Dr Hannah Phillips, queer artist, activist, educator and parent, explains why she is producing the first LGBTQI+ family arts festival


In a Conservative climate reminiscent of the 1980s, homophobic, biphobic and transphobic hate crimes have rapidly increased and as stated by The Trevor Project (2019) suicide rates for young LGBTQI+ people have also increased. Stonewall reports confirm homophobia is endemic in Britain’s schools and a new research study, published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health (2018) revealed children as young as 10 who identify not to be heterosexual are more likely to demonstrate mental health issues. Young LGBTQI+ people internalise homophobia through living and learning in an obligatory heterosexual world which reflects cultural anxieties around the “promotion” of homosexuality to children and young people reminiscent of Section 28 rhetoric.

The limited representations of young LGBTQI+ people in television, films, theatre, books, animations and online tend to focus on homophobic and coming out narratives rather than empowering young LGBTQI+ people and giving visibility to a diversity of young queer lives, identities and alternative family arrangements. As a queer parent, activist, artist, researcher and educator, I advocate the use of queer arts strategies and aesthetics when working with all children and young people, commencing in early years, to eliminate binarised thinking about gender and sexuality. Queer is about the social rather than the sexual, shifting our thinking away from the idea that there is any “normal” expression of gender identity. A queer aesthetic in applied arts for all young people offers an accessible way of using the arts as a playful form of activism, mobilising young people to reimagine their futures, their identities and their world. To ask all young people to queer their world is to ask them to question and disrupt their identities, contexts, their oppressions and their privileges.

Open Theatre working with children, photographed by Kate Green

A practice born of a queer aesthetic for children and young people which is not only queer in narrative is beginning to emerge. In Birmingham, Fantabulosa was created by Adam Carver, a queer-positive children’s drag-show exploring the fluidity of gender through playful, interactive storytelling and dressing-up in public spaces. On 26 September 2021, No Outsiders, the charity founded by Andrew Moffat MBE is launching the inaugural No Outsiders Family Festival in partnership with Birmingham Pride and Midlands Arts Centre (MAC). An inclusive, LGBTQI+ festival of creative chaos for three- to 11-year-old children and their grownups, it is completely free. Attendees are encouraged to get dressed up and come as whoever they’d like to be.

The festival will celebrate the diversity of identities and alternative families across Birmingham, a festival where everyone is welcome. There will be aerial silks performances and circus workshops on the terrace with Rogueplay, semi-classical Bollywood dance taster with dance artist Jaivant Patel, non-verbal drama workshops with Open Theatre, a film of Action Transport Theatre’s hilarious stage show, Happily Ever After, a charming and humorous fairy tale with a twist, told completely without words, directed by Nina Hajiyianni and set to a delightful score by Patrick Dineen. A comedy show for kids by Britain’s Got Talent local, Barbara Nice followed by a family disco on the terrace. Join us!

No Outsiders Family Festival takes place on 26 September 2021. Browse the programme at macbirmingham.co.uk/no-outsiders-family-festival-2021 and follow on Facebook @NoOutsidersFestival

Dr Hannah Phillips is the producer for the No Outsiders Family Festival, Senior Lecturer at Newman University, a queer activist, writer and performance maker. Find out more at hannahphillips.com and follow her on twitter @HannahYellowitz.

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