Saturday, August 04, 2012

A queer thing happened on the way to the market...

Char Carter, Chairperson of Herefordshire Pride, is the instigator. What started as a Facebook group last summer has blossomed. Originally to test the waters for a larger organisation, the group quickly got fifty people together and showed that such an organisation was needed. Although Rainbow Forum already exists, a collaborative event didn't work out so Herefordshire Pride is a separate entity now, established in December last year/January this year. The plan was to have a fundraiser this year and a Pride event next year, but it 'kind of snowballed' and now there is a Facebook page, Twitter feed, WordPress Blog and a website.

As a regular, Char thought the obvious place to hold this event was in a familiar location such as The Spread Eagle Inn. Other venues were investigated, specifically those that were free or cheaply available, but the most significant factor was the friendliness of the staff. A big concern was the welcome that such an event might have for the regulars and those working there. If held at The Vault there would be a cover charge and the patrons and staff would just have to get on with it, but The Spread is a very welcoming atmosphere. Other events have been held such as a social drink per month, cover evenings, quizzes and even a zumba class, which admittedly wasn't very successful: 'it is a learning curve.'

With no designated LGBT centre, Hereford needs queer-friendly venues for the benefit of the LGBT community and for the education of the non-LGBT locals. Play, a local nightclub which used to be Bushwackers has been a sort-of centre of LGBT social scene. Whilst The Spread Eagle is friendly is has taken months to make this place recognised as the place to go. There have been so many attempts at fostering a strong queer focus to the town that has variously centred on The Saracen's Head, The Black Lion and The Orange Tree - any quiet pub really.

Ready to don her 'I tried being straight, it sent me around the bend' rainbow-icon t-shirt, Char presents herself as an enthusiastic leader of this fledgling group. Herefordshire Pride is aiming to be a charity. Currently a non-profit organisation, it is not a charity yet as it has not earned enough: charities must have £5000 turn-over per year to register. No-one in the group's organisation gets paid and tonight is a free event with only two paid acts the DJ, Lady Diana, and Will Killeen who is performing at a discount. They will be accepting donations and providing merchandise for sale, such as badges, t-shirts, etc. This slowly evolving organisation has a committee entirely Herefordshire-based. The committee meetings are everywhere: other venues used to host the public meetings designed to attract people, but generally they now happen in Jules' front room now. Joining the committee is relatively easy: 'just contact us' or speak to Char about it, come to social drinks. There is no need to be voted on, only three positions, Chair, Financial Secretary and Secretary, require that. You don't even have to associate yourself with one of the LGBT (LGBTQQ or FABGLITTER letters), although Jules is Secretary, Aaron is Finance Secretary and straight.

There may be other pride events this summer. They intend to organise another event with a small charge to fund raise, as public funding has not been sought yet. The committee didn't feel comfortable for the first year, having seen other groups rush into things, wasting the money granted just because they have the cash. Regular nights somewhere seem to be the main goal, rather than a community centre. Another focus is the education of the masses into the spectrum of queer culture, that every LGBT thing isn't just 'drag queens and screaming gays.' Today there are acoustic sets in the afternoon, stand-up comedians; the only gay-specific act are the Pet Shop Bears.

Advertising has been based on Facebook, Twitter, the website, posters, flyers and word of mouth; a big turn-out is hoped for, though the worry is that it will end up being 'nobody or packed solid'. With a 300 capacity venue, are there enough queers in Hereford to fill it? Char anticipates people from Gloucester and Shropshire coming, along with a fair representation of Hereford's various communities, a mixed crowd not solely LGBT. The greatest hope is that the community realise that Herefordshire Pride are here doing this. As Char said, 'if you want more to be done for your community, show support, just make us think it is worthwhile.' After La Rue's nightclub closed down two years ago there has been a gap in the market, perhaps Char and her committee are able to fill the niche.

As far as Char is concerned, Hereford has always been a welcoming and friendly place. Herefordian born and bred, she has only experienced three or four negative experiences in the last two and half years, three of which were from kids. She supposes that with Lady Gaga and other queer-friendly musicians and popular culture icons, it helps make LGBT status and issues such as gay rights more mainstream both in the media and general awareness for Joe Bloggs. Rather than any negativity the main feeling now is that 'no-one gives a damn,' that there is no longer a limited experience on the social scene.

With luck, Herefordshire Pride has begun the latest wave of development in the local queer community, spreading a message of tolerance in diversity. Given the reactions of those enjoying the music so far, it seems that a warm welcome is guaranteed.

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