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CHRISTANIA: Hello, It’s Christania, your favourite Jamaican
ALEXIS: And hello from me, professional homosexual Alexis, and welcome back to Qmmunity
Once upon a time - community was found and built around geography, village halls and town centres, or religious places of worship that acted as a central space for people to congregate. As time moved on and religious observance declined and people travelled more - where people found belonging and a place to be began to adapt and change too. But the reality is - we’re lacking behind. Around the world, social cohesion is breaking down, people become more withdrawn from those around them, we don’t tend to know our neighbours as well anymore, rates of loneliness and isolation are on the rise - both in the straight and LGBT worlds. A sense of belonging is vital to human psychology for happiness, we’re social animals after all, it’s an evolutionary need for us - so where do we find it now?
CHRISTANIA: For many LGBTQ people, historically due to safety, the sense of belonging, of fitting in, has been tied to physical places - queer venues. But the only constant in the story of queer spaces has been change, queer villages and hot spots have changed over time and moved around according to gentrification, as some spaces close, others open in new places, offering new things. In the age of the internet and social media, a lot of people find their places to fit in online. On this episode we’ll speak to three different people about communities that they helped build and find belonging in.
ALEXIS: First off, is the charming and eloquent Ryan Lanji - creator of the outrageously fun queer Bollywood - Hip Hop nightclub Hungama, followed by the award winning Abbey Kiwanuka, co-founder and director of Out and Proud African LGBTI, an organisation that supports asylum seekers and refugees in the UK and France. Last, but no means least, we speak to Joshua, a member of the Manchester Village Spartans, a gay and inclusive rugby club that create a home and community with a strong sense of belonging and drive to give back to the wider Mancunian LGBTQ scene.
CHRISTANIA: All three of the people you’ll be hearing from today, are involved in creating and building real spaces that we can go, get involved, and find a sense of belonging. First off, it’s Ryan, who starts his story with the creation of his club night...
RYAN: Hungama is a gay Bollywood Queer hip hop night that I started. I started at properly one year ago, but a couple of years back. I just decided to throw a Bollywood night at the fabrics. Um, and then I just did it again for my birthday and then I traveled back to Canada and I was listening to lots of music with my mom in the car and I was like, I love all these jams. I never get to hear this. I've been in London for eight years and I've always felt like there's a disconnect between what I do, who I was and who I am. And so I just had a moment where I was just like really thinking about how I could merge all those things together. And I decided to throw it out to the glory pub in Haggerston, which is like a watering hole for all of us. Johnny Woo and John …?, were super, super supportive. They're like, let's make it big and let's do like this big gay wedding. And so we had Max Allen and decorate the entire space. We had Henna artists and I got a whole bunch of Indian appetisers so it really felt like you were entering in engagement and to me it was like a marrying of all of my different facets of who I was, and the response was really fantastic.
And um, Hungama means, chaos and anarchy and like bedlam. Um, my mum used to use it as a descriptive word when she would go to weddings afterwards, she'd be on the phone and being like, it was such a hungama and it just always stuck in my head. So that's why I called it that.
I came to London and was chasing the dream to be a fashion curator and I was doing that. But when you do that, you start to, especially with social media, you start to project what you think you should be doing rather than who you are. And so at that point I was like seeing other people and how they live their lives and then I was like, oh, I need to be like that. I need to be here. I need to like, tweet about this or talk about that in order to be a part of it, but really it was just distilling myself away from who I really was. And so once I had my breakdown, I think everyone has a breakdown in London at some point. Um, I came back and I was like, oh, it's so much easier if you just be who you are. And so when I started to ask myself what those things were, it was Asian gay, fabulous loving music. And so I just did it all at the same time. And just like, I guess operating from a place of authenticity. I mean, I think everyone during that whole lady Gaga phase was dressing in like asymmetrical outfits, dyeing their hair and piercing whatever they could. And like I think it just, it made everyone in the caricatures of themselves. So I think we're now coming back to a point where we're just, we are who we are and that's all we can be. And so that's where I bought some, I start to connect to people more is when I just was myself.
