A Sydney show celebrating gender diversity is bringing joy to a Kenyan refugee camp

When the COVID-19 lockdown hit, Queers of Joy took their show online, and in doing so found an audience across the globe.

Chris McAllister and Lucretia and a friend hold the Trans Pride Flag.

From Australia to Africa, the Queers of Joy show has created a community. Source: Lucy Murray/SBS News/Supplied

Performers dial into a video conference from their bedrooms and kitchens.

They strum a chord or sing a tune as the hosts conduct a soundcheck and then the audience is admitted to the chat.

Queers of Joy is a lifestyle show that flows from musical performances to cooking lessons and gym workouts with the ease of breakfast television, but the message is much more poignant.

It was created to celebrate and connect the gender diverse community in Australia.

The variety show includes musical performances, cooking lessons and gym workouts.
Source: Supplied

The show began as a stage show in Sydney and was designed by Chris McAllister as they were going through their own transition.

"It has always been with the intention of creating a community," they said.

"I was blown away by the response; people came up to me and said they felt seen, safe, connected and validated.

"We could have 150 people [in the theatre] and three shows sold out."

When the COVID-19 lockdown hit, the show was brought to a halt, but after two months at home the team decided to give Zoom performances a go, sensing the community needed connection more than ever.

More than 130 tickets were sold to the first online show.
Source: Supplied

Tickets were sold on a 'pay what you can' basis and to Chris's surprise, people attended from around the world.

"We had people from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the United States buy tickets ... and all over Australia."

"Every time a ticket gets sold it is like a rush of adrenaline and I have a look at the address."

Joy from Australia to Africa 

Sydney stage show sparks joy in Kenyan refugee camp

It was the name Queers of Joy that piqued the interest of trans woman Lucretia when she was scrolling through social media.

She was forced to flee her home in Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal, and is currently living in a refugee camp in Kenya.

"I was like, there are queers who can be in joy? The joy for the queers? I was like, 'Wow, I can't miss going on a hunt for what deep treasure is behind this name,'" she told SBS News via video chat.

Kakuma Camp is home to about 200,000 people who have fled war and persecution.

LGBTIQ+ refugees are placed in a section of the camp called Block 13, but their safety is not assured and there have been reports of people suffering hate crimes, assault and persecution.

Their makeshift shelter has been burnt to the ground twice by other groups in the camp and locals.

Block 13 after an arson attack.
Source: Supplied

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has previously appealed for peaceful coexistence among all communities in the camp and said it would work with local police authorities in response to incidents. 

"I live my life as who I want to be, as who I am. In return what you get is violence, discrimination and denial of services," Lucretia said. 

"We have got people who have lost lives in fire attacks, in this very camp. A person oozing blood because of who they are. It ends up giving you serious trauma."

But battling rain and poor internet connection, the community of about 50 people huddled around a mobile phone to watch this mysterious show, Queers of Joy.

It brought tears.

"We watched the show on a very small phone but that wasn't the matter, what was the matter is we were able to get the love and the joy that was missing in our hearts," Lucretia said.

"I saw smiles, I saw people's faces filled with smiles from the bottom of their heart. The joy for the queers was manifesting."

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Lucretia and three others performed on the most recent online show, lip-syncing to the 1985 charity single 'We Are the World'.

The opportunity was "better than Christmas," she said. 

Sydney will begin to reopen from Monday and the Queers of Joy team hope to be back on stage by December.

But, they say, the online shows are here to stay.

LGBTIQ+ people in Australia seeking support with mental health can contact QLife on 1800 184 527 or visit qlife.org.auReachOut.com also has a list of support services.

Published 10 October 2021 at 8:10am
By Lucy Murray