Gary Everett in his honorary cap and gownA freelance curator and cultural activist whose work has had a huge positive impact on the profile of lesbian, gay, bi and trans* artists has received an Honorary Doctor of Arts award from Edge Hill University.

Gary Everett has spent the last 20 years programming, commissioning and producing work by an extensive range of LGBT artists for regional, national and international audiences.

In his speech to Performing Arts, Biology and Graduate School students he said: “In 2019 there are still over 70 countries where it is illegal to be LGBT, 34 of these countries are members of the British Commonwealth, a staggering statistic that is getting worse and not better.

“Can you imagine what it is like to survive in such hostile conditions in a country where the predominant religions say you are a sinner, the law of the land says you are a criminal, the social norms say you are not welcome in your homeland?

“Imagine for a moment what it is like to live in fear of being arrested for who you are and living your life without the constant daily threat of being found out. In some states the punishment is so severe it includes capital punishment.

“In countries where the whole concept of sex and sexuality is taboo we are learning to navigate our universal ways for highlighting love as the centre for all, as a human right that can’t be denied, hoping for better. Throughout my career I have kept this at the forefront of my thinking and used art and culture to make society a much more tolerant and accepting place.”

In 2003 Gary founded the international arts and heritage organisation Homotopia and for 15 years worked as its chief executive and artistic director. The organisation was a highlight of Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture 2008, described at the time by Councillor Mike Storey, Leader of Liverpool City Council as ‘a sign of Liverpool’s growing maturity as a European city’.

Gary has worked with Edge Hill’s Department of Performing Arts on a number of occasions. In 2012 he programmed and co-funded Council House Movie Star, a film and installation by Dr Mark Edward, filmmakers Rosa Fong and Mark Fremaux and designer Olivia de Monceau.

Mark Edward as Gale Force

Mark Edward as Gale Force

The multimedia piece, investigating how society views drag artists by exploring social issues around class and age, opened and closed that year’s Homotopia and set a new benchmark for ambitious and complex work in the festival.

In 2013 Gary produced and curated April Ashley, Portrait of a Lady at the Museum of Liverpool. This exhibition explored the life and legacy of the former Vogue model and actress who was one of the first people in the world to undergo gender reassignment surgery. As well as celebrating the inspiring story of a famous transgender individual and a tireless campaigner for trans* equality, the exhibition included remarkable life stories of members of the trans* and gender diverse communities. The exhibition was the biggest ever project at the museum, eventually attracting record audiences of close to one million people.

Speaking to Edge Hill graduands at the ceremony on Tuesday, he said: “Reflect on what you have achieved, be proud. As future theatre makers, artists, choreographers, producers or managers you have an invaluable role to play in ensuring that true cultural diversity remains in the heart of your thinking.

“You have a unique role in shaping cultural policy in the future and can make huge inroads in creating an even more thriving and liberal cultural and arts scene. Art has the untapped potential to cross boundaries, change and influence opinions and create conditions that foster greater global cultural acceptance and indeed champion the wider diversity of our shared experiences.”

As a curator, producer and developer, Gary has taken the risks that are necessary to create impactful cultural events. The results of Gary’s boldness and vision can be seen in the brands he has created, the projects he has led, and the network of local, national and international partnership and connections build around him.

He added: “Take what you’ve learned at Edge Hill into the world, making a contribution to helping society change for the better. The Arts are a vital and integral part of our world. Think of the huge possibilities of how art can change lives. Think of art as social change and how you can be at the forefront of creating art that goes some way to making positive change, celebrates who we are, asks difficult questions and isn’t afraid of making noise and protest where it is most needed.”