ALEXIS: There seems to be a recurring theme from some of the people we speak to...thinking you have to conform to a certain characterisation...straining yourself to fit into that role...having a bit of a messy breakdown with it all...and then rebuilding yourself in your own image, on your own terms. I have to put my hand up having gone through this cycle myself. Perhaps it matches up to what we’re doing en mass - as our panellists in episode one discussed...we’re going through a change period and asking more questions of ourselves, and as David Stuart said in episode 3...with all change comes rebirth. Perhaps we’re about to go into our next evolutionary stage...but enough of my pop-psychology...back to Ryan who goes on to discuss what Hungama means to queer south asian people
RYAN: I think what it does is it creates a light at the end of the tunnel. Um, I think in our culture you are told to be a certain way and that is specifically in a nuclear family. If you are cis and heterosexual, like you have to be successful, you have to be in business, you have to marry a brown girl or a brown guy and you have to like make sure that the same cast as you are, make sure that the same quality as you. And it's just so conditioned. And like I when I realised that I was homosexual at a very young age. I just knew that other people were, weren't being themselves as well. And so I feel like the best way to help Queer Asians embrace who they are and celebrate who they are is to show them that you can still be South Asian on the other side and not the other side saying that we are other, but the other side's saying, once you take this journey, like you don't have to say goodbye to this and like your parents might not understand, but they'll learn to accept you and at that takes time and while you need that time, we have a space for you to celebrate and be cool and fun.
CHRISTANIA: Ryan explains why he thinks that these spaces are still needed
RYAN: It is important to have queer spaces, but I think it's also important to like open that up to like minded people and so when I think about my party, it was first it is a Bollywood hip hop night, but I wanted everyone there so everyone in fashion, everyone in east London. My third and biggest Hungama I did I had like a group of people, I call it the witches and they're like these Dalston club kid to dress like Lee Bowery in New York, host the party and it was kind of confusing for the queer Asians who were like why are these hosts not queer and Asian? And I was like, because they're from Poland and they, they are ostracised where they're from here. They're being their best self and in fact there'd been crazier than I am and I respect them for that and they call me and they text me and they invite me out every weekend. So they're hosting my party because if my family. And I was like, they're our family now. And so it's just like helping people just sort of like have a slight shift in their opinion as to like creating a space where they feel safe. It's like actually we can all feel safe if we're like minded.
CHRISTANIA: spreading solidarity through kindness, reaching out to different people within the LGBTQ spectrum and forging a kinship sounded like it was an important part of Hungama’s story and purpose, Ryan goes on to explain what’s behind this
RYAN: I think being coloured is really like on trend at the moment. And so like everyone's like BAME But when you think about BAME and break that down, it's black, Asian, mixed race and ethnic. And I was like, Queer Asians haven't galvanised as much as the black community and like well if you look at Asians, like we have my friend who just visited, he's gay and Filipino. He's like, I struggle with it. He's like, I grew up thinking that I had to date Caucasian men and he's like, because I was just told that I wasn't good enough and he was like, it's weird because they call me a rice queen and I was like, this is so weird. Why are people doing this? Like I think being from Canada I never, we were never really taught to define other because we're all in it together. So at school we'd celebrate every single international holiday like Chinese New Year or even like what the native Indians were doing. We'd like make Bannick at school and like have hot lunches every month from different parts of the world. Like we were told to respect everyone, like even during Ramadan, like we were encouraged to practice it in school and like it just created a unifying voice for all of us and that's why we couldn't ever define what being Canadian is other than Nice because we're just nice to everybody.
ALEXIS: he makes a good point...it’s a cliche...but every Canadian I’ve ever met has been super nice.
RYAN: It's just really sweet and I was like, that needs to spread. Like if Canada doesn't know what they're doing because some people call it with the neutral and really kind. It's like let's just spread kindness because it costs us nothing. The last party we did, we did a Bolly Ball where I wanted to take the New York ball scene and that was really, really paramount and is now inspired RuPaul's drag race and Paris is burning, was a really amazing documentary. Um, I wanted to bring that to the Queer Asians and um, we had a panel of six judges and they're all so kind. They were like no one gave a score lower than six. And like I, yeah, no score lower than six and everyone wanted the microphone just to tell everyone how amazing they were. And I was like, where's the shade? I was being the shadiest person there. It was really wonderful and like people were competing and having fun. No one felt like they lost. They felt like they debuted themselves.
ALEXIS: When Ryan turned up for the interview, I immediately clocked that he was wearing a jumper with the word Polari written across it - for those who aren’t aware, Polari is lost queer language, that was spoken in Britain by gay men as a way of speaking in public about illegal and illicit things. It’s all but lost these days, with very few speakers left - we next asked - with ever increasing so called acceptance and co-option of queer culture, does this pose a threat to our shared identity? Will we lose more?
