Newcastle content creator sets up space for region’s queer community after discovering ‘true identity’

“I think what I did before was just a performance.”

These are the words of a Newcastle-based content creator who discovered he was gay during the coronavirus pandemic. As Covid restrictions confined people to their homes, Ella Willis says they began to discover their true selves and relied on the online queer community for a safe space to socialize.

The 22-year-old said: “I always thought I was bi but it wasn’t something I explored because I found it quite scary. It wasn’t until the pandemic and the Things kind of slowed down that I started evaluating myself a bit more and thinking ‘wait, I think what I did before was just a performance.'”

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They added: “I don’t think I would be where I am or figure it out as quickly as I did if it wasn’t for watching people online be true to themselves. It was lonely because that I was living at home. ‘t in my own space and not having anyone to chat with was quite difficult, which is why I feel people are turning to online spaces.”

Once restrictions eased and businesses started to reopen, Ella began to feel there was a lack of safe spaces for the queer community outside of London. So they set to work creating their own safe space, Canny Queer Collective, and within six months, 1,500 people had joined the community, which regularly hosts inclusive events.

Ella said: “I struggled to find a place in Newcastle to go and do something casual, it’s all booze based, it’s every night.

Ella Willis who created Canny Queer Collective

“I thought ‘you know what? I’ll do it myself.’ So I put a message in a group chat I was in that was full of queer people and said someone would be interested in starting a collective that’s a laid back thing to create a safe space for queer people and it just went from there.

“I think it shows there’s something missing because people are getting into it and it’s pretty amazing.”

Since launching Canny Queer Collective in January 2022, Ella has hosted a number of events including a coffee quiz, a trip to Tynemouth Market and a visit to BALTIC. The group also recently organized a music event to benefit a charity for the homeless, which was attended by 250 people.

Speaking about the creation of Canny Queer Collective, Ella said: “I find it hard to attend booze-based events and I think a lot of gay-based events are parties – they go to a club or go to a pub. For me it’s not the best way I find to make friends, it’s not the best way I find to connect with people.

“We wanted to make sure that we had events where people under 18 could go, because they don’t drink, and safe spaces for people who don’t usually drink and things to do during the day, because there’s not a lot of laid back stuff, it’s all evening based and it’s not convenient for people.”

Ella, who has 28,900 followers on Instagram, has now been contacted by Instagram to work with the social media site on its latest spotlight campaign, This is Me: Gen Queer. The campaign aims to improve the positive representation of our LGBTQ+ community, especially intersectional and regional voices.

Ella is one of three people selected to share their story in the campaign, alongside Oxford University student and intersex activist Dani Coyle and Glasgow art director and photographer Furmaan Ahmed.

Ella said: “It shines a light on people who are at the forefront of gay online, who are outside of London and don’t get the same representation as people who are at the center of it. place where people see the UK. I think it brings people together and sends important messages.”

They added: “It reflects what I stand for, especially in the sense of also being for people who are outside of London, because you don’t get the same kind of representation or even recognition as others, if you are not from this space.Even now I feel very disconnected because I live in Newcastle.

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