Stop the scandal

As part of Centre zine, we chose to highlight the Stop the Scandal Campaign. This grassroots campaign was created by Yorkshire’s Racial Justice Network and supported by Yorkshire Resists. They wrote the following piece for our new zine, which is on sale now. 50% of profits from sales of Centre zine, will be donated to the Racial Justice Network. Read on to find out more about Stop the Scandal.

The Stop The Scan campaign challenges a move initiated by West Yorkshire Police in 2019 to introduce mobile fingerprint scanning linked to immigration databases, using equipment funded by the Home Office.

These biometric devices are used with officers’ mobile phones, as they detain people in the street. This adds an extra, dangerous dimension to Stop and Search protocol, which according to the government’s own research, disproportionately targets Black and Brown people (with Black people 10 times more likely to be targeted by police¹).

The technology is used once police officers have deemed an offence to have been committed. This could be anything from loitering to dropping litter. If the officer doubts the given identity from the person detained, they may then use a scan of their fingerprints in order to carry out a person search on their identity. It’s crucial to emphasise that an officer uses their own discretion to determine how authentic your given identity is, a subjective judgement, which in the campaign’s view, has the potential to even further discriminate against trans people within Black and Brown communities.

Black painted text says 'Hands off our prints' with a stylised fingerprint placed behind some prison bars to the left

Scans like this have only previously been carried out at police stations following an arrest. But what future lies ahead, where one’s dignity is stripped down and reduced to the opinion of a police officer, and a frequently inconclusive fingerprint machine?

The officer may choose to check identity against records held on IABS (the immigration fingerprint database). Stop and Scan is part of an immigration system that a 2019 inquiry into the Windrush scandal showed, to hold not only “poor quality systems and data”, but a “failure to monitor the impact of compliant environment measures” (now known as hostile environment measures)². A flag on the database – which could exist for any type of activity – may prompt a call to Home Office enforcers, heightening the risk of entering indefinite detention, or being deported.

The question remains: why use a device which could only identify those with fingerprints either on the IABS or criminal database, IDENT1?

The Stop The Scan campaign was created by the Racial Justice Network and supported by Yorkshire Resists. We are a network of individuals and organisations working together to end racial injustice. Our campaign is about alerting you to the racist nature of the intrusive power that biometric technology extends to the police. These technologies are being introduced, but they lack any meaningful scrutiny of their impact on the communities that the police are supposed to protect.

After the pilot by West Yorkshire Police ended, no evaluation of its use and impact was done before the technology was rolled out nationally.

Aside from West Yorkshire Police, no other police force is publicly recording the ethnicity of the people they are stopping and scanning. The lack of transparency makes it difficult to ensure that the use of this technology does not target certain communities unfairly.

In response to what we know, and what we can only speculate, the Stop the Scan campaign is calling for:

  1. The dismantling of the Hostile Environment: the UK must be a safe place for all people to seek and live a decent life.
  2. The severance of all links between the Police and Immigration, including a firewall between the police and all Home Office databases.
  3. An end to Stop and Scan.

We are looking for support from people able to help raise awareness, to advise on the shifting legal rights landscape during the pandemic, for advisors who may help construct a legal challenge to the roll out, and for people who have been scanned and are willing to offer their experience as a case study.

To find out more, visit StopTheScan.co.uk and search the #StopTheScandal and #EndStopAndScan hashtags. To get involved in supporting the work, email [email protected].

Sources:

  1. https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/sn03878/

2.https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/1518/151806.htm#_idTextAnchor025

Drag King Workshops Online

Next week we’re producing our first online version of our drag king workshops, and collaborating with Christian Adore to do so.

This 3 week course is designed to give participants tools needed to make an original drag character, and have some fun exploring what can be done with them! This short video gives you a good idea of what the workshops will involve and a sense of what Christian Adore is all about!

 

Workshops take place at 7.30pm GMT on the 8th, 15th and 22nd July. We might not be physically gathering in Sheffield, but there’ll be plenty Yorkshire charm!

Booking for each workshop closes at 10am the day before in order that participants have time to prepare the materials they need and get the Zoom link from us.