RYAN: I think that we're not at risk if we respect our culture and we'd teach and provide knowledge to everyone that comes after us. I think it's important not to just to look at the past and how suppressed we were, but look at it through how many obstacles we overcame. Like you're never really judged by your failure. You're judged by your bounce back and I think that in instead of being like, we're here, you need to accept us. I think we need to walk into a room and be like, we are here and we are like, you we’re human. And like if you don't understand will help you understand and like we'll give you the tools to be an ally.
CHRISTANIA: I disagreed with his point on ally-ship and asked whether or not people should maybe be doing this educations for themselves because, in my personal experience minorities are expected to educated the majority and quite frankly that is not something that I ascribe simply because of the emotional labour involved.
RYAN: I think expecting people to do things is a bit selfish. I think expecting people to understand it, and I'm saying this because I had to come out of the closet to my mother and my father and they did not even understand what homosexuality was. It took me 19 years to have a voice without the Internet and without knowledge. Like there were libraries. We have to go take books out and there was a section, I like the LGBT section that I probably have 10 books there and like I had to do research as to what I was like about and who I was and when I told my parents they basically were shocked and scared and they wanted to like try to fix it. I got angry and I like was like, you can if you don't love me, I'm leaving and all that stuff But then I realised like I need them as much as they need me and if it took me 19 years to be able to say it, it's going to take them time to understand. And they're gonna, they're gonna say things they don't mean they're going to misuse terms, they're going to think that I'm something I'm not. And I was like, the only way to help them is just to hold her hand in and walk. I just think getting angry, so useless. It's like sitting in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but gets you absolutely nowhere. Look at even queer eye, like they take five gay men into the middle of America and just like throw them into a community that just doesn't really think that they exist. But within what four days they're invited back and like, you guys are great and it's like, just show them how great you are. You don't need to be angry. Look at journalism and at the moment like things are written about, but the people who are writing about might not have the experience that we have and so it's like media is being twisted as well. So it's like the only thing that we can do is sit down with someone eye to eye and have an honest conversation and ask them to ask questions and it's okay if they get it wrong. I think if we get exhausted, it's just showing that it's just impatience on our part. I think what we need to do is just be like, okay, it is exhausting for me. So this is how you can help me spread this information I'm giving you. Teach your friends and like and like galvanise them to make that difference rather than just like chastise them for not taking part.
CHRISTANIA: In the context of ally-ship and building bridges between different marginalised groups, the conversation turned to the topic of cultural appropriation VS cultural celebration, and Ryan’s pleasure at people not from South Asian backgrounds engaging with Hungama and the Bollywood vibe
RYAN: Funny thing is now that we've done it and we've done it like probably 10 or 11 times now, Dj sets or parties and like a lot of people are like, aren't you worried about cultural appropriation? And I'm just like, no one's ever come to the party. And was like disrespectful. Everyone has come, has always been dressed amazingly. Everyone's been welcomed with open arms and they were respecting the culture and even if they weren't Asian or if they were and they were dressed up like they were just, we were just given like work. Yes, God, you got it. And it just helped them feel like they can be a part of us and we welcome them in as much as we are wanting to be welcomed. And so I think that mutual respect is so important.
ALEXIS: what did you take from our chat with Ryan?
CHRISTANIA: Ryan’s perspective of life and the scene was very interesting. I admire what he has built with Hungama and think that it’s great that queer South Asians and their friends have a space to enjoy the music they grew up on and love. Ultimately, I’m all for safe spaces, they’re important and the more we have, the better.
ALEXIS: I hope it comes across to listeners, Ryan has got such a great, and positive energy about him, so it really makes me feel hopeful when I hear from people like him who are making really positive steps to create more places where people from different backgrounds can come together, find solidarity and friendship and start to rebalance some of the polarisation that’s happening in our world right now.
CHRISTANIA: Our next conversation is with Abbey from Out and Proud African LGBTI whose mission is to achieve equality and justice for LGBTI persons in African countries and other countries were homosexuality is illegal.
