They say Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year – but that’s not always the case for LGBT+ people.
For some queer people, Christmas can be an incredibly lonely time of year, as is evidenced by a recent PinkNews social media poll which found that eight in every 10 readers have to hide who they really are during the festive period.
More than 7,500 people responded to the survey, which was self-selecting but gives an insight into how this time of year can impact LGBT+ folk. Readers shared devastating stories about being forced into the closet at the dinner table, being deadnamed, and dealing with probing questions from relatives about when they’re going to “settle down”.
The reality is that many queer people don’t have the picture perfect family to fall back on at this time of year, which means that many end up spending the day alone. That’s fine if you want to spend the day by yourself – many people would rather be by themselves at Christmas – but what if you’d rather spend your Christmas Day with like-minded people?
That’s where We Are Queer London comes in. The organisation arranges casual get togethers and buddy-ups for queer women, trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people – and they’re working hard to make sure queer people who don’t want to spend the day alone have a support network to fall back on.
In November, the founders of We Are Queer London put out a call on social media offering to help queer people who didn’t want to be alone at Christmas forge new connections for the festive period.
Ky Richardson, one of the co-founders of We Are Queer London, tells PinkNews that it was “surprising” how fast the initiative took off once they posted about it.
“I myself spend Christmas alone most years, so I was thinking, ‘I’d really like to have some companionship,'” Ky explains. They came up with the idea of setting up a Google Doc that would enable queer people to “buddy up” and find others to spend the festive season with.
COVID has gotten in the way unfortunately, but people haven’t been left high and dry.
“People would say: ‘I’m offering to host, it will be me and my mum and we have space for two people.’ Someone else would go on and say: ‘I’m looking for somewhere to go to for Christmas lunch or a walk on Boxing Day.’ People would see what’s on offer and what people are wanting and then they would connect. We would just encourage them of course to do their own due diligence, the same way as you would if you met any stranger online, so it was more facilitating them to buddy up rather than organising any specific location.”
A number of people have buddied up as a result of the initiative. They know of participants who are taking a boat out on Christmas Day and they’re aware of families who are hosting queer people for dinner on 25 December.
Of course, the outlook has changed considerably since Ky and their co-founder Maeve Storey came up with the idea – since then, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has spread rapidly, changing the state of the pandemic in the UK. Interest has gradually tapered off as the Christmas Day approaches, Ky says.
“It has slowed down because of the COVID numbers and we have actively, from a place of moral responsibility, stopped encouraging it,” they explain. “There’s still a group of around 30 people who will make plans last minute on the day between themselves, and that group is typically shift workers who don’t know what days they’ll have off. We’ve facilitated the Instagram group so they can be like: ‘OK, I’m off today – is anyone around for a walk?’
“We also had a big house booked in Brighton for 30 people on New Year’s Eve which unfortunately, we have decided from a moral perspective, to postpone. From that, people have broken off into smaller, more risk-manageable groups. COVID has gotten in the way unfortunately, but people haven’t been left high and dry, which is the main thing.”
Initiatives like this one are important for a variety of reasons, Ky says. Their buddy system offers queer people the chance avoid potentially dangerous and triggering family environments and instead build new connections with others who truly understand them.
“At least in my experience, my extended family are incredibly homophobic and transphobic,” Ky says. “I socially transitioned this year and I present very different to how I’ve presented in the past, so the idea of going home at Christmas and being around extended family, presenting for the first time in a very different way, inevitably would be a huge amount of labour for me on top of an already difficult time of year.”
They also make the point that December can be an alienating time for the many queer people who don’t celebrate Christmas.
“That could be for a number of reasons – it could be faith-related, it could be the consumerism. Also, I think COVID is a huge factor too. A lot of people in the We Are Queer community’s families are not in the UK and they haven’t been able to travel out to see their families because of the risks associated with COVID, or they don’t want to be around vulnerable family members.”
The group is dedicated to being inclusive, affordable and accessible
We Are Queer London isn’t just there for Christmas – it’s there all year around, helping queer people to forge connections.
The organisation first came to be after Ky met their co-founder Maeve through a dating app at the start of the pandemic. That connection ultimately turned into a beautiful friendship. It was around that time that both Ky and Maeve came to realise that they didn’t have access to a queer community.
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“The only access to the queer community that we had was either being in big groups drinking a lot, which we didn’t want to do – and we couldn’t do because the pandemic had started – or dating, and we didn’t necessarily want to just meet other queer people dating. We decided that what we wanted to do was create a community where we could make friends in a really relaxed, low-pressure, cheap environment.”
Their goals from the start were to make We Are Queer London inclusive, affordable for everyone, and accessible. They had their first get-together in June 2020 – a picnic in Hyde Park.
“We realised that there’s so many people who don’t have access to non-date situations where they can meet queer friends,” Ky says. “The need was apparent very quickly.”
Since then, We Are Queer London has gone from strength to strength. The pandemic has thrown a roadblock in their way, but Ky and Maeve are determined to make sure the initiative keeps growing so queer people can be provided with the spaces they crave and need.
“We’re basically looking at ways where we can pool our resources as a community to create more opportunities for togetherness and play, essentially,” Ky explains. “It gives us an amazing opportunity to be inclusive about how we create a chosen family.”