In this feature length article we spoke with a few different organisations about what they do to support the queer community in Cumbria.
From the necessity of representation within the workforce, to actively promoting queer history and supporting queer people with advice, these are all the places queer people can find allyship in Cumbria.
Cumbria’s pride parade in 2021
Anti Racist Cumbria: “There’s no such thing as a single issue struggle”
Myself and Soph chatting about all things LGBTQ+ for this interview
Sophia Newton of Windermere is the co-founder and director of communications for Anti Racist Cumbria (ARC). We chatted about what ARC is doing to support queer people both in their organisation and outside of it.
ARC has many members who are part of the LGBTQ+ and Sophia expressed that ARC listen and hold space for those members and ask for suggestions on what can be done to support them:
“One of the suggestions that came out of our volunteers was setting up an LGBTQ+ space within ARC and that’s something that we are setting up next month and which is really exciting.”
Soph believes ARC could be doing much more for the LGBTQ+ community and reflectively added: “I think, in the same way it’s really easy to assume that you’re being anti racist, it can also be really easy to assume that you’re being supportive of the LGBTQ+ community.”
Some of ARC’s volunteers at Carlisle pride last year
For this reason ARC are mindful of how to authentically support the LGBTQ+ community:
“We’ve avoided just putting up a flag and going ‘we support the LGBTQ+ community’ and consider what does that mean for us, and actually it means let’s pay LGBTQ+ writers for example as opposed to let’s just put something up and not really consider supporting the community.”
One of the ways that ARC shows up for the LGBTQ+ community is working alongside Carlisle pride and supporting their events they host throughout the year as well as co-creative work surrounding training: “Pride are going to be doing some training for us at Anti Racist Cumbria about how we can better support the LGBTQ+ community and we’re going to be doing some work with them about how they can make sure that their LGBTQ+ work also supports Anti-Racism.”
ARC has also partnered with UK Black Pride for an LGBTQ+ inclusive hoodie with a percentage of the profits going to UK black pride. Soph’s view is that despite this being a soft touch the visibility really matters to ARC:
“If you’re walking down the street and you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community and you see someone in one of our pride hoodies that’s telling them we're here for you and we have to recognise that there are different forms of oppression, actually if your gay and black your living a double oppressed life.”
The pride hoodie that ARC has on sale with a percentage of the proceeds going to UK Black
pride the world’s largest pride celebration for global majority people
This representation for ARC is essential to both global majority and queer people:
“There’s a load of work to be done and actually that’s the kind of stuff that we want to grow and get stronger partnerships with because minimising yourself we know is a similar feeling for black and brown people who live under that same structure of keep your head down.”
ARC member Mina has always felt ARC is a safe space where she doesn’t have to do that minimising that Soph talked about:
“I’ve always felt safe at ARC as a member of LGBTQ+ community. I’ve always been welcome and I have never felt judged or looked at in a different way when I am talking about my sexuality. I feel I can be myself without feeling scared to be openly lesbian and I always felt encouraged to be myself when I am with my ARC family.”
Pride to ARC isn’t just the training, the representation and supporting of queer people like we’ve discussed, for them it’s activism: “It’s saying we're not okay with how things are and so pride will continue to matter even once everything in law is all exactly the same, which it isn’t and we know it isn’t for trans people and the rest of the LGBTQ+ community.”
Anti Racist Cumbria’s volunteers at their stall for Cumbria Pride 2022
Racially motivated hate crimes are at the top of all hate crimes committed in Cumbria and LGBTQ+ hate crimes are second to that with trans hate in the county rocketing up to 56% which are statistics that Soph feels ARC simply cannot ignore: “We have to address this trans hate and recognise it’s real and whether or not their black, white or brown if we don’t talk about transphobia then how can you really be anti racist if you're not also addressing all of these other things.”
For ARC an intersectional approach is needed to achieve equality: “It was Audrey Lorde who said ‘there’s no such thing as a single issue, struggle’”.
ARC member Faniry told us that she has always felt encouraged to be her authentic self and touched on how the intersectional approach works for her: “Mirrored in this charity are faces like mine that ooze love, acceptance and equity for Pride within black and brown folks with a focus on teaching and learning intersectionality which is very important in my county as a Cumbrian gal from Madagascar.”
Carlisle Youth Zone: “If you ask the young people whether Carlisle Youth Zone is a safe space, they will say yes”
Carlisle Youth Zone building. Photo credit: Carlisle Youth Zone
Ciara Bottrell of Carlisle is the main facilitator for the senior (12 - 18 years old) group of 20 young people on the LGBTQ+ Committee at Carlisle Youth Zone (CYZ). She spoke with us about what the youth zone is doing to support queer young people.