ABBEY: I started the organisation basically to help myself because I would say came in, in the country 2003, uh, just running away from my country, from the persecutor. I’m lucky I was born in a military family but in 2002 my father died yeah and then he died with the protection because he was in the army I was open about myself the family didn’t like it , the community didn’t like it but of course they couldn’t do anything. So when he died he died with that protection. So within one month I was I choose to promoting homosexuality in the area like oh you are the pimp, white people come in the country and you connect them with our youngers. So they throw me in the police cell but of course because of my father’s influence, he had friends and all that, and gave me, I think he gave me like 3 alternatives one was to join the army the second one was to leave the country and the third one was to quit being who I was, being gay. I applied for asylum and of course it was dismissed because there is to be a discretional test that you have to prove that you can’t live as a straight man in your country. So I just absconded because I knew if I keep on signing they would detain me and deport me, as they used to do.
CHRISTANIA: If someone asked me to prove that I was a lesbian, quite frankly I wouldn’t know how to do that but that is exactly what the Home office was asking queer asylum seekers to do. The home office refuse to believe queer asylum seekers and even go as far as asking them explicit questions, although home office guidelines tell interviewers to avoid asking questions about sexual preferences. Earlier this year the European court of justice ruled that psychological tests on asylum seekers breaks EU law because it infringes on the human right of privacy and dignity. Obtaining protection through the asylum process is extremely difficult, and for a LGBTQ plus person applying on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity, the journey can be extremely traumatic and invasive with no guarantee of success. Abbey continues to explain what happened once he was arrested.
ABBEY: So in 2009 basically I was arrested and I charged by working with deception, when I’m not supposed to work. So they put me in a prison for, I think for six months, I was there for three months and they let me out and then I submitted another fresh claim and they detained me, but when I was in detention, I made expense out of things, there are many people being deported. From different places, from Uganda, African countries and it was just so so so bad. So I managed to come out and when I came out I started to expose the detention centres. Because what it, in our community we’re always told oh Uganda is so so bad, Uganda is so so bad they’re persecuting gay people but they didn't think about what England was doing. England was deporting people who were running away from persecutor come here and then they get them and then they take them back but no one was aware of it and no one was even aware of what was happening in the detention centre because I was constantly abused by the, the official, the guards, it was so bad that I couldn’t believe this was happening in England. So when we started exposing the detention centre The Guardian newspaper sent some kind of spies and all that undercover and inside and documenting it and started outing what was happening, which was good. But what I realised that most of the detainees, were so so scared about the system they couldn't come out and say yeah this is happening in the detention centre because they were so scared that if they talk about it, the government is going to get them, take them back and it was so difficult so I had to do it myself.
ALEXIS: And so had you been deported as a gay man what would that have been like?
ABBEY: What I would have done was to join the army because my father was in the army and I was sponsored by president of Uganda for my education because of what my father did in the liberation war. I was 100% joining the army because in the army you can be who you want to be. No-one is gonna persecute you of course. No one. The mob won't come to you when you got guns and all that. So right now in Uganda there are many gay men in army, in the church, and high profiled as well. Of course no one will touch on them because they don't move in the downtown like a less deprived areas they don't.
ABBEY: Mostly I was in black gay community but most of them, they were in closet, of course I would say most of my friends were in the closet most were in straight relationships because there was that element of like how am I going to stay in the country how, I’m not a student I’m not in a family like category 8 so the best way is to get a woman and then marry them and then after 5 years I’ll break out and start living my life. It was more how am I going to stay in the country. The white one who were out here, not that many okay I had good good friends who supported me, actually, who taught me and everything immigration law because when I was in prison what I understood to learn something about law, immigration law which I did for the months which I was there and it taught me a lot, when I went to detention centre I used it and helped other detainees as well to come out basing on those small knowledge which I’d acquired in the prison. So the gay community in England, after 2009 when I applied for the second time, they tried, I’ve got a few friends who tries to help me but again I’ve got friends who wanted probably to use you for their own benefit like kind of, some of the charities in England actually because you asked me why I started the organisation, because some of the white LGBT charities they claim that they are helping asylum seekers so I realised that oh when I phoned these people where were like oh you can say this about Uganda, I say no no no everyone knows about Uganda, Uganda is a horrible country to be gay but I want to talk about England and the detention centre, what’s happening in the country and they say no no no no, you’re going to upset our funders I say well then I can’t say anything because this is what I want to talk about and you want me to talk about Uganda you don't want me to talk about England. and that’s why we started up out group our Africa LGBTI group because we knew our problems and we knew no one is going to tell us to stop what we are doing, we are the leaders, and of course we still got to demonstrate okay, the injustice in the detention centres but this white organisation, I think they’re after money to tell us, don't show your face don’t speak out hid your face voice and everything and I say well how am I going to be in the shadow and then I start campaigning how am I going to challenge the religious preachers in Africa, the pastor st pas. If you guys are in front of me let me speak for myself just come out and lets be who we want to be, let’s challenge the homophobia in Uganda in England, in anywhere.
