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Walsall For All talks 'LGBTQ Voices West Midlands'

Image shows a photo of Kathy O'Connor. they are wearing a colourful boiler suit and glasses.

For those who don’t know who you are, could you please introduce yourself and briefly explain the kind of work you do?

Hi I’m Kathy, (Kathryn O’Connor) (they/them) a local Genderfluid (non-binary to female) gay artist, author and performer based in Walsall. I do all sorts of things including being: a documentary photographer, a writer, a kids book author and illustrator, a drag kueeng performer (exclusively for lesbian audiences) and a multi-arts expressive healing paint and fabric artist and facilitator. My current project is called LGBTQ Voices West Midlands 2021-2023. The LGBTQ Voices book is now available to pre-order here:

Can you tell us about the LGBTQ Voices West Midlands project:

Image shows a cover for the book LGBTQ Voices West Midlands

I came up with the idea for the LGBTQ Voices project and book during Covid and the lockdowns. It is a big passion project of mine – something I’d wished had existed when I was younger and something I could easily have come across in a local library. I have photographed and interviewed over 100 people across all areas of the West Midlands (Birmingham and the Black Country, Shropshire, Stoke and Staffordshire, Hereford and Worcester, Coventry and Warwickshire) with some connection to the LGBTQ+ community, including some straight allies. It is a mix of all ages, ethnicities, identities, sexualities, mixed abilities. I care deeply about authenticity and enabling us all to be seen, heard, respected, celebrated and allowed to speak our truths, about our lived experiences and our opinions for positive change for the future. It is our lives in our words. All sorts of people have taken part including the youngest was a 9 year old trans girl and her mom and the eldest was an 80 year old gay guy. Some participants were from the black country area and so Walsall falls within that. I am unable to name exactly which people were from Walsall as it may still not be safe for people to mention the exact area they are from, hence using the Black Country to cover areas that include Walsall… However I can say that participants in the Black Country area also includes personal experiences of Conversion therapy and many other topics are covered.

Inside the book there will also be LGBTQ current support listings and Pride photos and some positive quotes kindly given by LGBTQ organisations and celebs including; Stephen Fry and more…

I have already done several library exhibitions and school workshops. The final exhibition of all 100+ artworks, which will be inclusive and includes a BSL video and braille leaflets, will take place later this year around September 2023 (exact date and venue tbc) alongside a talk and q and a and the official book launch and book signing.

The LGBTQ Voices project gives a platform to voices from across the rainbow spectrum of the community, what has been the best part about hearing these stories for you?

There have been 3 bests part of it all – the first, has been the journey it has taken me on to becoming a more authentic version of myself and seeing how much I have learnt myself by talking with and listening to such a diverse group of people. I have changed so much from being someone that didn’t understand why people wanted all these new-fangled terms and labels and pro-nouns to someone that now understands the positivity these can provide in helping others understand you better. To also choosing to use and embrace these new labels and pronouns myself. I realise I simply had no understanding of how they could be of any benefit before, especially as I came from a time of feeling I had to hide my identity and sexuality, growing up during section 28.

The second best part is; I have felt so privileged to be able to provide a space that felt therapeutic for the participants to be able to be listened to, many for the first time ever, by anyone. I saw just how liberating it was for them to do so.

The third best part was how I unexpectedly became a positive networker to help connect up groups and participants with information, advice etc. I started realising it was a fab opportunity to help make a real difference by connecting people up with similar needs or matching people with others on projects they may also want to be involved with elsewhere.

Are you able to share a preview of the project with us?

Here is part of one of the answers to the question: What Do You Hope To See As The Future for the LGBTQ+ Community? (Are there any changes needed or is everything ok as it is)

Participant No. 56: ‘The two big things I’d like to see changed is; more accessibility in LGBT spaces but also more sober spaces. I feel like a lot of LGBTQ+ spaces are maybe not always accessible to wheelchair users, people with invisible disabilities, deaf people, blind people, there’s a lot of disabilities that aren’t really catered for in a lot of spaces. There’s a lot of LGBTQ+ spaces, groups, meet ups whatever, are happening in bars, pubs, there’s a lot of focus on alcohol at these events….’

And here is their portrait and their chosen quote used in the artwork:

Image shows a preview of the book. It reads: The Future is intersectional, accompanied by an illustration by Kathy O'Connor.

What are your hopes for LGBTQ Voices West Midlands once its published and out in the world?

I aim to get the LGBTQ Voices West Midlands book into as many libraries in the West Midlands as possible – so enabling free access to the resource for people from under-privileged areas. This is really important to me as libraries have always been a great help for me when growing up and feeling isolated. I also aim to get the book onto the school curriculum as an authentic educational teaching resource for use in healthy debate and to encourage open classroom discussions. Equally wouldn’t it be great to also see this resource accessible in a local West Midlands supermarket – so it would enable people who may not usually seek out this topic, to feel able to read about real people’s lives and opinions, rather than always from rumours or hearsay about the LGBTQ community.

Can you also tell us about the upcoming ‘Pride and Privilege’ exhibition with New Art Gallery, Walsall, and how this continues the work of ‘Here & Queer’?

I am part of the Collections Community Panel (CCP) at The New Art Gallery Walsall, there are a few of us who are taking part and co-producing the next temporary exhibition. It is all about exploring Class and Identity in The New Art Gallery Collections and some of us are sharing our artistic responses to it. For example, I was drawn to choose two artworks that spoke to me in some way. I then created my own response that connected the chosen prints with my own self-identity journey. I also felt inspired to write a poem to go alongside my expressive art response. I will also be doing some workshops later this year linked to it. The Pride & Privilege exhibition is due to open on 1st July 2023. There are many more things coming up, including talks, workshops and events. More info can be found here:

What does pride and pride month mean to you?

Pride to me should be all about celebrating all of our humanity, all our differences. We are all unique individuals, and we all have a voice that deserves to be heard and respected. I personally don’t like that Pride month is limited to a month – to be our LGBTQ history should be part of every day, as we in the LGBTQ community live our LGBTQ lives, every day. Though I am grateful it gives us an opportunity to openly communicate about our LGBTQ communities.

What are you favourite memories of Walsall Pride?

Celebrating with friends in my hometown and being able to be myself and them, themselves without feeling they had to hide anymore. It felt really great last year for me, as it was the first time I’d attended a proper Walsall pride as I’d been living away from the area for some years with my ex. It felt a great welcome back home for me – now as my true authentic self. I was proud of how much more inclusive Walsall has become as a town and I am very glad to be a local here again. If you’d have told me as a kid this would be happening now – I wouldn’t have believed you, or had any idea of how accepted I’d now feel as my true self. I’m looking forward to attending Walsall Pride 2023.

Who are your pride icons or role models, and why?

I miss Paul O’Grady he was a big inspiration for me and showed how much you can achieve by doing things your own way and being yourself.

I also admired successful women that went for what they wanted and achieved great success like Madonna and Dolly Parton. I guess I admire people that go for things and don’t give up and that do good in the world. I love Dolly’s imagination library idea.

I also admire all the people that actively stand up for our LGBTQ rights, whether they are known people or everyday people doing what they can. I believe each of us are the role models we seek, if only we’d believe no matter where we come from – we ALL have a voice and we ALL deserve to be seen and heard. I believe in us individuals the most and the power we have in being our authentic selves. Like Ghandi said; ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’

Is there anything else you would like to add or talk about?

Just that I will soon be offering some expressive art and fabric workshops at the New Art Gallery Walsall that are part of the Pride and Privilege exhibition. More info can be found on the New Art Gallery website: on the what’s on events page.


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