Creative Dundee

Room to Be: LGBTQ+ Inclusion in Creative Spaces

Artwork by Kyle Angel Leeson, co-designed by Sachairi Nixon

Creative practitioners from Dundee’s LGBTQ+ community share what it means for them to feel safe and represented in the city’s creative spaces.

Creative Spaces have been at the forefront of our work so far this year as we develop a project to explore what our city could look like if we provide creative practitioners with better access to the space and tools to work, grow, collaborate and flourish.

While this project begins its first steps, we also want to take the time to highlight how people experience collective spaces differently, from what makes a space accessible to what makes a space feel safe.

To explore what safety and representation really means in a creative space, we got in touch with local creative practitioners who are a proud part of Dundee’s LGBTQ+ community, asking them to share their experiences and the spaces that make notable efforts to welcome them. Here’s what they told us:

As a queer design researcher, the university campus is my creative space. This encompasses the library, entrepreneurial hub and surrounding cafes and bars. Going to campus makes me feel safe. This is because of the amazing people that inhabit the space, including students and staff who know me as queer. It’s a place I can spend all day, with a never-ending supply of literature and resources, I feel like I can be or do anything. Sitting in the library café, I’ll see people flow through with queer badges on their backpacks and stickers on their laptops, and I feel supported.

For me to feel represented and safe in a space, I look for transparency in an organisation’s policies and feel happiest in places that encourage the cross-pollination of ideas and conversations without judgement. Before joining a space, I’ll often find out what support there is for the LGBTQ+ community, and on campus that is the advisors and LGBTQ+ groups. I’ve seen my lecturers attend pride, and moments like that matter and can change perceptions of the space they inhabit.

Other spaces include cafes and bars. Blend Café is nearby and has started to feel as though it is opening up to the queer community, hosting creative events and get-togethers. Another place my partner and I love to go is Hotchpotch, in the basement of Hunter S Thompson we are guaranteed to not only hear some incredible poetry, but we’ll see lots of friends from the community.

Stephanie Crowe, designer and Muckle Studios founder

When you’re non-binary it’s difficult to find yourself represented anywhere, especially considering that even the Gender Recognition Act doesn’t mention us being legally recognised in the UK were it to pass. The independent comics community I’ve become part of shares the most beautiful stories of heartbreak, comedy and warmth about their identities and I’ve met more non-binary people through creating comics than in any other aspect of my life. It’s a space I feel very comfortable and safe expressing myself within and discovering more about who I am.

We recently had Hourly Comics Day on February 1st where artists draw their day broken down into what they did each hour. Seeing artists draw out their daily routines with their supportive partners, taking their medication, even recovering from gender affirming surgeries was one of the most wonderful things to witness. When you can see your friends within the community making art purely about them flourishing and embracing who they are, along with the more mundane things in life like taking the bins out, it is one of the most effective ways to make you feel less alone.

Cat Laird, illustrator, comic artist and workshop facilitator

Attitudes of hosts and attendees and accessibility are what allow us to feel safe and represented in a creative space. Having a host who is approachable and introduces themselves with pronouns sets the scene for trans inclusive introductions amongst attendees. Events and spaces vocalising a zero-tolerance policy for any oppressive behaviour and language, and being proactive when enforcing it is also key to making us feel safe.

In their event description, hosts should provide in-depth accessibility information which includes mobility access, sensory information, and a description of what to expect of the space. Sharing a space with other visibly queer people also helps us feel represented, and when events are run by trans people, we feel reassured that our safety and comfort is a priority.

In Dundee, the only creative space either of us both feel safe and represented is at our Fruity craft nights. We started these nights due to a lack of sober, more accessible spaces for queer people to socialise. Sober spaces for queer people are important due to the prevalence of drugs and alcohol in queer culture; something which is exacerbated by most designated queer spaces being nightclubs or bars. By having a creative activity, we are able to facilitate a shared experience among queer people. By providing materials for people to create collages with, we provide an opportunity for people to be creative in a low-pressure environment and explore their emotions through creative expression. People also get to leave with a representation of their time in the form of their art, and in that way, the space continues to provide queer connection after the event is over. 

