Lives ordinary and extraordinary: the launch of Croydon Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender month, 4th February 2015

By - Friday 6th February, 2015

Liz Sheppard-Jones attends the launch party and has an enjoyable, serious time

Rainbow flag in the Braithwaite Hall.
Photo author’s own.

Croydon’s tenth Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender month was launched with a concert in the Braithwaite Hall, Katharine Street, on Wednesday evening, 4th February. It was hosted – and that really is the word – by Councillor Mark Watson, Croydon’s Cabinet Member for Safety, Justice and Communities, who not only spoke at the start but introduced each act and should think about showbiz if Katharine Street doesn’t work out.

I liked Councillor Watson more and more as the event proceeded, both for his involvement in the fight for gay equality down the years but even more for his obvious authenticity. A politician who gets it! We don’t hear that nearly enough. Imagine politicians from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds, or with disabilities, understanding, fighting for their own… then before I knew it I was brooding on our governing coalition of the wealthy and it was spoiling my enjoyment of the concert.

The performers stepped up with the material they had ready

Luckily the warmth and enthusiasm of the performers quickly re-captured my attention. This was certainly a celebration but also a thought-provoking show, and whilst it contained fun and energy, for me its high spots were reflective ones.

I also gathered that behind the scenes, things hadn’t gone quite to plan. Two musical duos featured: Jules Phoenix and the charismatic Remi F, still managing to seem impressively relaxed during a very quick set-up after late arrival, and the appealing Darnell Johnson and Mary Francis, music students from Croydon College who, as they revealed, had thought until the morning of the show that it was at the end of February. That must have been a shock – and explains their choice of material, particularly their intro song about saying goodbye, ‘Say Something‘, by A Great Big World, a song so gut-wrenching that I wondered what it was doing in a celebration concert. Then I realised they’d just stepped up with the material they had ready because, as Mary explained, “This is so important to us”. I admired them both so much for that.

And actually, a goodbye song wasn’t so irrelevant. The evening celebrated progress – the many hard-won legal victories as gay relationships were first decriminalised (imagine peacefully watching TV with your partner one evening and the police bursting in to arrest you for – um – being with your partner) then tolerated, then finally granted full legal equality. But as Ross Burgess from the Campaign for Homosexual Equality reminded us, there are many places in the world where this isn’t so – indeed, where persecution of gay people is growing worse. There’s a lot more of this to say goodbye to yet.

Our country shelters the victims of homophobic persecution – I’m so damn proud of that

Rainbows across Borders, a support group for gay men and women who’ve fled such persecution in their own countries and found sanctuary in the UK, got up and sang with style and flair, to audience participation. Its lead singer and conductor actually expressed her thanks, which was incredibly moving, speaking of her own and others’ lives “both ordinary and extraordinary” in which doing something as simple as loving another person had resulted in the fear of arrest and worse. We shelter the victims of homophobia in this country – I’m so damn proud of that.

Anny Knight.
Photo author’s own.

Performance poet Anny Knight introduced a note of humour with a series of comical poems about lesbian stereotypes – best line: ‘currying your lentils ’til you haven’t got a friend left in the world’. (Clue: Anny likes steak, so rethink your stereotypes fast!). But for me her top moment was serious too – her poem ‘Pride 92′, about a painful romantic split in the middle of a great big pink party celebrating gay relationships:

‘…. the pieces

of a broken heart


littered there in Brockwell Park among the pink balloons’.

As Rainbows Without Borders sang – we shall overcome

Croydon LGBT month runs throughout February all over the borough. There are also lots of resources for gay, bi and trans people in Croydon, ranging from reading groups to lunch clubs for seniors to a sexuality and gender identity youth group to help young people starting to deal with these issues in their own lives. Take a look here for more information, and if you’re short of time, the month’s highlights are here.

I left the Braithwaite Hall feeling happy and sad, which is probably what the organisers intended. It’s sad that there has to be a fight and that prejudice still has such power. But there are positives too, as Mark Watson reminded us: those who face homophobia discover empathy with others experiencing discrimination and can give support to causes beyond their own. Those of us who live in the safety of majorities can do it too. And, as Rainbows Across Borders sang: ‘We shall overcome one day’.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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