BBC Good Food Magazine
What has being queer got to do with food anyway? Our columnist celebrates LGBTQ+ people making a difference in the hospitality industry
Hearing from LGBTQ+ hospitality heroes
Pride is firmly rooted in protest and struggle
Throughout the year, Pride celebrations take place up and down the country. But its foundations are firmly rooted in protest and struggle.
In June 1969, New York City police raided the city’s Stonewall Inn, having persecuted and harassed the queer community for years. This time, club-goers fought back. Days of protest followed and a movement was born.
Modern Pride celebrations prompt mixed reactions. For some, it’s a party, while others resent the commercialisation of a movement that has persecution at its core.
And, what does Pride have to do with food anyway? Well, for me, everything. Being a gay woman is as much a part of my identity as food, as both permeate every aspect of my life.
Here, I speak to leading people in the food and drink industry about what Pride means to them – away from the rainbow flags and whistles.
Resh: ‘It wasn’t our intention to be an openly gay Indian restaurant.
‘We weren’t worried about the general public or our customers, but we thought we’d be judged by industry people.
‘The chefs didn’t understand – a woman running a restaurant, then two women owning it, then us being a couple. It was so foreign. So at first it was hidden, a bit like when we were younger. I only came out 12 years ago when I met Heena.
‘But, with our business, we realised we should just own it. And if people don’t like it, they can do one.’
Heena: ‘The changing point was during Pride 2017, the year we opened. I’d picked up a rainbow flag and put it in a vase next to the bar. People noticed and we started getting more gay customers.
‘If we can provide a space for just one person who has nowhere else to go, then that’s incredible.’
Resh: ‘Growing up, there was nowhere I could go where I felt comfortable. I could go to my gay friends’ houses, but nowhere openly.
‘Now, we’re really proud we’ve created that space.’
If we can provide a space for just one person, that’s incredible
‘Queer Brewing was conceived after my love and passion for the drink led me to working full-time in the beer industry. I never intended to get into brewing, and to be honest, I don’t consider myself a brewer. Running a brewery happened almost through happenstance. I wanted to use collaborations with brewers as a vehicle for activism, fundraising, and increasing visibility and representation of LGBTQ+ people. The initial scope was to brew a collaboration a month, and see if it reached a year. In the first year, I brewed nearly
30 beers in five countries, and raised close to £20,000 for a number of charities. The response kicked up such momentum that the first year immediately surpassed my hopes.
‘But then the pandemic struck. As breweries were so focused on simply surviving, and along with a period of bad mental health and dealing with grief, I came close to winding it up. But then along came Cloudwater Brew Co [for a new collaboration]. This reinvigorated my motivation and my ideas. A year after nearly packing it in, we’re in a pretty good place.
‘What keeps me going are the responses from people who see themselves in what we do, feel recognised and represented, or have found the confidence to come out or be more open about their identity as a result of our work.
‘Pride and LGBTQ+ representation absolutely has a place in food and drink, and all other areas of culture. How can it not? LGBTQ+ people have been involved in the production of food and drink forever, so why shouldn’t our causes have a place? Representation and visibility are important – and to a queer person unsure of their place in the world, or feeling alone, seeing something that references them could be really meaningful. But this is the means rather than the end.’
Russell: ‘Recently, one of the main gay bars in Dublin had homophobic graffiti scrawled at the front. Two Pride flags were burned down outside city council offices in the south of the country, and now “straight pride” flags have been put up outside shops. So, Pride is still important.
‘It’s time to reflect on the work that’s been done – especially for us in Ireland, where we had the Marriage Referendum in 2015 – and those who’ve done so much to push things forward.
‘Here, many of the post boxes are decorated with rainbows for Pride and there are secondary schools flying Pride flags. I think of 13-year-old Russell at school thinking, “God, if I get called a fag today – again – that’s my day ruined”.
‘But, imagine seeing a rainbow-flag-covered post box on your way to school and a Pride flag flying at school, and being listened to by a teacher rather than them brushing it under the carpet, as they did with us. What a long way we’ve come, with so many people for children to look up to so they can be assured that being gay is not abnormal. It’s a great thing.’
Patrick: ‘For me, Pride is still a protest. It’s about authenticity and being seen and heard.
‘Yes, it’s fun and colourful, but it’s a scream that says I exist and I’m allowed to, but it’s annoying that I still have to do this every year to remind you that I am an equal part of this world.’ Russell: ‘Our name started as a hashtag that we put at the end of tweets. It was a bit of fun and something to help friends keep a tab on what we were doing. Now it’s grown and grown.’ Patrick: ‘It wasn’t a conscious decision and it means there’s a “coming out” for us nearly every time, on every introduction and new client.
‘There isn’t any hiding who we are or what we stand for. And, with all the opportunities we do get, there are the opportunities that aren’t afforded to us because of the name. It’s been helpful, but it’s also hindered us.
‘As we’ve got to a certain level over the last few years, I think it’s brave that we have the word “gay” in the name and can’t hide. Not that I’ve got the impetus to hide, but it’s putting yourself out there in a vulnerable way.
‘I have to give us credit for sticking and persevering.’ ‘A few years ago, Jay Rayner came in to review a café where my business partner Hanne and I were working. He described the lunch offering as a selection of “butch salads”, which we found hilarious – I had really short hair, Hanne had a shaved head and we both looked quite butch. We thought, “How did he know? Did he see us in the kitchen?”
‘That’s how our name came about. It probably isn’t the best name for a catering company, but it’s a good way of separating the wheat from the chaff. People either think it’s cool or they don’t get it. It’s quite subversive: if you’re a homophobe, don’t ask me to cater your event.
‘Pride is important. People wonder what your sexuality has to do with your identity as a chef, but I live in a London bubble and as soon as you step outside of it, you realise how heteronormative things are. It’s presumed that you’re straight and if you don’t look straight, then that’s cause for looks or questions, so it’s important for people to realise it is relevant. Food’s part of me and my queerness is too.
‘I never saw anyone who looked like me – a butch woman chef – in food media or on television. That public image is not representative of the industry. Queers in Food & Beverage, my online network and platform, came from wanting to know more queer people in food, because it’s important to have people around you who have had similar experiences to you, who you don’t have to explain yourself to.’
I never saw anyone who looked like me in food media or on television