MAKING CHANGE: The poet bringing LGBTQ+ people together to share their emotions
“Writing poetry has helped me deal with my emotions,” says 36 year old writer Andreena Leeanne.
“In my history I’ve had a lot of abandonment issues and a lot of homophobia from within my family.”
Andreena had never written a poem before 2014 – and certainly didn’t plan to start. Now, she runs one of London’s most popular LGBTQ+ poetry events, a monthly night in Hackney called (simply) Poetry LGBT.
“I started it because my partner suggested writing my feelings down,” Andreena says.
“Instead of lashing out at people, she suggested I tried writing stuff and letting it out that way.”
Andreena’s nights have become hugely popular, attracting audiences in their hundreds. She believes sharing experiences through creative outlets is something LGBTQ+ people have a natural talent for.
“I’ve met loads of LGBT people who are very creative, either through fashion, art or comedy,” she says. “We need an outlet to release some tension.”
“It has helped me if I’ve had bad times at work or if someone pisses me off. Instead of swearing at them and telling them where to go I can express it in my own way, through poetry.”
In 2014 Andreena’s girlfriend Gee was bored of clubbing every weekend. The couple’s closest friends were DJs and club promoters. They spent a lot of their spare time partying.
“Gee is quite geeky,” laughs Andreena. “She likes theatre and poetry.”
When they attended their first poetry night in February 2014, Andreena never expected to end up on the stage. But at an event called Open Minds, she was invited to fill a slot at the open mic.
“I can’t sing, I can’t dance and hadn’t written anything since I was 12 years old,” says Andreena. “But I said, if they got me a pen and paper I’d write something.”
Inspired by what she’d seen on stage, she wrote and performed a few lines about the night itself.
It went OK.
“Everyone was clapping and cheering, it was such a good feeling,” she says. “I said to my girlfriend: ‘Yeah lets go to these nights. I’m into these things too.'”
I AM FREE, by Andreena Leeanne
I came out as a lesbian in 2003
All the clues were there it’s just that I couldn’t see
People knew I was gay before me
Or is it that I didn’t want to see and be true to me?
People were too judgemental back then
In the 90’s and way back when
I’m gonna take a bow
Because I’m happy now
I am free to finally be who I’m meant to be
Loving living this reality within the LGBTIQ+ community
My family may not be proud of me but I’m able to maintain my sanity and not let them get the better of me mentally
Live and let live I say cos every dog has its day
Life is for living come what may.
But when they explored other poetry nights across London, Andreena and Gee didn’t always find the same welcoming experience. They noticed a lack of people of colour at other LGBTQ+ nights. Straight poetry events weren’t LGBTQ+ friendly.
In January 2015 Andreena found a few hours spare at Hackney’s Tipsy bar. A few hours in the early evening before one of her DJ friends’ club nights.
“I’d never done a night before but 125 people came to the first one,” she says. The turnout was so good, the venue asked her to make it a regular event. Poetry LGBT has happened every month since.
There are problems finding venues for BAME events in London
But Andreena got lucky with the venue. She says there are issues in London for club nights run by people of colour.
“The people who have the power, in terms of venues, are white. There’s a barrier to us finding a place to express ourselves in their spaces,” she says.
She has also seen problems for people of colour getting funding for nights to support and celebrate their community.
“White people get the budgets to put on events for people of colour,” says Andreena.
“But then they need to recruit people of colour to attract others. I’ve been involved in a lot of events for black people which are organised by white people.”
Poetry LGBT attracts a mixed and diverse selection of the community, but with a black woman organiser, Andreena admits it appeals a lot to other black women.
“People gravitate to places where they can see themselves,” says Andreena. This is something she is keen to tackle with her events.
“Asians have their own groups, black women have their own groups, black men have their own groups. The LGBTQ+ BAME community is very divided in terms of that.”
She also says getting LGBTQ+ people of colour together can be a challenge, considering wider issues in the community.
“There is a lot of homophobia within the black community,” she says.
“There are a lot of people of colour who are proud but not out, in fear of their family finding out about their sexuality.”
“People have cried on stage where they’ve actually expressed for the first time”
But her night is going some way to bring these people together while promoting diversity and togetherness often lacking in other LGBTQ+ events.
Things can also getting pretty emotional.
“There have been lots of times when people have cried on stage where they’ve actually expressed for the first time,” Andreena says. Everyone who attends is encouraged to perform something, even if they (like Andreena on her first time at a poetry event) have never written a poem before.
“We don’t just get established poets, we get everyone and anyone to come. It’s mainly people who have never written poetry before,” she says.
“That’s what I really love about it.
“It’s not one of those pretentious nights where everyone is pretending to be Shakespeare.”