For those who have yet to venture into Birmingham’s Gay Village, you'll find the cluster of colourful bars and clubs centred along Hurst Street just beyond the Arcadian and China Town in the city centre.
You'll have no doubts when you’ve arrived - you’ll be greeted by a life-size statue of a rhino covered in diamantes and a gold encrusted Marilyn Monroe figure that's somehow been hoisted 20 feet onto a ledge outside Missing bar.
Unlike the vast and often 'cliquey' gay scenes found in the likes of Manchester and London, Birmingham’s gay community is a relatively small yet extremely hospitable group of extroverts, welcoming people from all walks of life, regardless of race, gender or faith, with open arms (and probably a Jägerbomb and some rainbow confetti thrown in for good measure).
Hurst Street is home to a number of outrageously flamboyant characters and interesting people. Here are just a few to keep an eye out for – not that they’re difficult to miss:
Occupation: Fashion student and drag artist.
A bit about you: I was born in Liverpool and moved to Birmingham in 1974. I started going to alternative clubs around Birmingham in the '80s, like Rum Runners and The Kipper Club – during that time you couldn’t get into gay clubs if you didn’t fit the stereotype, which is why I was definitely never allowed in!
At the time, the Nightingale was where the Birmingham Ballet is now, and it was tiny and predominantly men. Women could only get in if three men signed her in, and it was very much a case of knocking on the door and the bouncer deciding if you fitted the bill or not.
I'd made quite a few friends in my years of clubbing – one of which got me a foot in the door with Patty Bell from Kahn & Bell, the most renowned alternative fashion house outside of London. I began working there which helped me meet local club kids and celebs.
Since then, my life has basically been one long fancy dress party! I would describe my style as eccentric, bizarre and avant-garde: a symbol of Birmingham's constantly evolving and extremely outlandish gay club scene.
Favourite thing about Birmingham’s Gay Village: My favourite thing has to be the improvements and how much it has developed. It’s a stark contrast to the dark, dingy, secret hideaways that it used to be. It’s liberating that people can just be who they want now.
These days, I can quite casually stroll down the streets of the gay village dressed in a neon green PVC one-piece, leather face mask and 20-inch heels with no problems at all.
Occupation: Care worker by day and club freak by night.
A bit about you: The first time I did drag was when I was 16 and I was going out in Wolverhampton to a gay bar called Sky Club. It was the most rackety place you’ve ever seen on top of a burger shop, but I loved it because it resembled what I’d heard about the clubs in the '80s. It felt kind of secret; you used to go through this non-descript door and there was a lesbian bouncer in the middle. If she didn’t like the look of you, you didn’t get inside. But once you were, it was like one big family.
Since then, I started experimenting with face paints and makeup until I developed a look I was happy with. I knew a guy who was looking for drag queens to work at Gatecrasher, and the rest is history! I’ve now been working there for five years, and recently started working at the Nightingale as a host.
I’m lucky, because I’m at the point now where I don’t go out in drag unless I’m being paid – mainly because it’s so uncomfortable!
Generally, people have a misconception about drag queens – we’re not transvestites, nor do we identify as transgender. This is my job and I see it more as performance art rather than just wearing women’s clothes. I’d describe my look as a flash of colour in a dark club!
Favourite thing about Birmingham’s Gay Village: My social life has grown in Birmingham – it’s where I feel comfortable and happy. It’s small, but that’s to its benefit. I love that if one of your friends is on a night out, there is no doubt that you’re going to bump into them at some point.
With Birmingham being so multicultural, I also love how diverse the gay community is. It’s an opportunity to show people that we’re not all camp, skinny boys covered in fake tan and badly bleached blonde hair!
Occupation: Health & Wellbeing Manager, Birmingham LGBT.
A bit about you: I’ve been working in the LGBT voluntary sector for around ten years and eight of those for Birmingham LGBT. It’s always a privilege to work with and meet so many passionate and dedicated people who want to make a real difference to the LGBT community in Birmingham.
Birmingham’s LGBT centre is located just opposite the O2 Academy. It was set up in 2002 with the aim of reinvigorating the diverse LGBT community, and also to improve the quality of life for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people in and around the city.
Favourite thing about Birmingham’s Gay Village: I would definitely have to say the variety of venues and lively atmosphere! It means that no matter what night of the week you go out, it’s always fun and each venue has its own unique character. Birmingham’s Gay Village has a completely unrivalled friendly atmosphere. When you’re on Hurst Street, everyone is accepted.
Occupation: Supervisor at Sidewalk Bar
A little bit about you: I’ve worked at Sidewalk for a year and a half now, and since then, I’d say it’s become a favourite, if not THE favourite bar on Hurst Street to drink and socialise. We’re open every day of the week and have a really relaxed atmosphere that people just seem to love.
At 18 I was an aspiring fashionista, at 19 I trained race horses, and now at 22, I see myself as somewhat of a community worker, keeping the local alcohol enthusiasts happy with our many drink offers available! I love travelling and working abroad and I have a cat called Mr Leon (obviously, because all lesbians love cats).
Favourite thing about Birmingham’s gay village: It has to be that regardless of your personality or what you look like, you’re always recognised as something bigger – a community. The first time I came to Hurst Street was at Birmingham Pride when I was 14. My whole family went and it was the most amazing experience.
Unknowing of my sexuality then, it introduced me to the city’s gay scene in such a positive light. Year after year I went back – who would have known that I would be giving back to the community by being part of something I’ve always admired?
I also love the consistent banter, amazing music, and the sheer amount of white sock and Adidas trainer combos.
Jordan James Parke
Occupation: Makeup artist and Kim Kardashian fanatic
A little bit about you: I’m 23 and I was born and bred in Dudley. You may have seen me in one or two articles online, in magazines and on TV – I’m famous for wanting to look like Kim Kardashian! I worked for a long time in Birmingham, and then went to the University of Derby.
I’m now working as a makeup artist, but a lot of my time is taken up by TV appearances and interviews now. I’d say I’m a little addicted to cosmetic surgery and lip fillers, the bigger the better! Granted my image isn’t for everyone, but I want to look ‘out-there’ and I’ve never felt more confident.
Favourite thing about Birmingham’s gay village: I have been going out on Birmingham’s gay scene since I was a teenager, so I feel like I’ve been able to grow as a person. Hurst Street has been a big part of that. I love that everyone can come together and be accepted for who they are, and enjoy a hassle free night out.
Even though my lifestyle is really hectic at the moment, I always make sure I’m in Birmingham for Pride in May, I even turned down filming in America to be there this year!
Read Time Out's guide to Birmingham's best gay bars, clubs and venues.