CHRISTANIA: so when, what do members of the group get when they come to you what kind of help do you provide for them, for refugees?
ABBEY: Because the system is so so so difficult we’ve got some lawyers who are so good, our friends and what we do is we tell them how the system is and then we connect them to the legal professionals one of the best lawyers we’ve got.
It's kind of impossible because there are some people you meet and who are cool I mean, and there are others who kind of discriminate you, there is some discrimination as well first in black on black communities. I’ve got friends in England because I’m so so so interested in activism and all that supporting other people I’ve got other friends who are who are here just to have fun. They don’t want activism, if someone gets deported they are not bothered they are not concerned and other people as well who pretend that they are super gay. Because we’ve got like super gay, not gay enough and gay in African community. If you have like one partner in um, definitely you are not gay enough. If you’ve got like five partners then you are, you are super gay and if you, if you’ve got no partner then some say well, you are not even gay if you have no partner in African context and that’s so so so bad because it pushed people in the community to look for partners to fit in their community that they are...they are gay. And with some white people they think they’ve got the right to have you whenever they want you because you are from Africa and I had a friend who started a conversation with someone and then when they turned them down they racially started abusing them like I was helping you, like helping you to love you it was confusing, why would you help me to love me, help me for what, it doesn't make sense. So there is some kind of discrimination among the LGBT community in Britain, I’ve faced it and I have seen many people facing it. We support a lot of LGBT people in as I said in England, yeah we've got members from Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, we contact them. What we do, we provide them transport like because it’s so so so expensive to jump on a train from Leeds, what we do we give them transport and food and and if they want to stay over we’ve got friends who have apartments and then they can stay over. And if there’s something we need to do we check on them. We visit them once a while so that they are they feel good, they’ve got friends and another thing we look so some organisation in those areas like LGBT organisation and then we connect them to them to support them and we keep in contact with them and not only England we do it in France in Netherlands and in Sweden as well. So we make sure anything that happens we tell them, if you’re going to a function we tell them, any party we tell them, if they’re on a transport we, we transport them and the fact that we don’t have no even funding we just as members, because most of us have been granted asylum, we are refugees, most of us work so we contribute, it’s not like we’ve got some funding to help this no no no it’s not like self help group that if we’re in the pub and we know a friend doesn’t have money we buy them drinks and we don't expose them like oh to be ashamed like oh you’re skint and all that, we make it casual like oh you need something to eat you need something to drink and we get it for them it’s like a big family.
CHRISTANIA: I’m so glad Abbey was able to come and speak to us and share his story, he’s had one hell of a life. I absolutely admire his resilience and the fact that he has chosen to help other LGBTQ plus asylum seekers and is using his voice to shed light on the treatment he received whilst in the detention centres. It takes a lot of courage to be outspoken. Abbey is another great example of someone who has built a tangible space that is needed especially with the fact that he’s giving a helping hand to others in need. Uplifting others and giving a helping hand is what community is all about.
ALEXIS: Hearing Abbey talk about the persecution he faced in Uganda for his sexuality really brings the horrific stories you here home, nobody should have to face this danger and persecution for their sexuality. But what makes me really angry, and ashamed, is the way that our government here in the UK treated him, and treats other LGBTQ people, when the fact of the matter is that it was Britain’s empire that exported homophobic laws across the world, so beyond just common decency to offer a safe place of refuge to the persecuted...but considering that the legacy of empire is what has helped create these situations...and then our government washes their hands and won’t act responsibly, or compassionately...it’s honestly a shame on us. After hearing his story, I feel ashamed that I’ve not ever really done anything to really put pressure on our government to take action. But it’s also not just in African countries - we have literal gay-concentration camps happening in Russia and Chechnya, and again, our government aren’t doing anything and while some groups have protested and taken action... on mass as LGBTQ people...we’ve not stepped up and stood up. In the “get involved” section of our website - we’ll be collecting and linking different ways that we can all get involved in this fight and take action.
