2007 - 2020

Many Voices: An Introduction to Queer Scotland Today

With great thanks to the team at Bella Caledonia, I’m privileged to be a part of the Many Voices programme alongside Tomiwa Folorunso, Zozan Yasar, Sean Wai Keung, Annie George, Arusa Qureshi and Anahit Behrooz. To keep up to date with our work, check back on Bella’s website or search #ManyVoices on your social media platforms.

In line with our project briefs, we’re each endeavouring to amplify voices from within our social, political, and creative communities; the ambition being to ‘create a media that is more representative of our society and challenges cultural norms and orthodoxies and fights back against endemic racism, misogyny and prejudice’. As part of this talented and experienced group, I hope to present work that is queer both in the sense of addressing LGBTQI+ issues (in its sexual and gendered dimensions), but also queer by way of demonstrating divergent approaches – those that challenge orthodoxy and represent, at times, radical alternatives to the status quo of ‘accepted’ or the tried and tested methods that have often fallen short of original ambitions.

From now through to the end of the year, I’ll be working to co-present insights into the lives of queer people, their organisations, support services, collectives, conflicts, social movements, and struggles throughout contemporary Scotland. My ambition is to do so in three distinct phases, engaging initially with bodies operating in the Scottish Third Sector to better understand how Covid-19 is affecting their capacity to provide vital support to those in urgent need in both rural and urban Scotland.

Given the extensive cuts to the arts, community-based projects, and health services that communities across Scotland (along with the rest of the U.K.) have endured over the last decade, the second stage of the investigation will consider the sub-statist spaces and alternative approaches to mutual aid that have emerged to plug those gaps and address the hardships created.

The closing element will platform the voices of those organising international solidarity movements from within Scotland, asking about these collectives, their aims, approaches, memberships, and outcomes. Following the final post(s), a summary article will be produced, assessing the extent to which the project has achieved its ambitions.

Whilst these contributions constitute only a small part of the Many Voices initiative (and such a short project can only offer a snapshot of contemporary queer lives), they represent an important step in working to diversify contemporary Scottish media. Through presenting this range of experiences, I hope to utilise the position afforded to me by Bella Caledonia to establish an effective cross section of lives today. Though not all readers will perceive the content as directly relevant to their own lives, the experiences and struggles of people across Scotland are intimately intertwined in our actions, politics, and perceptions. As such, I hope that the reaction of one commenter to the announcement post of this programme stating, ‘I no longer see how I will be represented at BC. I’m out’, will be a minority response to what many of us believe to be a vital initiative for the Bella Caledonia platform.

The fact that another respondent has already challenged Bella by stating that they’re ‘[r]eally not interested in this new direction you appear to be taking’ as we diversify and increase the cross sections of Scotland’s many communities of interest, faith, place, and so much more, suggest that resistance to such endeavours, unfortunately, remains. ‘Disinterested’ I could, perhaps, understand if we assumed that all those taking it upon themselves to speak out against Bella’s efforts were aware of the innate biases, rhetoric, and ignorances within existing media spaces (corporately owned or grassroots collectives), yet to convey not just an uninterest in one maybe or two aspects but rather a complete uninterest in the efforts Bella are taking to – in their own words – ‘change the landscape of Scottish media by giving space to new and different voices’, something they state they’ve ‘not done that as well as we wanted over the years’, serves only the highlight the urgent need for broader input into our current political and social discourse. Similarly, that someone else was adamant that ‘[a]n an independent country [Scotland would have] no need for such a project’, reaffirms the bizarre belief some hold that our successful democratic secession from the U.K. would be a solve-all master stroke that would eliminate racism, homophobia, and Scotland’s legacy of empire.

Stances such as these are akin to the all too common responses we hear from some within the range of pro-independence movements where folk would rather tell us how child hunger or in-work poverty wouldn’t exist in an independent Scottish state than work to address the realities of inequalities and hardship.

Fact of the matter is, though, that the range of new Editorial Commissioners funded through the Many Voices programme are already offering something new to our media landscape. Arusa Qureshi’s insightful interview with artist and curator Sekai Machache covering the 2020 Black Lives Matter Mural Trail, her portrait series in Dundee’s Slessor Gardens, and barriers to accessing the arts for people of colour – combined with her weekly playlists she’s providing – do exactly that. Similarly, Anahit Behrooz offers us with an essential examination of the need to address Scotland’s legacy of colonialism and I look forward to seeing who she brings into her project.

Though there is no doubt that class, privilege, and wealth dictated the positions people held within the British Union and it’s Empire, the extraction of resources benefited many towns, cities, and workers. As such, this type of analysis is more necessary than ever – not part of an ‘oversaturation’ as those, presumably, least comfortable with confronting our collective past would attest. Through my articles, I intend to provide an equally meaningful take.

