As Pride Month is well under way, and with the annual Pride march taking place next weekend in Scotland’s Capital,it is easy to forget that Pride began as a riot, as it is now inundated with rainbow capitalism. Though the fight continues in the face of evolving oppression, we at Young Perspective are keen to chat with the people who are advocating for important change and helping Edinburgh’s LGBT community grow.
In the crowded Library Bar of Teviot Row House, I spoke with Kerry Rush, a local LGBT activist, about how to make creative space for yourself in an increasingly hostile world, and the power that comes from challenging perspectives in the queer community. Kerry is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, and has been nominated for the National Diversity Award, in the category of LGBT role model.
Following a series of tumultuous events, Kerry has devised numerous creative projects that focus on educating and empowering LGBT people and allies. Under the umbrella of Positive Change Arts Project, Kerry manages public panel discussions, encourages positive environments for interaction, and is determined to provide the opportunity for the community to have a wider discussion about mental health.
They tell us, “being discriminated against was just normal, just kind of became part of my life and I didn’t know any better. PCAP was very much started as my response to my personal experience and the knowledge that I couldn’t possibly be the only one going through it – I’m just not that special, or unique, and that’s okay.”
Using their background in therapy training, Kerry emphasises the importance of eliminating the prevalent idea that, just because a project includes the word ‘positive’ in the title, it cannot also be a space for tackling more difficult aspects of life. Experiences of mental health are not linear, and Kerry understands that positivity is not necessarily produced from chai lattes or yoga, but can be mined from complex analysis of ourselves and the wider community as a whole.
They emphasise that PCAP “was never about being positive all the time, it was about finding creative, expressive ways to manage mental health. I thought, well, I’m not going to be the only person going through this stuff. I would like to be part of a community that understands. Especially given that there was no real support for LGBTQIA+ people. I think, ultimately, I was lonely, and I didn’t know where to go, and I needed to get better. That creativity helped me, and perhaps doing that with other people who wanted to get better seemed like a good idea.“
Despite the emotionally tough work that this suggests, Kerry assures me that their workshops are interactive and lighthearted, with a focus on crafts to engage attendees and encourage self-reflection. Titled the ‘I Am’ Project, what began as an experiment amongst close friends soon blossomed into something the public could become involved in, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“It’s [PCAP] always been for LGBT+ people and allies. An ally looks very different to different people. Like an ally can be, yknow, ‘I support gay people’ and that’s it – and that’s cool. Some people like that came to the workshop and learned how to be a better ally. No one should be turned away.“
Kerry also admits that the ‘I Am’ Project developed in ways that they weren’t originally expecting, as they also reached out to encourage cisgender men to take part and learn more about their mental health. A survey published in 2016 concluded that 1 in 8 men in England suffer from mental health issues yet are reluctant to seek help or confide in family members.
Kerry acknowledges that this is a problem, and aims to include anyone who requires support: “everything I do is for marginalised people. And unfortunately men are, weirdly, privileged in many many ways, but when it comes to mental health there still isn’t support. There’s not enough support for the LGBT+ community and there’s not enough support for men, so I was like, I would really be an asshole to not include straight cis men. When you’ve got cis-het people connecting with the LGBT community in a way that they wouldn’t normally, they can see that people are people. which was not the intention, but a very beautiful bonus.”
While creating workshops to promote mental health progress, Kerry’s arts projects also aim to encourage genuine conversation about the intricacies of the LGBT community: its politics, its design, and how it can be developed or improved. This determination to question what can change and who can be involved is what inspired the organisation of live panel discussions, known as ‘I Have a Que(e)ry’. Motivated by some unfortunately negative experiences at the University of Edinburgh and the lack of inclusive or diverse representation in the media, Kerry began ‘I Have a Que(e)ry’ with a nonbinary event.
“I wanted to create a discussion that wasn’t pitting people against each other. It should be saying, ‘come in, what is it that you don’t understand?’ With ‘I Have a Que(e)ry’, you kinda go on a journey, because you’ve got people sharing stuff and you’ve got people promoting what they’re doing in the community. It’s a win for everyone.” The event included speakers from Nonbinary Edinburgh, a non-profit group that connects nonbinary people across the city.
Our discussion then tread into the territory of the appropriate use of platforms, and the ways in which LGBT communities can support one another by sharing the stage rather than fighting for the limelight. The community often brags about inclusivity and support, yet Kerry has frequently encountered counterintuitive alienation and exclusion that they are keen to replace with a genuine welcome.
“I think it’s really important that we share these smaller groups that don’t have funding. I’m creating a platform for myself and I’m sharing that platform, because why the fuck should I be the only one with a platform? It’s building something that we can use together, but also to inspire people that they’re not alone. There are so many elements to ‘I Have a Que(e)ry’, but I’m especially proud of it for that.”
Kerry’s work has undergone many transformations, however they are clearly (and deservedly) proud of their efforts to unite the community and challenge the prejudices that can be found even in the supposedly welcoming world of queer experience. However, the constant battle to make yourself heard can be draining. I asked Kerry how they cope with staying motivated despite the potential strains.
“Sometimes I forget the reason I started it all,” they admit. “I think I get stuck on all the bullshit stuff. When you’re really talking about your experience as a trans nonbinary person and all the media rhetoric, it’s exhausting. But there are so many people doing really amazing things, and they are doing it while facing God knows what. People are persevering and still coming together. I think we are a really resilient community, even when we don’t recognise it and that’s a really important message that the community as a whole needs to be reminded of – that we shouldn’t have to be resilient, but we really fucking are, so we’re really fucking strong. We’re better and more capable of actual change in the world, not dividing ourselves, and being more supportive.”
Finally, given Kerry’s experience with activism, I wanted to know if they had any advice for those who are thinking about picking up a sign and getting involved in creating change.
“What I would say is key here is: do your research. Don’t just go and volunteer for the biggest, most well-known LGBT or human rights organisation. Go and do your research, go and hear what other volunteers have to say. Collaborate like I do. Another thing is: as exciting as it is when you first start out and as passionate as you are, don’t take on too much. Be realistic about how much time you can give.”
Pride Month is a time for celebration, but most importantly a time for reflection and revitalisation to rejoin the fight against systemic prejudice both inside the community and outside. Kerry’s work marks a steadfast and important movement towards improved inclusivity, and a testament to the power of opening up the conversation.
Kerry’s future plans include developing ‘I Have a Que(e)ry’ into a web-series, with the next ‘I Have a Que(e)ry’ event focusing on transfeminine representation. This is in response to “the current media rhetoric about transfeminine people and nonbinary people. We’re doing something to invite transfeminine people to have a voice instead of people who don’t have a clue what they’re talking about speaking over transfeminine people.”
Points of contact
They are a self-funded activist, and have a Patreon page for people who are looking to financially support their work.
You can sign up to their newsletter to get updates on their work via their website.
Kerry’s work in the UK has also garnered them opportunities to work across the pond in America, and they have featured in the web-series ‘These Thems’ – a comedy about queer life in NYC which will be avaliable online soon.