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Why you've just got to think PINK; The ECHO'S Out and About columnist Andy Green on why Liverpool's gay festival is here to stay.

Byline: Andy Green

MANCHESTER has one. Glasgow's is happening now. Even Nottingham has had one. But until November last year, Liverpool was the only major city in the UK without a gay festival.

Gay festivals tend to evoke images of outrageous parades, colourful floats and more drag queens than you can shake a sequinned stick at.

Liverpool's Homotopia however is different: the emphasis is on 'queer culture' and the diversity that exists within the city's gay community.

Now in its second year, the twoweek celebration of gay life, backed by Liverpool Culture Company, is staging more than 50 events including film, theatre, heritage, comedy and exhibitions.

It's the brainchild of local promoter Gary Everett (co-creator of the inimitable Kookoo) who first came up with the idea as early as 2003 when he started consultation with the Culture Company and key figures in the local gay community. At the same time, the first Liverpool lesbian and gay film festival was being planned.

Homotopia grew out of a partnership between Gary, the LLG film festival, Unity theatre and the Culture Company.

Homotopia's agenda was always going to be different.

Gary explains: "I thought it important that Homotopia didn't opt for the tried and tested route of a party in a park. I believe if we have more events that celebrate lesbian/gay/bisexual/ transgendered life and, in particular diversity, then it stands to reason that the city will become a far more tolerant and welcoming place to be." Council leader Mike Storey agrees: "An important part of Liverpool's Capital of Culture status is celebrating the cultural life of all of our communities, and recognising the diversity that makes the city such a vibrant and exciting place to live."

Diversity is a word that regularly crops up in reference to Homotopia - and you only have to look at the range of events to appreciate its importance. You can hear serious intellectual discussion from the likes of Peter Tatchell one night - and then Call My Puff with Kitty Litter and EastEnders' Nana Moon ( Hilda Braid) the next. There's an event at the maritime museum exploring the reasons for men going to sea and there's an alternative Sunday school with live art, scones and cucumber sandwiches!

The film festival, Outsiders, is integral to Homotopia and it has gone from strength to strength since last year. With screenings at FACT of UK premieres and a gala performance of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane at the Phil, festival director Matt Fox has put together an eclectic programme of cinema.

And next year he promises to do even more. He says: "Gay people are the single largest minority group on Merseyside and Outsiders aims to reflect the different races, cultures and experiences within that group. I think we will stop seeing Homotopia as a festival and start seeing it as a movement."

While Liverpool still lags behind Manchester in terms of the size of its gay scene, moves are afoot to raise the profile of the city's gay community with the formation of a gay business association, cochaired by Cllr Steve Radford and the Masquerade's Phil Hunter-Jones . The council is also doing its bit by producing the second edition of its official gay guide.

Manchester's gay village was able to become so successful because of the co-operation between the clubs and bars and the local council. It's taken a while, but Liverpool has finally got the message and the future has more than a hint of pink.

Gay festivals, by parading stereotypes to the world's press and TV cameras, are always in danger of reinforcing the ghetto mentality; of not doing much to foster better relations with society at large.

Ironically, though, by not pandering to the stereotypes, our city festival may not always attract the media coverage it deserves. But by not wrapping everything in a feather boa, Homotopia should attract interest from the community at large - and further its aim of promoting lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and trans-gender art and performance in the mainstream arena.

Claire McColgan, head of creative communities at the Culture Company says: "We see Homotopia as an integral part of our programme as we look towards 2008 - and we look forward to seeing the festival reach new heights over the coming years."

Liverpool's Homotopia is different: it's intelligent and inclusive; a celebration of Liverpool's lesbian and gay community.

Adds Gary Everett: "I feel that through the positive representations of artists and art we can begin to at least understand and de-mystify what it means to be lesbian or gay.

"One of the most encouraging things I heard last year was a young gay man who was so disillusioned with the usual run of bars and clubs; he was, in many ways, isolated.

"He was so taken by our festival as he had never known gay life beyond the gay club or bar in his home town. If the festival connects on this human level then we are achieving something rather special

CAPTION(S):

MY BABY: Homotopia creator Gary Everett; GLAD TO BE GAY: Andy Green (above); drag queen Lady Sian at last year's festival (right
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 7, 2005
Words:852
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