Wednesday, 11 March 2015

E.D.E.N Action! Panel Debate: “Do We Need A Gay Scene?” - Thursday 5 March 2014

E.D.E.N Film Productions – the team behind the brilliant film, ‘Families Like Ours’ created and released back in 2014 – facilitated an open debate as part of a new project (E.D.E.N Action!), with the main discussion at its core: do we need a gay scene?

The subjects up for discussion were a little broader than the title suggests, with a focus on more than just the typical perception of what a ‘scene’ is, such as LGBT spaces, inclusive non-LGBT spaces, community services and provisions and so on.

Meet the Panel

Adam Hood (Sheffield Pride) and Eleanor Formby (Sheffield Hallam University)

Trevor Tomlin (volunteer, event organiser, activist) and Kath Housley (LGBT Sheffield)

Becki McKechnie and Bella Qvist - panel chairs

What do we mean by ‘scene’?

After an intro from Claire Watkinson (MD, E.D.E.N Film Productions) and introductions from chairs Becki McKechnie and Bella Qvist, the discussion began with an exploration of what we mean by a ‘scene’ – is it simply the venues, bars and clubs frequented almost exclusively by LGBT people, or are we considering the wider inclusive environment, including support groups, services and the LGBT communities at large. Considerations such as ‘safe spaces’, opportunities for meeting like-minded people and forming personal relationships were heard by the panel.

Eleanor Formby put forth concerns that we not confuse the two ideas, as the scene as often defined by the nightlife can be more easily defined than the broader, more difficult reaches of the various communities encompassed by ‘L, G, B and T’.

Kath Housley added that the ’scene’ could include more than just the bars and clubs, such as bookshops, community ‘hubs’ and cafés, open to groups often ostracised from mainstream venues (such as older LGBT people).

Adam Hood suggested that Sheffield has wider issues affecting the establishment and lifespan of a scene in the city, such as surrounding geography (the ‘green belt’ of rural communities and inconsistent transport links). Where LGBT people once had a ‘hub’ out in Attercliffe, as the overall progression of LGBT rights has moved forward over the years, people are more accepted and find it easier and safer to access more mainstream activities in the city centre, where there isn’t a definable quarter or scene.

Adam also suggested that the knock-on effect of business/financial input in accordance with ‘demand’ had an impact on the actual ‘supply’ of an LGBT scene. It takes a lot of money and investment to get anything off the ground, let alone a specific LGBT venue, and whilst it remains difficult across the board for anyone to set up and maintain a presence, it will continue to be even harder for LGBT venues.

Trevor Tomlin raised the important issue of mainstream venues offering regular LGBT-specific, or LGBT-friendly events and how as ‘allies’ these places can help by collaborating and opening up the mainstream to LGBT people and straight people in a shared space.

Eleanor mentioned evidence from her research which says rather worryingly that LGBT people are still not comfortable being themselves when out in non-specific LGBT spaces. Public displays of affection – often as simple as a look or body language with members of the same sex – are still seen as something to avoid, despite the advances of Equality legislation. Trevor showcased a different perspective on this with his example – as a bisexual man he often feels uncomfortable in both mainstream spaces and LGBT spaces, due to assumptions people make about his sexuality.

The discussion then moved on to trans issues, following Stonewall’s announcement that they will be officially starting to lobby on trans issues.

Eleanor talked about the assumptions made when talking about LGB ‘and T’ and how oftentimes the ‘T’ is a ‘lip service’, often ‘tacked on’ to LGB activity whilst actually not offering ‘T’ inclusivity or anything specifically for trans people. There is also a disappointing amount of discrimination within LGBT communities – such as biphobia and transphobia – often further excluding trans people.

When referencing bisexual and trans people, there were suggestions from the panel on how to promote inclusivity and offer something authentic – such as involving LGBT people in the organisation of events and groups, showcase them in line-ups and in performance schedules, make them visible, analyse the language used when advertising and promoting – be thorough and sensitive and avoid assumptions. For larger events and initiatives, involve as many as possible from as many communities as possible, and get the people you’re trying to cater for involved – perhaps as volunteers or members – and at the forefront of your plans.

The panel debate in action

LGBT Schools?

The discussion moved on to specialist schools for LGBT children and young people – as currently being investigated in Manchester. Are these a short term solution to issues with homophobic bullying? Are they longer term investments for specialist education? What are the issues associated with these plans?

Concerns from the majority of the panel included how LGBT children would be ‘removed’ and ‘excluded’ from the everyday education that every child is entitled to; non-LGBT kids wouldn’t be learning about their LGBT peers and their lives.

Eleanor explained that the idea is more targeted as a potential solution to the most extreme cases, where LGBT children are physically and permanently unable to attend mainstream schools because of homophobic and transphobic bullying. The provision of an ‘LGBT school’ would be a way for those children to still obtain an education without the stress and deficits of bullying and harm within a mainstream school. The difficulty remains how do mainstream schools tackle this bullying, and if you remove the young people being subjected to it, are you diluting the impact of tackling it head-on?

It remains to be seen how this idea progresses – all eyes on Manchester at the moment.

The ‘Scene’ and the Future – what do we do?

In conclusion, the panel agreed that we do need our own ‘scene’, defined as both a physical set of spaces and also services, groups and resources. We need this space to cater for those who feel safer being themselves in these spaces, whilst more legal, political and social advances are made in terms of LGBT acceptance. We also need ‘allies’ in other communities to collaborate with and share resources and spaces to promote inclusivity and diversity.

To sum up…

It is clear from the debate here that there is much more to discuss, and the organisations and groups represented here are keen and ready to tackle these issues. It is also clear that more help is needed across the board – from local government, leading voluntary groups, activists, volunteers – anyone who wants to make a difference and wants to see change and progression has to get involved wherever possible. Groups need to work together to share responsibilities and cater for as wide an audience as possible.

Together, we can make a real difference in Sheffield for LGBT people.

That’s a wrap!

Missed out? 

Check out E.D.E.N Film Productions video of the event:

You can also look back at the central ideas and thoughts by looking up #EDENDebate on Twitter.

About E.D.E.N Action!

E.D.E.N Action! is a free film course for unemployed members of the LGBT community in Sheffield which started in December funded by The Humber Learning Consortium. The project is aimed at empowering unemployed LGBT people with the skills to tell stories through film whilst educating members of the public about LGBT diversity.

More links:

Twitter – @SheffieldPride

Twitter – @LGBTSheffield

Twitter – @EDEN_F_P