CHRISTANIA: Now a change - we look at how a sense of belonging can be linked to interest and activity. Founded in 1998, The Manchester Village Spartans are one of the world’s oldest gay and inclusive rugby clubs, we speak to one of their members named Joshua, about how the club offers members a community and builds a sense of purpose and belonging. It’s worth noting that they aren’t exclusively gay, with about 75% of the membership identifying as gay and bisexual, 25% are heterosexual. Joshua starts by giving a background to the club
JOSHUA: We are about 135 members, have our clubhouse in Sale it’s a really great collaborative environment for brand new players and also competitive players to get to pay rugby. We’re quite unique actually that the majority of our rugby players, are not typical rugby players and we do have some players who’ve had careers before and some players who’ve come from really quite good rugby backgrounds playing at county level and those who perhaps played at school, and then fell out of rugby for whatever reason and then came back to it through the Spartans because we’re so welcoming and set up to make sure that happens.
CHRISTANIA: We asked why people, who had never played rugby before, decided to take up a sport later in life and join
JOSHUA: We’re really involved in our local community anyway, so when people are out on canal street in Manchester, our famous gay village, people see us out. People kick about in our polo shirts as a team, we get on well and we’re a big social gathering, so we’ve had a lot of players who’ve seen us out and seen us working in the community and then come and joined for that reason. But also, we’re well known in the area for being competitive and we have a really strong first team that play in our local third division and we have coaching which means that players can play at that ability and we also have a really professional set up. We have team physios, a team doctor, and I think we’re known as a really friendly side, we often have local teams come and support us, we go and support other teams as well, and through that people find out who we are and then come and join us.
CHRISTANIA: But the Spartans don’t just look after those within the immediate club, they have a strong remit to give back into the wider gay scene of Manchester
JOSHUA: of course the majority of our players go for a pint after a match on a Saturday, and we have two sponsored venues Bar Pop and VIA, both major venues in the heart of the gay village that we attend and go to almost every Saturday. We also host events there, we host a drag brunch and do our easter bash which is a performance we put on every year for the local community. but then also lots of our Spartans volunteer in the community - so I’m a Village Angel, which is a street safety patrol that we do in the gay village that’s very visible. We’re prominent at Pride, we make sure we have a big entry to Manchester pride every year and we’ve also taken to attending a couple of the local prides, the smaller ones, like Salford and Didsbury Pride to make sure that we’re not just there for the drinking we’re there to support our community and I think you’ll see Spartans at the vigil and various community events and we always make sure we’re wearing our Spartans polos to make sure that the visibility is there so that people can see us, and feel empowered and able to come up and say hello and talk to us and ask about rugby and that’s all part of our ethos of working with our community because we’re nothing without our gay village behind us.
The LGBT foundation is a national LGBT charity but it’s based in Manchester, is one of our sponsors, so we give them advertising space on our kit, we also promote their events for them and I think that’s just a natural fit that our members go and volunteer with them. We also have got some on mass volunteering opportunities as well, for example 09:06 we supported Manchester 10k and the Manchester marathon by providing marshals through Sale sports club which is our clubhouse. So we make sure we do things on mass and also individually.
ALEXIS: We took the opportunity to ask a bit more about life in Manchester’s gay village and how the Spartans fit into it.
JOSHUA: I think Manchester’s gay village is diverse and it’s really welcoming, it’s really friendly, I’ve been to a lot of gay scenes around the country and internationally and for me it’s certainly one of the most closely knit. The village staff know each other, the regulars in the village know each other, because it’s all set out on one long street it is very close knit, people talk to each other. And I think the spartans as a big group need to fit into that, we have 135 members so that’s a big group when we go out, so people will see Spartans out we fit into it both as a rugby club and as a symbol of that diversity because we have players from all sorts of backgrounds and that fits well with the village and having lots of different people there. Manchester’s gay village is very active in terms of its volunteering and fundraising and that’s what we support as well. A number of our players were unfortunately affected by the bombing at Manchester Arena last year and we made sure to go out and do a joint fundraising effort in our kit with the LGBT foundation and received support from the community, from the police, and the ambulance service to raise money for people affected by it, because our own players were affected by it because whilst they’re all Spartans, they’re many other things as well.
CHRISTANIA: What Joshua mentions here, was the tragic bombing of Manchester Arena in May 2017, which took the lives of 22 people and injured a further 250.
