in London – has always been a place where innovation, culture, heritage and community building comes together.

Now they are launching the second edition of their Almanac; a unique insight into LGBT London past and present. We asked Ashlee Christoffersen to tell us all about it and their plans for the future.

What is Kairos in Soho?

Kairos in Soho (KiS) is a community organization run by diverse lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer people. Our purpose is to create community spaces that are affirming, celebratory and diverse with and for LGBTQ communities.

These spaces might be created through publishing, events, discussions, and physical community spaces. Our main activities also include networking, volunteering, LGBTQ history and heritage activities, and community infrastructure.

We believe that when groups of people begin to appreciate differences, and work through them, we create stronger and more connected communities, so we focus our activities at the intersections of race, sexuality, gender, disability, deafness, age and minority faith.

Our work has a London-wide, national and international reach and our themes are heritage, arts and culture, environment and social and education.

Why you are changing your name to ‘centred’?

In June last year we legally changed our name to centred. We have been planning a name change for many years because people could not spell Kairos in Soho and we were regularly taken for a Greek travel agent or a religious organization.

Two years ago we went on a journey of enquiry with friends, family and participants and agreed upon centred as a truly classic name for all that we aspire to as a community organization. centred sounds grounded and is emotive.

We will officially go public with the new name on 1 February this year.

What gave you the idea for the Almanac and who should be reading it?

In 2006, KiS managed the PiP project, which was the first major mapping of London LGBT community organizing. People in the sector felt disparate and marginalized, with little sense of each other or community. The idea for the Almanac grew from this and from KiS’s work with diverse LGBTQ community members particularly around heritage and arts and culture.

The Almanac provides information to support independent and innovative LGBTQ community organizing, and creative, thought provoking reflections, in this edition around heritage, which have a wide appeal.

The Almanac Second Edition will appeal to anyone with an interest in LGBTQ heritage and arts and culture, photography, design, equality, or the voluntary and community sector.

About half this second Almanac is a snapshot of the LGBT community sector in London today and the other half is about our heritage. Why did you want to include both these in one place?

In the current political context, the heritage section shows that there is a long history of resilience and creative challenge in the pursuit of social change. We believe that we can better learn about contemporary organizing by relating it to what has come before.

In the Almanac you say LGBT voluntary and community organizations today are largely dependent on volunteers and get very few grassroots donations. Why is that and why does it matter?

There is an element of institutional prejudice in the under resourcing of equalities community work generally, and LGBT work specifically. This is evident in the income inequality between mainstream LGBT organizations and organizations that work on the combination of sexuality/gender identity and another equality issue (like race or disability).

Community organizations have much more flexibility in how they spend donations from individuals than they do in how they spend funding from the public sector. An increase in individual donations would allow LGBT groups to be more creative and innovative in their work. Essentially an increase in donations would allow the community to set its own agenda, rather than follow one dictated by government or the mainstream.

At the moment, most grassroots donations to LGBT groups go to only a couple of large organizations – most organizations cannot afford the marketing budgets needed to attract donations, and the average giver often finds the marketing of larger charities irresistible. Many non-registered charities have far fewer options for funding their work.

Does your organization have the same problems?

Yes, like many other organizations in the sector, most of KiS’s income is restricted (tied to the delivery of specific pre-determined outcomes or goals). Compared with mainstream charities, the LGBTQ sector’s income is more restricted, which makes it more vulnerable to the political and economic climate.

We dedicated a huge amount of work to a Lottery application and it paid off; nevertheless when this ends we will face the same struggle in attracting givers and funding from trusts and foundations. KiS receives only a relatively small proportion of its income from individual donations, but is working with other organizations to change this for the diverse sector overall.

Does the Almanac give you any inspiration on how to make community organizations better funded and more effective in the future?

Absolutely. The Almanac inspires our commitment to increasing the community’s investment in less funded and creative initiatives, and increasing the level of communication and support between organizations.

It is tough because raising funds and managing grants requires resources that many organizations do not have. We want to bring the wider community and formal organizing closer together, with everybody learning and doing their bit for change.

How do you feel about the future of the sector?

The LGBT sector has proved to be incredibly strong and resilient in the face of enormous challenges. We feel positive and optimistic that the sector will continue to reflect on its practice and experiences, and collaborate to become more equal, more independent, and so more sustainable.

Through the Almanac more people will understand the sector’s diversity; givers will have choices; and organizations are better informed about the sector and their position in it.

The Heritage section of the Almanac focuses on how women have contributed to creating today’s LGBT community in London. Why did you want to highlight this?

In the Almanac First Edition it became clear that something dramatic had changed around lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LBT) women’s organizations, and so we decided that our first creative focus should combine heritage and LBT women’s issues. It is also a part of our wider research and work with women.

What did you learn from these stories?

There are many unpublished histories of London LGBT organizing, and this section offers just a few of these.

One thing that stands out is that specific, unique identities and experiences have inspired diverse organizing. As Marai Larasi writes in the introduction to this section, ‘there is no one LGBT experience’. Activism takes many forms, from the theater activism reflected on in the Almanac by celebrated playwright Mojisola Adebayo, to DIY music scenes, to the establishment of organizations like the Camden Lesbian Centre and Black Lesbian Group.

The article by Kirsten Hearn about the Sisters Against Disablement access code, shows that little progress has been made in terms of access and inclusion for disabled LGBT people in LGBT spaces. It demonstrates it will never be easy to identify where, if and how things are ‘better’, and for whom. Yet there is an incredible resilience and determination even where progress has been slow.

Do you think we’ve lost anything since those early days of lesbian and bi-women’s organizing?

We have lost some diversity in the sector and equality in representation. New communication platforms mean that those with a profile can propel it far and wide, whilst those with fewer resources achieve incredible things for their immediate communities but are rarely featured or appreciated for their efforts.

With my copy of the Almanac, I also got a little pack of 1970s-style candy… what was the inspiration for that?

Kairos in Soho puts on a Winter Warmer event every year, and this year’s had a 1974 theme. We run guided history tours of LGBTQ Soho every Sunday, (£5, 2pm outside the Admiral Duncan pub on Old Compton Street), and the 1974 theme comes from the tour. It was a year in which some of the characters on the tour could conceivably have been in Soho and met and talked with one another – including Josephine Baker, Jackie Kay, Muriel Belcher, Carmel Stuart, and Joan Armatrading.

This is the second edition of the Almanac. How is it different from the first one? And can you still get the first one?

The first edition focused more on a snapshot of London LGBT organizing. The second edition includes 20 more organizations, particularly social, sport, and arts and culture organizations, which play an important role in building LGBT community.

The first edition is still available in hard copy at the price of £25 (email [email protected]), or you can download it from our website.

What are your plans for Kairos in Soho – or centred as it will become – in 2013?

Our major attention remains on the provision of diverse, accessible, innovative, and creative space with and for the community. Some of our specific work strands are highlighted below.

As part of our ongoing work around D/deaf LGBT experiences, we are running a British Sign Language (BSL) level one course for diverse LGBT organizers, which will result in more BSL users across the sector.

We aim to impact individual giving through the One Amazing Act project, a diverse LGBT fundraising project with the aim of revolutionizing the community’s relationship to donating to LGBTQ causes. We are currently recruiting a volunteer researcher for research coming up over the next year, more details are here.

How do people get their copy of the Almanac?

Drop us an email at [email protected], call us on +44 (0)20 7437 6063, or drop into our office at Unit 1 Archer Street Studios, 10-11 Archer Street, Soho, London, W1D 7AZ, UK.