Ciara explained that the group meets every month and in their sessions they often have workshops with local LGBTQ+ charities such as Pride in North Cumbria (PINC) and Outreach. Carlisle Youth Zone allows the young people in the LGBTQ+ group to facilitate their own sessions: “We let them plan it as well so they can find someone to be involved like we did for LGBTQ+ history month this February and we got a drag queen in because a young person had contacted them.”
Ciara added: “We even had people that wouldn’t normally consider drag like football lads all dressed in dresses and covered in glitter!”
Ciara (mid left) alongside her colleague (left) sporting a drag King lewk alongside Kendal queen
Nova (Right) and Carlisle queen Ronnie Crutchella (middle right) at the drag queen event.
Photo credit: Carlisle Youth Zone
Most sessions they facilitate are arts based and with PINC and they recently held a zine workshop that surrounded the concept of protests, whether they work and if they’re important.
Which is a very timely and significant workshop given the government's recent changes to the Public Order Bill.
Outside of their sessions Ciara told us CYZ have ‘a really good working relationship with Outreach, the trans wellbeing hub in Carlisle and Cumbria’ which has proved to be a vital lifeline for the trans youth they support:
“We work with over 200 young people at Carlisle Youth Zone and so sometimes youth workers struggle to find time to have one on ones with our trans young people so it’s great that Outreach visits us every other Tuesday to support the young people through their transitioning journey.”
Ciara gleefully concluded: “To have Outreach as a partner is amazing and they even sometimes come in and do workshops, their most recent being one surrounding pronoun badges.”
Some of the badges made in the session with Outreach. Photo credit: Carlisle Youth Zone
As for pride month celebrations Ciara spoke about how they always make a case to do a huge celebration and start with the idea of pride young with the kids so they can normalise and celebrate it. CYZ have been holding space for pride each week: “Tonight we're doing a drag-a-thon. We got donated a lot of makeup from a funder and we're using the skills that the drag queen taught us when she came in last February. Everyone’s going to have a nice little dress up and put on some makeup and have a party.”
Carlisle Youth Zone will also be attending PINC 20th anniversary celebration and are having an open mic event!
At the heart of Carlisle Youth Zone is a safe space for young queer people to attend, Ciara noted: “From my observations, I've seen that people have gained in confidence and they enjoy coming to Youth Zone and the majority of the time if you ask them if Youth Zone is a safe space they will say yes, so that's what we're kind of venturing towards.”
Cumbria University: “Students know they can approach staff if they've got anything related to LGBTQ+”
Lee McDermott of Carlisle is the equality, diversity and inclusion officer at Cumbria University and founder and co-chair of LGBTQ+ staff network at Cumbria University. Lee told us that the university goes way deeper than just celebrating pride month:
“I want to make it clear that we do work right across the year”.
Lee sporting one of Cumbria Universities rainbow lanyards that signifies to the student’s they can approach staff wearing
them if they’ve got anything related to LGBTQ+ topics and issues. Photo credit: Lee McDermott
Cumbria University has close links with local LGBTQ+ charities so they can represent and support their queer community on campus:
“We're sponsoring Lancaster and Morecambe Pride this year with the intention to also support Cumbria Pride in September and their events that we've sponsored and supported for the last three years now and we're keen to have those relationships with those local organisations.” Lee also told us how they have stalls that are representative of their LGBTQ+ communities of both staff and students and create a banner for the pride events that they take into the campuses to be a reminder that they continue to work and develop LGBTQ+ equality throughout the course of the year.
Lee (left) alongside other members of the LGBTQ+ community of Cumbria university.
Photo credit: University of Cumbria instagram
Cumbria University recognises the necessity of pronouns and when attending pride events the student union brings along badge makers so people can express their pronouns openly.
The University isn’t just committed to representation and Lee explained that they also ensure staff and students that are LGBTQ+ are safe on campus: “We've also shared details of LGBTQ+ hate crime reporting apps. Our community is aware of that and we host that alongside other signposting and reporting that people can access.”
Lee added: “Obviously we don't want to think that people would have to use that app… but that is still the case.” The university in February of this year has also created a webinar series with Lancaster University as a resource for LBGTQ+ students and staff that can listen and hear what the university has to say on LGBTQ+ issues.
Lee told us that the university regularly shares information for specific LGBTQ+ awareness weeks.
Cumbria University showed support for LGBTQ+ awareness month on the international day
against homophobia transphobia and biphobia. Photo credit: Cumbria Uni Instagram
Clearly the organisations that we’ve interviewed are committing to making Cumbria a safer, more accepting and most of all supportive place for the queer community in our county.
Even though there’s a long way to go for the advancements of LGBTQ+ rights, they are at the heart of LGBTQ+ activism in Cumbria.