Sliding scale tickets available and free bursaries for those with restrictive incomes. Contact us if you’d like a free place. Or book now to get in on all the fun!

 

Finding My Community

‘I struggled to find a community that would really support me in my drag journey’

For years, I’ve been interested in becoming a drag king – partly because of my theatre degree and fascination with gender as performance – but I’ve struggled to find a community that would really support me in my drag journey. So, when I saw a poster advertising Andro and Eve’s Drag King Workshop in November 2019, I simply knew I had to sign up for it.

Drag king louis Cyfer tutors workshop participants in drag makeup skills
Drag king Louis Cyfer teaches some drag makeup skills

Before the big weekend, I was buzzing with anticipation, but there was also a fraction of performance anxiety, as the practical workshops, especially comedy and character development, sounded challenging. On the second day of skills workshops, brilliantly facilitated by Katherine and Natalie, I found myself literally crawling on the floor whilst performing my first ever comedy improvisation that made my audience laugh. This wasn’t just confidence-boosting, it really made me realise I could “do” things, if only I was brave enough to take the plunge.

Workshop participants enjoy exploring gender as performance
Exploring gender as performance

The talent within our group is incredible. Some are charismatic performers, there are actors, singers, musicians and dancers, but everyone is warm and supportive. Our little community thrives on WhatsApp and some of us have met up at local events, such as Andro and Eve’s own Reyt Queer Do. The friendships forged at the workshop are proving an invaluable source of positive energy and inspiration during these strange times. I admit I can’t wait until I see the other Kings again on the other side of lockdown.

Andro & Eve director Katherine leads a session in gender as performance. They are sat in chairs having fun 'manspreading'.
Katherine Warman, Andro & Eve creative producer leads a session in gender as performance.

Developing Tristan – my drag king alter-ego – brings me a lot of joy. He still hasn’t quite found himself but he started his own life on social media and I’m looking at developing more comedy material, especially bad poetry. I’m truly grateful to Andro and Eve for giving me the tools to this wonderful, creative outlet and helping me find my place within the queer arts community.

Maria.

A group discusses creative ideas about creating scenes

What is a drag king cabaret?!

It has come to our attention that, SHOCK HORROR, some folk don’t KNOW what a drag king cabaret is? Hold our redbush tea while we gently explain the lowdown on the glorious and rare beast that is a cabaret night dedicated solely to DRAG KINGS.

Drag king romeo de la cruz onstage dancing
Romeo De La Cruz performs at The Kingdom Come 5, May 2019

Firstly, some of you, (gasp) may not know what a drag king is, but we think you *may* have heard of drag queens. So, a drag king, instead of performing femininity like most queens, will perform a version of masculinity. This can include use of makeup, facial hair, body transformation, and just like a queen, a wholly formed persona to amuse an audience. But ‘blokes are not as exciting to look at as the trappings of a woman’ we hear some dissenters mouth.. HOLD UP! Have you seen Spikey Van Dykey?  Adam All? Christian Adore? Oedipussi? The latter three kings have all performed at our very own drag king cabaret, The Kingdom Come. No one with working eyesight could accuse these kings of not dazzling the heck out of audiences with their OTT looks.

Adam All and partner Aple Derrieres perform at The Kingdom Come, June 2017.

Starting to get an understanding? Okay. Now. Just don’t say ‘so its a woman dressed as a man right?’ This is because many kings identify as non binary, trans-masculine or as men. That said, some kings do go about daily life as women, just please ask before assuming this. Misgendering folk is never a good look and we really don’t want our community feeling less than damn brilliant. Got it? Champion.

So what does a drag king do? Glad you asked. They usually perform a 5 – 10 minute act in which they may dance, strut, pose, sing, lipsync or clown but always with the intention of entertaining an audience. Many kings use their performances to deconstruct and play with the idea of masculinity, using props, humour and audience interaction to give audiences a rollicking thrill ride of fun, while potentially also blowing your mind with a different perspective. Even if that perspective is that you didn’t know the macarena could be performed *that* fast, (cheers Oedipussi), or you now have a taste for a dick in a box (thanks Louis Von Dini)!

Chiyo onstage at The Kingdom Come, with tattoos and piercings on display
Scene star Chiyo performs at The Kingdom Come, May 2019. Abbeydale Picture House.

