Brave Space

LGBT History Month was first celebrated in the UK in 2005. Like Women’s History and Black History, the creation of a month dedicated to exploring these communities’ histories is an acknowledgment that we are missing something in mainstream textbooks. We need these months because certain histories and specific identities have been intentionally erased from the dominant narrative.

Syracuse London celebrated LGBT+ History Month 2019 with a gallery-style event on “Brave Space: Queer Histories and Identities in London”. The evening explored LGBT+ persons and politics, with the Faraday House Student Lounge transformed into an exhibition of research and multimedia art taking attendees on a journey through queer London.

The title for this Symposium was inspired by Micky ScottBey Jones’ poem, “Invitation to Brave Space”. The poem recognises that we do not live in a safe space, as hate crime and prejudice are still far too real. We can, though, work together toward recognition, celebration, and protection of diversity and inclusion in all its forms. Our goal with the Syracuse London Symposium Series is to do exactly that.

“Brave Space” was envisioned as a gallery event, encouraging explorations, conversations, and celebrations of the many ways we all interact with issues of gender and sexuality. There were five main themes to the evening, with exhibits and artists spread around the room to examine them.

“Invitation to Brave Space”

Together we will create brave space
Because there is no such thing as a “safe space”
We exist in the real world
We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.

In this space
We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world,
We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere,
We call each other to more truth and love
We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow.
We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know.

We will not be perfect.
This space will not be perfect.
It will not always be what we wish it to be
But — It will be our brave space together,
And — We will work on it side by side

—Micky ScottBey Jones


The first theme of the night was Historicality, that we might understand where we currently stand. What has changed? What hasn’t?

Tela Gerber, a student who studied at Syracuse London in Spring 2019, put together a timeline of modern LGBT history in London and the world. Next to the timeline, genderqueer researcher Lloyd (Meadhbh) Houston showcased a project at the University of Oxford making accessible a set of books previously deemed as too explicit to be included in that academic space.

You can download a PDF of Syracuse London’s Queer Histories timeline here.


Moving around the space, a collection of gorgeous portraits by photographer and longtime LGBT activist Lola Flash showcased a wide diversity of voices. The Inclusivity exhibit emphasised that everyone belongs at events like this, no matter their prior knowledge or current identity. In her opening remarks, event curator Dr Becca Farnum said: “If you have been working in queer spaces for fifty years, you are welcome here. If you are looking around and don’t understand what you’re seeing, you are welcome here.” Here, you’re invited to explore Lola’s moving photography alongside event attendees:

LEGENDS: Murray Hill
Murray Hill is a well-known New York comedian and drag king. He is the self-proclaimed “hardest-working middle-aged man in show business.”

Murray’s portrait comes from the LEGENDS series, capturing the people who spearheaded a movement that wasn’t a given. They are actors, advocates, DJ’s, performers, and much more. They are the trailblazers who presented an honest vision that clashed against societal norms as we knew them. They were not trendy, but instead are “trendsetters”. These actions alone placed them in harm’s way; due to homophobia, they could have been killed. But they were the lucky ones. And, many decades later thanks to their combined struggles and persistence, our queer and non-gender conforming communities can finally begin to live in their own skins. We are being acknowledged within institutions as the legal system begins to give us long overdue rights in the workplace and equality in marriage policies; we access gender-free lavatories; and in many places, even school children are now able to designate their chosen pronoun.

This transparent progress has been ushered in only through the guidance of Murray’s and his fellow LEGEND’s refusal to be anything other than themselves. They are included here in thanks for their lack of complacency. Instead, they lived – and still live –their lives, fighting daily battles of homophobia, transphobia, racism, and sexism. Although we are still demanding full equality, the state of affairs has changed dramatically because of these folks. Where there was once no canon, each LEGEND, in their own beautiful way, has harnessed a pride that transcends hate. They made it possible for the LGBTQ+ community to not only survive, but live a life of love.

(sur)passing: DJ Kinky D
DJ Kinky D is from London’s East End. She is also known as Dionne Bailie, and has been spinning in such destinations as Dubai, Duha, and Bangkok for some years now. This piece comes from a series of larger- than-life size color portraits probing the impact skin pigmentation plays on black identity and consciousness. Primarily due to the melanin count of their skin, light- and dark-skinned blacks’ opportunities can differ enormously, from overt favoritism to extreme alienation. Kobena Mercer calls this hierarchical bias based on skin tone a “pigmentocracy”. This scandalous and often heart-wrenching storyline dates back to colonial America, and it clearly perseveres today.

In (sur)passing, the models are shot with a large format camera from towering urban vantage points. Highlighting the regeneration of a new inner-city culture, they become divine: larger than the purposely out- of-focus buildings of the London, New York and South African skylines contrasting with the sharp, crisp rendering of the individual. The subjects assertively return the viewer’s gaze without being confrontational. In the upcoming exhibit at Autograph, these four-foot by five-foot photographs will be hung above eye level, so that the viewer has no choice but to “look up”to these young people posed as if characters from a modern Shakespeare melodrama.
So, as the title (sur)passing suggests, these portraits represent a “new generation”– one that is above and beyond “passing”. We represent a fresh pride and strength, where ambiguity and blurred borders create an individuality that elevates consciousness and advances a plethora of positive imagery of my beloved people.

