Which UK cities do you think of first when you hear the words ‘LGBTI scene’? I’ll bet it’s almost certainly London and Manchester (or maybe even Leeds if you’re from the north).
We all know that queer venues and nights are disappearing in the UK. And it is our smaller cities and towns – which only ever had a few LGBTI venues – where people are disproportionately missing out.
Without these safe and inclusive spaces for LGBTI people, we are in danger of losing our queer communities. This may be through the community becoming invisible without a space to call their own. Or perhaps LGBTI people will actually move to a bigger city in search of more welcoming venues.
Bringing the LGBTI scene back to York
This is exactly what we have been witnessing in York. Our small, historic city is not necessarily associated with a thriving queer nightlife. But I have been part of a group of activists who have worked to carve out our own supportive LGBTI haven.
Queer Space is an LGBTI mental health-themed performance night. We invite people to express themselves freely, openly and honestly, without fear of judgement or discrimination.
We held our first event in November 2017, and it was an unprecedented success. For that event, and the ones we have run subsequently, we have encouraged variety. So we have hosted performers doing spoken word poetry, stand up comedy, dance and live music from local bands.
Initially, we intended Queer Space to be a one-off. But the people who came made it a big success. They proved you can find a demand for alternative LGBTQ nights, even in small cities. In fact, the upstairs of the venue was so busy that the bar staff couldn’t even get in to collect the dirty glasses!
We’ve found one of the most important things you can do, when creating LGBTQ spaces and club nights, is listen to the community. After all, you can’t possibly be an expert in every other queer person’s life. Everyone’s unique perspective is valuable for making sure that spaces stay safe and inclusive.
We’ve made sure our event really belongs to local LGBTI people. That is why we’ve made sure they have a stake in how they develop.
‘Queer Space was wonderful, inclusive and fun’
The feedback from the community on the first Queer Space was incredible. In particular, many people emphasised how comfortable they felt to be themselves. Very often, that’s not the case in mainstream club nights. One attendee (who wished to remain anonymous) said:
‘Queer Space was a wonderful, inclusive and fun event giving a voice to queer people. The atmosphere was really supportive and I felt completely comfortable and accepted.’
This just goes to show that spaces like this aren’t just a fun night out. They can also have an important part to play in local LGBTQ people’s wellbeing.
It’s easy for people to feel isolated without opportunities to meet others within their communities. Having a night where you can connect with other queers can really make you feel nurtured.
Also we think it’s vital events have robust safe space policies and accountability procedures. That allows people to truly be themselves without fearing judgement, abuse or violence.
Our experiment in being LGBTI scene organisers has proved to us that Queer Space is too valuable to our community for it not to continue.
So Queer Space 2.0 will be happening on 11 May at the Fulford Arms in York with a variety of performers.
What is more, the event will support local LGBTI businesses. We will have stalls selling enamel pins, t-shirts and poetry pamphlets. And we’ll have a stall providing support information from local charities and organisations. It’s important to invest in the city’s Queer future, so the night will be fundraising for York’s LGBTQ Youth Group.
You can also keep up to date with future Queer Space events by visiting our Facebook page.
Also on Gay Star News: