What words do travellers around the world associate with Britain? Historic? Traditional? Conventional? Well, we recently spoke to our LGBTQIA+ Ambassador Aisha Shaibu to dispel some of the myths about modern Britain, and got her top tips on how to connect with the multi-cultural and queer communities that make British cities such vibrant places to visit and live in. (If anyone’s an expert on this stuff, it’s Aisha).
Hey Aisha! Tell us a bit about yourself and your work with queer and multicultural communities in Britain
“Hey! I’m Aisha, and over the last couple of years, I’ve been running Moonlight Experiences, an LGBTQIA+ travel company dedicated to the celebration of our culture, nightlife and community. We create experiences for travellers to Great Britain and beyond so that they can immerse themselves in queer culture and support our community at the same time.
Over the years I’ve also been working with various organisations such as UK Black Pride. We put on a big annual celebration every single year. Last year, we became the largest black pride event in the world with over 25,000 people attending. And with such a dynamic and thriving LGBTQIA+ community in Britain, this year it’s only going to get bigger!”
Image source:UK Black Pride
Why is it important to share these experiences with travellers visiting Britain?
“There’s a real need to share the diverse narrative which global travellers don’t tend to hear about. Because there is so much constantly happening all across Britain, from London to Glasgow and everywhere in between. That’s what makes it so beautiful and joyful and surprising. If you think you’ve experienced everything, come to Britain and you’ll always find some hidden surprises!”
Speaking of hidden surprises…are there spaces in London that have particular historical resonance within the queer community?
“After homosexuality was legalised in 1967, Soho became a booming queer neighbourhood, where people could feel a bit more free.
There’s also places like Dalston, where a lot of amazing queer venues such as Dalston Superstore are starting to pop up. Places like Brixton in South London have a huge African and Caribbean cultural influence and more queer events reflective of London’s multicultural communities are popping up there, too.
So, when you look at the landscape of London today for example, our community doesn’t just gravitate to one area. Anyone can access these spaces and events, no matter which part of a city they’re in, as long as they know where to look. And that shows progress.”
Say our travellers have arrived in London for a Contiki trip across Britain. If you were their Trip Manager for the day, where would you take them?
“I’m proud to be involved with London’s first intersectional bookshop: a cafe and event space on Bethnal Green Road called Common Press. So, we’d start there with good coffee and a great book, of course.
Then we’d get some street food. East London is an amazing spot for international street food, like Spitalfields Market, and reflects just how much of a multicultural city it is. And then at night you have so many secret bars across Shoreditch, Soho, Clapham, and more.”
And how about the rest of Britain?
“Manchester is a vibrant city with a big LGBTQIA+ community and is nicknamed the ‘Mecca of the North’. You’ll find endless nightlife events and things to do on Canal Street, The Gay Village, and also during The Sparkle Weekend- an annual trans celebration. Manchester is also home to the iconic lesbian bar ‘Vanilla Bar’ which has been voted twice as the best bar by DIVA magazine.
Liverpool is a city that is proud to boast being ”the most LGBTQIA+ friendly city in the UK’. If you are in Liverpool, the Pride Quarter on Stanley Street should be on your list of places to visit as it’s the hub of queer culture in Liverpool. The area has multiple gay bars and restaurants (and is also where winter and summer pride celebrations take place).
Edinburgh has one of the oldest gay bars in Britain called CC Blooms. Launched in 1994 and named after Bette Midler’s character in the film Beaches, it’s spread over two levels on the famed pink triangle.
The three bars ‘The Street’, ‘The Reagent Bar’ and ‘CC Blooms’ are within walking distance, too – and each of them has a distinct vibe worth discovering, so don’t leave the city without checking them all out.
Glasgow has been voted as one of the best British cities for a break for its impressive shopping centres, flagship stores, art, creativity, food, and cozy pubs. It also has an LGBTQIA+ venue called BONJOUR which celebrates queer people of colour, as well as trans and non-binary people. It’s the kind of queer community and co-op space that isn’t driven by profits, but by good vibes and a great mission.”