A blog article by Abbie Cawser reflecting on 'The Coast is Queer' festival hosted from 7th-9th October 2022.
Recently, The Attenborough Centre for Creative Arts hosted ‘The Coast is Queer’, a Queer literary festival that saw countless poets, authors, scholars, and more give talks and interviews about their work. From Friday morning right through Sunday evening, students (and anyone in or around Brighton) got to engage in discussions about LGBTQ+ issues, through the medium of the written word. I went along to a handful of the varied events, and got to see first-hand just how thought-provoking the speakers were.
Perhaps the best attended event of the weekend was ‘Bad Gays’, led by the hugely successful podcasters Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller. They gave a reading from their new book - Bad Gays: A Homosexual History - and then answered questions, held insightful discussions on having nuanced conversations about the right and wrong sides of history, to a humorous analysis of Morrissey, and The Smiths. A more lighthearted panel than some of the others, it provided an enjoyable, but still thought-provoking discussion about the side of Queer History not often discussed in mainstream media.
On a much more serious note, the panel ‘Queer in Time and Queering Space’, attended by everyone from an architect historian, to a nightclub owner and DJ, spoke extensively about the concept of carving out Queer spaces in the mainstream world. With recommendations to the Museum of Transology, and Club Kali, the wide range of topics meant everyone in attendance left with different questions and thoughts. Sara Yaoska Herrera Dixon, and her mother Helen Dixon gave an emotional testimony of their time setting up Centro Cultural Guanuca, and how they felt seeing Queer, Transgender, and Genderqueer people in Nicaragua be able to find a safe space within their centre. Most upsettingly, they spoke about how it had since been shut down by the government, with many Queer people now in hiding or being persecuted by the government currently in charge. As a whole, the panel emphasised the experience of trying to find ‘sameness’, and wanting to find a community in spaces where they could be themselves.
As a poetry-sceptic, I was initially hesitant to visit ‘Finding Home in the Queer Poem’, but even I found myself moved by some of the work. With that, poets Verity Spott, Mary Jean Chan, Fran Lock, John McCullough, and Peter Scapello, discussed the ideas of home, and community, ending with a very emotional conclusion that home is a concept, rather than a physical place. Mary Jean had been one of the curators of ‘100 Queer Poems’, something which I was fascinated to learn had been entirely curated virtually, with the two curators having never met during the process. Another particularly poignant moment was the knowledge that one of McCullough’s poems was written during the time of Section 28 (the legislation banning the teaching of LGBTQ+ issues in schools), and is now being taught as part of the Key Stage Three Poetry Curriculum.
Overall, the entire festival bridged the gap between hopeful and sad, enjoyable and difficult. I left none of the panels feeling as though they had left me with no further questions or ideas, making it an invaluable experience. Even after certain logistical issues (certain panels had to be moved to Zoom due to illness or the Rail Strikes), they dealt with it efficiently, offering discounted tickets for the weekend, so people could arrive earlier and avoid the effects of the strikes. At an affordable £15 full weekend student ticket, they did their best to make the event accessible for all. If anyone wants to keep an eye on other events they are running, I recommend checking out the ‘The Coast is Queer’ Website: https://coastisqueer.com
To finish, a quote from Peter Scalpello during his talk on Queer Poetry: “The Devil works hard, but Queers work harder”.
Photographs courtesy of Abbie Cawser