Sachairi Nixon and Kyle Angel Leeson, artists and Fruity co-founders

It can be scary entering a new space with new people in it, even as a white cis gay man. There’s often a voice in my head saying, ‘you don’t belong here’, which is from bad past experiences (thanks high school). Over the years I’ve had to build methods to overcome these barriers and to generally get through life, as many LGBTQ+ people will do.

My example of a space in Dundee where my mental barriers are lowered is Blend Café where I often work when I need a change of scenery. So, what helps make Blend a safe creative LGBTQ+ space? 1. It was introduced to me by my friend, who is also part of the LGBTQ+ community, so I knew already if they felt safe, I would feel safe too. 2. Friendly staff and 3. Visible diversity of age groups and genders. 4. Gender neutral toilets. Just visually seeing a wide range of different people inhabiting a space like Blend immediately invites me inside to relax.

When creating inclusive spaces, diversity needs to be embraced from the start, not as a tokenistic add-on. Embracing inclusive values translates into the culture of a business, then into the physical spaces people inhabit within that business; helping make people feel welcome when they might have mental barriers before entering like I do.

Jamie Stein, freelance graphic design specialist and founder at Stein Design

To me there’s a feeling of safety which comes from visibly knowing other people like me are around physically in a space, or have been welcomed historically, and that there’s Security with a capital S too, from a key code to cameras or physical people.

From an LGBT+ perspective that’s also partly as it’s impossible to ever know if today’s going to be the day someone shouts at you, chases or hits you on the street.  However thick-skinned you become over the years, and even if you ‘dress down’ between home and work, you learn that leaving the house is what can instantly make you vulnerable. Social Media 2023 does not help this either.

In terms of work, there is also I think a sense of space, your own Office or Studio, or a specific Desk if not, a place for quiet time where you can think. Opening hours flexibility can be key too, as many LGBT+ folks do not have kids or school schedules to fit around.

Safe spaces for me include beacons like the DCA, V&A Dundee and McManus Museum & Art Galleries, along with various shops like Spex Pistols, the Overgate or Hayley Scanlan and Cartocon!

Chris Hunt, brand manager, curator and director

For a space to feel safe, at the minimum I need to feel that there is a base level of knowledge and acceptance around gender identity, especially in the light of rising transphobia. It is in silence and ‘looking the other way’ that dangerous sentiments grow – all the difference is made by ongoing visible support of LGBTQIA+ people. I also must factor being autistic into my identity, and this impacts the environments and situations I will feel comfortable in. I have to weigh up my desire to find an LGBTQIA+ community or space, with my ability to spend time in what might be a sensory or socially demanding environment.

There is also intersectionality to consider – the unique experiences of queer BIPoC mean that any racism must be addressed within LGBTQIA+ spaces, and the same goes for disabled people whose accessibility needs are often forgotten – leading them to be excluded.

The public spaces I have at the moment for being creative are the Chrysalis garden project at Duntrune Community Garden (Dawson Park), and I spend a lot of time writing in Blend Coffee Lounge. There is a sense of community there – I have gotten to know the staff as friends, and I do feel safe there as an agender trans person and I know other LGBTQIA+ people have felt the same. I’d love to see more options of free public safe spaces to work and create in, and more LGBTQIA+ aimed events / places in general outwith ‘nightlife’ scenes.

Tom Bird, spoken word performer, poet, writer and artist

It feels more important than ever for the safety of LGBTQ+ people to be a priority in public creative spaces. Every choice to engage in a new space, event, or even workplace, brings with it an inherent sense of risk when there is no clear signposting or active voice that openly says ‘you are welcome here’.

Beyond this, the spaces we create must also consider the breadth of experiences in the LGBTQ+ community; there’s no one size fits all approach that can be taken. As more LGBTQ+ led creative spaces establish themselves across the city, the expectations of what these should be and do are shifting providing more unique ways for everyone to express their identity. We look forward to hearing from, sharing, and supporting more creative spaces that offer everyone an opportunity to flourish freely.

Share your thoughts:

We know that these experiences are representative of only a very small selection of Dundee’s LGBTQ+ community and we’d love to continue this conversation with even more voices included. If there’s an experience or space in Dundee you’d like to share with us, please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you!

Huge thanks to all contributors for sharing their thoughts and time with us.

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