Mixed race, genderfluid, and a world traveler, Kinky D challenges us to consider how the various pieces of our identity overlap, influence, contradict, and bolster each other. Her inclusion here also serves to remind us of the importance of inclusive diversity within queer movements, as the oppression of any supports the oppression of all.

Zola is a young musician who is clearly in command of the way that she presents herself. She is genderfluid and is lucky to have the support of her moms.

SURMISE is an insider’s account of the many ways genderqueer people are perceived, and how visual representations of gender affect our psyches and society. This ongoing portraiture series features images of people whose appearance are genderfluid. Due to the shifting nature of the political climate and status quos around gender identities, the visual and verbal lexicon around gender and sexuality is in rapid transformation. Flash’s series seeks to highlight the stories and capture the images of people whose personal presentations challenge societal norms. This photographic series reminds us how misunderstandings and misrepresentations related to perceived gender, sexuality, and sexual orientation are often painful – and in too many cases, life threatening.

Zola’s inclusion here highlights the impact that gender-based assumptions and enforced stereotypes have on us, even from a very young age…and celebrates what is possible when the freedom to explore self and identity is given. Zola and young people like her are constantly creating brave spaces through their refusal of the standard gendered performance. It is our job to ensure their bravery is met with safety and encouragement.

Flash is a queer artist who uses photography to challenge stereotypes and offer new ways of seeing that transcend and interrogate gender, sexual, and racial norms. She received her bachelor’s degree from Maryland Institute and her master’s from the London College of Printing (University of the Arts London). Flash works primarily in portraiture with a 4×5 film camera, engaging those who are often deemed invisible. In 2008, she was a resident at Light Work in Syracuse, and in 2015, she was artist-at-large at Alice Yard in Trinidad. Flash was awarded an Art Matters grant which allowed her to further two projects in Brazil and London. Flash has work included in important public collections such as the Brooklyn Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Her work is also featured in the publication Posing Beauty, edited by Deb Willis, currently on exhibit across the US. In 2017, she co-led a talk at the Bronx Museum with Sur Rodney Sur, speaking to the glaring lack of women artists and persons of colour with respect to their Art AIDS America exhibition.

Flash’s work welcomes audiences who are willing to not only look, but to see. This piece from circa 1990 is a self-portrait modelling a commitment to actionability, taken as part of her work with ACT UP during the time of the AIDS epidemic in New York City. Critically questioning gender, sexuality, sexual orientation, and social expectations requires that we all regularly frame, shoot, and retake self-portraits, holding our behaviours and assumptions up to a mirror of examination and consideration. The highlighted slogan, “AIDS is killing artists, now homophobia is killing art” calls us to take action against prejudice in all its forms, championing creativity and community over fear. Lola’s openness in this piece reminds each of usthat building “Brave Space”requires trust, vulnerability, and commitment to work that may often feel unending – but is far from unyielding.


The next section on Intersectionality recognised that we all have multiple pieces to our identity.

We are not only gay or straight, male or female. We are also young and old, black and white, sighted and blind, Christian and Muslim, and a whole host of other things that influence who we are, how others perceive us, and what kinds of power we have. And these multiple identities become more than the sum of their parts, especially when considering privilege and oppression.

Reylon Yount, a Chinese American musician, played a selection of pieces on the yangqin while discussing how his multifaceted heritage shapes his art. Participants were also invited to view a video of Kimberlé Crenshaw discussing intersectionality theory and meet portrait artist Dan Govan next to his exhibit highlighting underrepresented queer communities.


Performativity brought together a selection of artists, activists, and architects to explore how people act out gender through clothing and behaviours.

Santi, a queer DIY fashionista and make-up artist, invited students to explore the impact of textiles on gender identity with G(end)er Swap.

Danly Steele, the toxically masculine alter ego of Lizzy Shakespeare, performed a drag king show reflecting on workplace sexism with a helping hand from Jacob Bloomfield.

Architect João Ruivo examined public-private interactions with a video about the importance of “The Door” in drag performance and “The Toilet Reader”, a presentation of research on the use of public toilets as spaces for cruising in the gay community, while Dr R Justin Hunt rounded out the section with materials from Naked Boys Reading.


The last theme of the evening asked attendees to take some time to consider what they might do in response to what they learned at the event. Actionability is about recognising that, while we’ve made great strides, we are still a long way from having the hate crimes, inequalities, and social injustices that make LGBT History Month necessary things of the past.

Syracuse London dedicated this section to Blaze, beloved friend of one of our Spring 2019 students who was tragically murdered by neo-Nazis. We hope that Kalani’s testimony and Blaze’s beautiful poetry inspires everyone to commit to random acts of kindness as we #BlazeItForward.

Read 'Changing Tides' by Blaze Bernstein
Whatever you washed onto my shore,
It taught me a lot about myself.
Your seaglass touch
And driftwood words
Changed the way I see the world.
For that I can never repay you.