Queer Communities of Care

What care futures are envisioned by younger LGBTQ+ people? What can be learned from unorthodox spaces/places where caring relationships are practised by LGBTQ+ people? What are the different relationship care structures, for example within poly families compared to monogamous relationships, and the durability of these over time?

The notion of living well is a priority for LGBTQ+ populations when we know that LGBTQ+ people report lower life-satisfaction compared to the general population and report lower confidence and trust in health, care, and housing services (Government Equalities Office, 2018). Furthermore, we know that reports of hate crime on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity are rising in the UK (Home Office, 2022), and such experiences of societal oppression adversely impact the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ individuals.

Within sociological literature there has been much discussion about the idea of ‘families of choice’. The term ‘chosen families’ has been applied to lesbian’s lives and gay men’s lives to denote the ways in which individuals form strong ties with friends as alternative kinship bonds to biological family, looking to friendships for social support (Weston, 1997). A UK study of the social networks of older LGBT adults found that they had weaker familial networks, but also had more friends and community contacts (Green 2016). However, we do not know much about how strong these alternative networks are and what forms of caring are practised across such networks or how these relationships are supported by the state (beyond marriage equality and other supportive measures for same-sex relationships).

The notion of ‘families of choice’ also conveys a false binary logic that LGBTQ+ adults look to either friends or biological family for support. This project proposes to critically explore the notion of chosen families as a central thread informing our discussions and future proposals. A key priority will be the importance of bolstering the wellbeing of LGBTQ+ people and strengthening care relationships that exist amongst these groups.

What will the project involve? 

The aim of this project is to form a new collaboration between social sciences researcher Paul Willis and independent artist Chloe Meinneck to explore the emotional physical and social structures of families of choice and the care and support they provide for LGBTQ+ people.

The project’s objectives are to:

  • To identify common ground in terms of project ideas and ways of working creatively together and sharing current practices (i.e. research, design, community engagement).
  • To identify new collaborators across other academic disciplines in the humanities and social sciences and community-based groups and networks.
  • To map out some research questions and aims that would underpin a larger, co-produced project and to explore together what creative, impactful outputs may be developed through working together.

Paul and Chloe have met twice to initiate this new exchange. Some points of mutual interest they intend to discuss further are:

  • Exploring different forms of care relationships between two or more people, what models are they going to use?
  • Envisioning queer care futures as envisioned by younger LGBTQ+ people.
  • Exploring the different relationship care structures, for example within poly families compared to monogamous relationships, and the durability of these over time.
  • Exploring unorthodox spaces/places where caring relationships are practised by LGBTQ+ people.
  • Thinking of crisis points in people’s lives: transitioning, medical care, illness, mental health care, emergency situations, end-of-life care/death and dying (including care post-death).

The project will engage with and explore collaboration with the following stakeholders:

Community groups

Cardiff and Bristol based: The team will meet with group leaders for initial conversations. This will include Bristol-based community groups where unorthodox care practices are happening such as Bristol Butch Bar, Queer Death Cafe, Poly South West Meetup. And it will include Cardiff-based groups such as IMPACT (LGBTQ+ youth support group); and Rosie Barnes, a community-led housing coordinator who is currently supporting young LGBTQ+ people to set up cooperative housing in Cardiff.

Services and service-led groups

  • Sam Higgins – ReEngage LGBTQ+ telephone befriending service for older people ‘Rainbow Call Compansions’ (based in Cardiff, volunteer service UK-wide).
  • Trans Aid Cymru – a mutual aid service helping trans, non-binary and intersex people across Wales.
  • MindLine Trans+ – mental health support service (Bristol)
  • Freedom Youth (Off the Record) – gender and sexuality action support group (Bristol)
  • Other academics from different disciplinary backgrounds – Dr Peter Dunne (Law, UoB); Centre for Death and Society, Bath – via Dr. John Troyer.
  • Organisers of the IRIS international LGBT+ short film festival (UK – based in Cardiff) and Queervision (Bristol).

This project seeks to follow the following timeline of Activity: In April 2023 there will be an initial mapping workshop with Paul and Chloe meeting in person in Bristol. This will be followed in May-June 2023 by conversations with collaborators (including travel to them and online meetings, depending on their preferences and availability). By the end of June 2023, the project will workshop a consolidating idea with Paul and Chloe meeting in person in Bristol. Then during July 2023 the project will share a draft proposal with identified collaborators to refine the proposed next steps.

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Paul Willis (Social Science and Law, University of Bristol) is a social work academic and social gerontologist with a long-term interest in ageing and care contexts for LGBTQ+ people in later life.
  • Chloe Meinneck Chloe is an artist, co-designer, and queer community builder. She co-runs two queer community groups Bristol Butch Bar and Queer Death Cafe Bristol supporting different needs across the LGBTQ+ communities. Meineck specialises in co-design and creative participatory research and design with different groups, with a focus on mental health and wellbeing.

What is to come?

The long-term objective is to generate new evidence and creative outputs about alternative forms of care beyond and alongside formal care services and provision for LGBTQ+/ queer people.

The research team hope at the end of this exchange to submit an application for seed-corn funding from Brigstow as well as looking at other possible funding routes for some preliminary, exploratory research. On the back of their collaborator meetings, they will map the space of queer communities of care, what groups are involved, what innovative projects (for example, queer commune co-op housing) exists, and what academics they want to invite to be part of a wider collaboration. They intend to solidify their research questions and, by sharing practice, they will co-create an approach that combines academic research and participatory creative methods of research.