Joshua: It’s a massive confidence boost, players inevitably get fitter and more confident in their abilities through the actual sport, but having that support network of 135 spartans who are very friendly, are close knit, that’s going to build your confidence, especially with people who are new to Manchester. We have a lot of people moving in, either students coming into the city, or people moving here for jobs, it’s a massive growing economy in Manchester and we have lots of young professionals that arrive in the city and are immediately dropped into this community. Not only in this community in Manchester, but also if they play for our second team, they’ll go and play other IGR teams around the country. So I went and supported our seconds in Glasgow three weeks ago, you turn up and you play immediately, that’s going to be a confidence boost, that’s going to build a friendship network almost immediately. So I think that it means a great deal to our players. The best thing that I’ve seen, we have a project called Try for Change which is a collaboration between Comic Relief the RFU
ALEXIS: Sorry - more rugby jargon - RFU is the Rugby and Football Union, it’s the governing body of British Rugby. You’re also going to hear reference to Twickenham, a huge 82,000 seater stadium, which is the home and spiritual centre of English rugby
JOSHUA: it meant that we were able to support players who perhaps wouldn’t have been able to play rugby before and ended up with us taking three of our newest players to Twickenham for the final game of the Six Nations last year. We had front row seats to watch England play Ireland, and incredibly experience for anybody who is a fan of rugby but for people’s first ever live game to be in the front row of twickenham, and then what was incredible was we were invited to play a game of touch rugby on the pitch at half time in front of 85,000 people - minus the people who went to the toilet and the bar obviously - and for one of our players, that was his debut. That was the first game of rugby he’s ever played and that was at twickenham, at half time, in front of all those people. Another player I remember, he suffers from quite severe anxiety and we managed to support him through that talk him through what’s happening next, what he’d be doing exactly, what was happening, and his experience of rugby to be playing on the pitch at twickenham with that anxiety was incredible. And to see the smile on his face was definitely one of the most rewarding parts of being a Spartan.
ALEXIS: In the 90s, when the Spartans, along with many other LGBTQ sports clubs, were formed, homophobia was a big issue in sport, but as that dies out - will gay and inclusive sports clubs still be needed?
JOSHUA: The spartans were set up a long time ago, as were the steelers, to break down those barriers in rugby and I think that work has been done. There’s been incredible work, the RFU are incredibly supportive of certainly our team and many teams around the country. But there are still stereotypes in place, and I think some of the stereotypes come not only from the cis-straight community but also from out LGBT community in what rugby was or what rugby is and I think breaking down those barriers, for me, I’ve played rugby for a rugby long time, rugby is an incredible game based on respect and joint effort and I think it’s a massive loss for any member to not be able to see that. And I think that there are stereotypes and prejudices in place in our own LGBT community that prevent them from engaging in this incredible game that’s a problem so we do amazing work in breaking down those stereotypes. And then also, another point of view, about gays not being able to play rugby - absolutely we can play rugby, we play in a very high level in the northwest and we have a lot of respect from other teams 15:20 for what we do for the sport and I think it’s going both ways that’s what’s so important about the spartans.
ALEXIS: as a fellow rugby player, I can echo Joshua’s points about the immediacy of camaraderie and friendship that one can get from belonging to a sports club. In school, I enjoyed playing the actual sport of rugby, but couldn’t put up with the level of homophobia I faced and walked away from the sport for many years - eventually returning to it in my early 20s through gay and inclusive rugby club The Kings Cross Steelers, which you heard mentioned by Joshua in his interview.
CHRISTANIA: I guess it’s similar to how I’ve built a community and friendship circle through AZ Hub….just without the mud.
ALEXIS: The joining thread between all three of the interviews - is how important this sense of belonging, of identifying as part of something more than just yourself, is to our happiness. Everybody along with their LGBTQ identity hold a dual identity, they were gay and something else and found solidarity in that. But what I found really inspiring - was that all three got involved, two founded brand new places for LGBTQ people to go and the third helped to continue a legacy and bring new gay and bisexual men into sport. I found it really uplifting - great things can happen when people get involved and take real world action.
CHRISTANIA: Our question to you, the listeners is, what are all the different parts of your identity, what are all the things you’re interested, or the subjects and issues that you care about? Are they all being met? Whether you want to dance, bake, hike, improve social justice, play a sport, sing....get involved...and help build your community.
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