In closing, I want to emphasise that my project on contemporary queer Scotland is open to any and all who wish to contribute or share their experiences. It’s intended to be a live and insightful take on three key aspects of our lives (the impact of a decade of austerity; emergent alternatives to organising; and enacting international solidarity) and I sincerely hope you will join us – if not on the path then at least with an open heart and mind. Thus far, I’ve sounded out a handful of activists and organisations for discussions on their practice, however I invite readers to help shape and direct this undertaking. My own community development practice, activism, and academic teaching has admittedly centred on work in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Falkirk, and Dundee. I’d, therefore, particularly welcome additional input from folk situated in Scotland’s rural communities. If you’re keen to do so, please contact me on Twitter via @chainuptheswing or use the Contact form on the Bella Caledonia website.

Take care x

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  1. babs nicgrogair says:

    Vital initiative. I’m in! And grateful that we have such a wealth of creative talent to draw on.
    Bring on a new Scotland!
    le gach deagh dhùrachd

  2. SleepingDog says:

    I accept the importance of giving authentic voices to people, so they can fully participate in civil and cultural society as themselves. And often new relevances, connections and empathies will emerge when we listen to those voices, that we had not previously considered. However, when the aim here stated is to “create a media that is more representative of our society”, how are you going to measure this? According to Ofcom’s latest report, there is over-representation in the “Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual (LGB)” category, and they think that this understates the reality due to data gaps and non-disclosure; additionally we may assume that sub-categories are not evenly distributed, so there could be a very high degree of over-representation in one sub-category, and even under-representation in another. Under and over are relative statistical terms here and not judgements.
    https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0028/166807/Diversity-in-TV-2019.pdf

    And while challenging orthodoxies, as any healthy democracy must, I think we must be clear that many of these Many Voices will also deeply and sharply disagree with each other. Some of the criticism I am expecting of this approach will relate to how Many Voices may be a filter of sorts.

  3. Frank says:

    I dislike the new direction of Bella. It seems articles are being commissioned on the basis of an author’s sexuality, gender or race and that a narrow focus on identitarianism is the only show in town. I’m also wary of political Ideologies (in this instance queer theory) getting promoted rather than – to use the jargon, problematised. This infantilises the reader and reduces articles to reading like something akin to corporate diversity training. In relation to this article, as a gay man, I have always disliked the term queer which I still regard as an insult. I understand the argument about reclaiming the term, however this line of reasoning does not have much traction outwith a narrow band of activists in the universities. Queer theory is an export from American academia and an example of how the left in the UK follows simply follows fads from across the pond.

    1. Thanks for commenting Frank. The ‘new direction’ isn’t really new, we’ve always tried to create a space for more diversity of voices in Scottish media which is relentlessly male and pale. Giving editorial control to more women and more people of colour and other minority and obscured communities is part of the plan. Sorry if you don’t like that. It’s part of a wider process of imagining a new Scotland that’s genuinely different in all sorts of ways. I think you’ll find the last thing that Luke’s content does is ‘infantilises’ anyone.

      1. Frank says:

        You are putting words in my mouth Mike. I didn’t say I disliked giving editorial control to minority groups and when my words are twisted like that it makes me question your sincerity about thanking me for my comments.

  4. Wul says:

    “Given the extensive cuts to the arts, community-based projects, and health services that communities across Scotland (along with the rest of the U.K.) have endured over the last decade, the second stage of the investigation will consider the sub-statist spaces and alternative approaches to mutual aid that have emerged to plug those gaps and address the hardships created.”

    Or just say. “Given the damage to community and public services from austerity, I’ll be looking at how ordinary people are helping each other”

    If you want to combat “disinterest” the best way is to actually say something interesting…enough of the waffle-speak please. It is a truly massive turn off for most readers.

  5. SleepingDog says:

    I have a topic request, which may or may not fit into the terms this project.

    My interests and past studies include psychology, philosophy and politics. I am interested in the links between what you are calling ‘queer dimensions’ with royalism.

    Ancient Greek philosopher Plato delivered a template for male homosexuals to gain and maintain political power and office through active networking and bonding in drinking sessions. Opposed to even the limited (though participative) Athenian democracy, Plato demonstrates a reluctance to trust majority rule. It is only natural that a minority who fears persecution by a majority might be inclined to feel the same way.

    Fast forward to modern UK, the decriminalisation of homosexuality and improvements in human rights and representation of some diverse groups has coincided with a falling-away of youth support for some old, stale institutions of church and state. Still, published polls suggest majoritarian support for royalty.

    Royalists, according to some psychologists, typically exemplify parasocial behaviour. This is a one-way fixation with a public personality, often a celebrity of one kind or another, who the subjects sees as a friend, or mentor, or other kind of supportive relation. There may be weak and possibly circumstantial evidence that those who experience and/or are fearful of social rejection are more likely to form parasocial fixations.

    Viewing figures for one of the main royalist propaganda organs, the BBC, are falling in youth circles. Other royalist institutions like the Armed Forces and established Churches are also struggling to attract new members.

    So, as a younger generation, perhaps more critical and less likely to be rejected by family for unorthodox traits, grows up, are there significant changes or controversies about any queer dimension of royalty?

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