'We’ve shown that our community can be seen and celebrated in mainstream spaces while staying true to what we believe in', wrote Glyn Fussell (he/him) as part of an emotional message when Sink The Pink announced it was to hold one final party at London’s Printworks in April 2022.
This uber-fabulous collective of drag artists, performers, DJs, dancers, choreographers and costume/set designers have brought their glorious decadence to parties across the world for nearly 14 years. Performing with Mel C for the four million people who attended São Paulo Pride in 2019 as gay rights were being threatened in Brazil was the pinnacle of their celebration of LGBTQIA+ nightlife.
It all began in 2008 on a scrap of paper. Feeling disillusioned with most of queer nightlife in London. Glyn and his best friend Amy Zing (she/her) sat down one morning after a particularly disappointing night out. 'We wrote down a list of things that brought us joy and that we loved in life', says Fussell. 'These were things like “house parties”, "dressing up", "no rules", "self-expression", "naughtiness”, “Lily Savage” and a lot of drag references. And that was how Sink The Pink was born.'
It would take a leap into the unknown to make it happen. 'We went into it with this energy but had no idea what we were doing', says Fussell. 'But then we held our first party and that was the first moment I really felt connected to something. There might have only been 30 people there, but I just knew this was going to be the thing that changed my life.'
They now needed a proper home to enjoy the freedom and unity that is born out of unbridled self-expression. After a few one-off parties, they found the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club in East London. 'We were like the naughty kids at the back of the class and needed a place that understood our house party approach and wild energy’, says Fussell. 'I literally stumbled across Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club when I was working around there one day. I walked in and immediately connected to it. It felt such a weird juxtaposition of my working-class roots with the world I was now inhabiting.'
‘For those few hours that people come to our parties, they should be part of something magical.’
Sink The Pink evolved around Bethnal Green’s cultural renaissance. 'We were there at the start and one by one we collected all these wonderful creatures that felt misplaced', says Fussell. 'It was a hot bed of self-discovery, creativity and friendship. For example, you could come in with an interest in drag but with no money and create something just from what you found on the night.’
From its DIY roots, Sink The Pink grew into a LGBTQIA+ nightlife legend. 'We were like a counterculture to the counterculture; somehow I think it was really needed in the drag scene', says Fussell. 'I called us “the broken biscuits and social misfits”. It was the excitement of us creating, discovering and learning together. It was the most freeing, liberating and wild time that transformed all our lives.'
While Sink The Pink is on hiatus from regular parties, it has left a lasting cultural impact on London’s LGBTQIA+ scene. 'When we started there was a very tribal element to queer clubbing and I think we helped change that. We brought everyone together in this wonderful celebration of everything. And we always held on to the joy on the list we wrote down all those years ago.'
To create these celebrations of differences, people need to feel safe. How do you strive to ensure this?
When we started at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, it just happened naturally because of the environment we created. But the moment you understand what safety actually means, you have to do everything in your power to make sure that space is kept safe. What goes into that is a lot of education and communication. I think we have always been a space where people feel safe and that’s because we talk to people. If something is wrong then we ask them, so we have been very hands on with everything.
Do you have any formal safeguarding in place in your venues?
When we go to a new venue we bring an education policy. Everyone who works there, from the door staff to bar staff, are given the policy for how our night will run. Our attitude is: we might be on your property but this is our space and this is how you will operate. When you set that as a benchmark it’s very easy to spot those who aren’t doing as well.
Can you put into context how important spaces like yours are for the LGBTQIA+ community?
For those few hours that people come to these parties they should be part of something magical. It should be like stepping into this fabulous queer Xanadu moment. It’s about continually curating that feeling and never taking your finger off the pulse of how important this is. I take my responsibility very, very seriously. At the end of the day, I was like this broken little queer kid and I wanted to create a space for the whole community of other broken little queer kids. We don’t have many spaces to be free in society. Our clubs and spaces become the places for our community to come together.
‘I will always do anything I can to push forward and make sure that all the trans people I love are treated properly.’
For you this extends beyond a night in a club to your role as a board member of the Not a Phase trans charity.
For a long time, I fought against being a leader in the community because it felt so terrifying to me. When we paused Sink The Pink, I had time to breathe and go “what are the things that get me up in the morning and that I am passionate about?” And that is to fight for people who perhaps don’t have the space or ability to fight.
Why is that so important to you?
I understand my privilege fully as a white gay man. Trans people are constantly under attack. They are the most vulnerable people in our community and are on a journey of self-discovery and while on that discovery they need to be protected, supported and encouraged. Instead, they are being attacked. I will do anything I can to push forward, to make sure that all the trans people I love are treated properly.
What are the main barriers to putting on LGBTQIA+ events?
Politics. Look back in history to the 1980s and what came out of that – the amazing creative rebellion of queer clubbing. If we are held down long enough we will fight in such a beautiful and glorious way.
What do you think needs to happen in countries that have a hardline approach to LGBTQIA+ people?
I think all we can do is not give up fighting for our rights and be visible. I will never not march in a Pride parade because I can. I’m not doing it just to wave a flag to the families on the street, I’m doing it for all the places across the world where people cannot do the same. If we all try to make small changes then the big changes do happen. That is why working with brands is so important in terms of visibility.
That brings us to the partnership with COS. How important is it for you to be working with brands like COS to connect with the LGBTQIA+ community?
The important thing is to be working with brands in effective ways. I will only work with brands that understand fully that it’s not about ticking boxes and who are trying to make serious change. The work with COS has been brilliant in this regard and I’ve been really impressed. This project is really interesting in that it is worldwide. I think using brands to tell our stories is an amazing way of infiltrating the safety of the mainstream with a positive message.
How does the T-shirt design match the Sink The Pink aesthetic?
The T-shirt feels like a beautiful representation of the legacy of STP. We really were the queen of clubs.
What has been your favourite Sink The Pink Pride performance?
'Our Ab Fab Pride parade float with Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley.'
Who is your biggest drag hero?
Where would you most like to stage Sink The Pink?
What is your favourite Sink The Pink record?
'The song Amy and I would sing before every Sink The Pink – Natasha Bedingfield’s "Unwritten".'
Do you have a favourite item of clothing?
'An amazing catsuit made by Sink The Pink’s Jay Barry Matthews.'
Words by Andy Thomas
Portrait by Philip Sinden
Archive imagery courtesy of Sink The Pink
Discover the COS Pride 2023 limited-edition T-shirt capsule collection, featuring four exclusive designs from four of the most iconic queer club experiences in the world. 100% of the profits from the sales of each piece will be donated to LGBTQIA+ charities including Not a Phase, Margate Pride, Observatori Contra l’Homofòbia, London Friend & Kaleidoscope Trust.
As part of our celebrations for Pride 2023, Sink The Pink has curated a playlist exclusively for COS Sounds.
PRIDE 2023: CHURROS CON CHOCOLATE
PRIDE 2023: HORSE MEAT DISCO
PRIDE 2023: HOUSE OF YES