Author: Eryn Green
Bristol is home to a vibrant scene of queer art and culture. Before Covid there were already several regular queer events running in Bristol, but in the aftermath of lockdown that number just about tripled itself. Now in 2022 there are club nights, concerts, drag nights, open mics, film screenings, exhibitions, meet-ups and markets, all run by and for the LGBTQ+ community.
Many events and spaces aim to centre queer joy and liberation, to platform queer artists, and to create safe spaces where LGBTQ+ people can feel comfortable and be themselves. A very useful tool that the Bristol event scene has is Headfirst Bristol: a non-profit organisation promoting Bristol’s independent arts scene. The site makes it easy for people to sell tickets – it has no ads, sponsorship or paid content, and has been running successfully since 2009.
Misscoteque at Lost Horizon, Tia Payne
This last year or so has felt, in some ways, like a huge leap for Bristol’s queer community. Despite the unwelcome presence of trans exclusionary radical feminist Posie Parker in June 2022, Bristol’s queer groups and spaces have, for the most part, been thriving. At the start of 2022, artist and performer Brook Tate brought his show Birthmarked to Bristol Old Vic, becoming the first fully queer show to run in this historic venue. Birthmarked is a joyous musical retelling Tate’s experiences growing up gay as a Jehovah’s Witness.
Inclusivity and accessibility is becoming more and more central to Bristol’s queer scene. This can mean creating spaces that centre certain minorities, which in some cases requires a certain amount of exclusion. To some this may seem un-inclusive, but highlights that there are already many spaces that are safe for most cisgendered, heterosexual, white people. Misscoteque, a queer-run disco club night, is striving to recreate the atmosphere of lesbian pubs/clubs of the old scene, whilst being inclusive of trans and non-binary people and encouraging an intergenerational community. This involves a policy of not allowing cisgendered men on the premises during the event, including staff. Drag king Manly Mannington’s Black Excellence cabaret was an event in September 2022 that platformed queer black and POC performers, something that is rare in the UK outside of London. He is currently crowdfunding to make this a regular event in Bristol, with the intention of using it as a place to exclusively platform, employ and empower black and POC performers, photographers, artists, producers etc, which is much needed in Bristol and across the UK.
It is not just a case of making sure a space is free of homophobia, transphobia, sexism and racism; there is also the need for physically accessible venues, affordability for those on low income, quiet spaces for those who may feel overwhelmed, and gender neutral toilets. Many spaces don’t offer all these, but do their best to make adjustments in order to make spaces as accessible as possible. Strange Brew is one of the few wheelchair-accessible venues in Bristol, but there is still a huge lack in spaces with wheelchair access. Another issue is staff – such as security guards – and ensuring the staff working these events can uphold the safety and inclusivity of the space. One Bristol-based organisation, PHAT Bristol, is taking matters into their own hands by raising money to train their own queer and femme security team.
CROTCH at Strange Brew, Josh Hitchcock
Another issue still needing to be addressed is the centring of events around alcohol. Historically many queer spaces have been centred around nightlife and alcohol, which is often inaccessible to those who don’t drink or may be in recovery. Though this is rarely addressed in nightlife culture, thankfully Bristol has other queer events that are not nightlife-based. There are art markets and workshops, such as InFlux Bazaar and Zinezilla, and more sit-down and daytime events such as Queer Life Drawing, Queer Storytelling, and events by Queer Space Bristol such as Queer Choir, Queer Reads book club and Queer Parents Meetups.
Something else to highlight is the sharing of skills within the community. Bristol’s drag scene holds so much encouragement for those who are new to it. If you ever engage with Bristol drag artists on social media you will see how much they promote and celebrate each other. Aside from drag, InFlux Bazaar have been known to run workshops and open decks by members of the community. Bristol Ballroom Community run regular classes at The Island. Get Qweird, a series of performance nights showcasing queer performance artists has an open mic slot each week to platform new performers. There are also many safe and supportive open mics for poets and musicians, some specifically queer, others mixed, and the majority have such a kind and welcoming energy, especially for newcomers.
Something truly wonderful about Bristol’s queer arts scene is that whatever your interests and queer identity, there is probably a space out here to trial your art form, to network, and to meet new, likeminded people in a space where you feel safe and comfortable to be yourself. Of course we don’t have everything, and there will always be things that need changing and improving, but ultimately that is what we do best. Queerness does not come without protest, without debate, and without striving for positive change. We are a community that has learned to fight for our rights and for our spaces, but we certainly know how to have fun in the process.