And a drag king cabaret such as The Kingdom Come? Well we put 5 of these kings on a massive stage, in the historic surroundings of old 1920’s cinema, Abbeydale Picture House in Sheffield, and get them to perform for 200 – 350 people. They usually perform 2 different acts each with an interval in between. Its a room full of queer joy, community and the feeling that for 3 hours, we can come together and just celebrate. We also transform the space with decorations, a dedicated lighting designer, stage crew, and a team of amazing volunteers are on hand to support our community throughout (and sell some of the best vegan cake in Sheffield).

We do this because often, female bodied and trans performers are marginalised, because its the turn of the kings to get the recognition they deserve, with scene stalwarts like Boi Box having helped develop the careers of so many wonderful kings, and because Northern cities like Sheffield deserve some of the finest entertainment the UK has to offer! (And like so many cities, are lacking in dedicated LGBTQ+ venues). We want to put Sheffield on the map for queer arts and culture.

350 audience members watch Shesus and the Sisters onstage in Sheffield.
Shesus and the Sisters hosting The Kingdom Come at Abbeydale Picture House, May 2019.

Now you may have a better understanding of what The Kingdom Come is, we hope you can join us for a future edition. Because of the scale of these shows (the largest drag king show outside of London), we only do them once or twice a year. Our next is on the 21st March and you can get a ticket here, with sliding scale prices so all can enjoy a night of queer joy!

We hope to greet you there! 

Drag Kings: Lets break this down

We write this post because, yet again, the Drag Kings we work with have been done a disservice by the media. Sadly, this time it is Sheffield independent publisher Now Then that has pretty much failed to represent what a Drag King is while promoting our next event A Reyt Queer Do. While we’re very happy that the work we’re doing gets exposure, we cannot have the drag kings we work with be described as ‘women in men’s garb’. At best the phrase is reductive, at worst it is insulting.

If you’re sat thinking, ‘hey, thats what a drag king is right?’ then please read on.. Because that description does such a disservice to a scene that has traditionally embraced a wide range of gender identities, and often provides an outlet for creative expression for queer people who may not feel welcome in mainstream ‘gay’ venues. Yes, 19th and early 20th century music hall stars like Vesta Tilley or Hetty King were women impersonating men, but the UK Drag Scene now, is very different and so much more exciting. As London scene star Benjamin Butch puts it,

“A King show will overturn any expectations you may have, we are performing gender to introduce a position from which perspectives can be viewed differently”. 1

To break it down. You may perceive a person as ‘female’, but that doesn’t mean that is their gender identity. Ask before using a pronoun that misgenders a person. Many Drag Kings are trans, meaning their gender identity does not align with the one they were assigned with at birth. Generally a Drag King will perform as a ‘he/him’ on stage, but that does not mean they become ‘she’ offstage. This is similar to the Drag Queen scene where..

‘To many queens past and present, the distinction between gender performance and gender non-conformance is blurry, if it exists at all’. Alex Varman. 2

It is because of gender pioneers like Leslie Feinberg, Marsha P Johnson, Miss Major  and others, and the work of nights like Bar Wotever’s Non Binary Cabaret, and Boi Box’s weekly drag king open mic, that we have a UK Drag scene that plays with and critiques gender and celebrates trans identities. Our aim is to make a space for this wonderful scene to flourish in Yorkshire. To widen access and be part of the network of regular drag nights like Kingdom in Brighton that help spread the appeal of Drag Kings outside the UK’s capital city.

And while we’re at it. The term bio queen is gross and misogynistic. As performer Rodent Decay said ‘If you’re policing the genders of the performers you’re completely missing the point of drag’ 3. This piece also gives a broader discussion of the importance of women to the evolution of the drag scene.

For further reading we recommend this piece published earlier this year in ID magazine. Get to know and love some of the most interesting Drag Kings on the UK Scene right now! Sure to be appearing at a Sheffield venue near you sometime soon..

1.. From ID Magazine piece by Caryn Franklin.
2… From The Establishment piece by Alex Verman.
3. Taken from an article ‘No Girls Allowed on HSKIND by China Deathcrash

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