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Bellingham Queer Collective creates community in a post-pandemic world

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Bellingham Queer Collective
Bellingham Queer Collective

When recent retiree Michelle Harmeier moved to Bellingham with their partner in July 2021, the city was still somewhat locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which made their search for community difficult. Harmeier, like many at this time, created their community online, in the form of a Facebook group named "Bellingham Queer Collective."

With nearly 1,500 Facebook members, over 1,300 Instagram followers, a monthly newsletter, and plans for a community center, it's safe to say this is one of the hottest Queer groups in town.

"Back in November 2022, there were several of us that were new to Bellingham, that were really finding it difficult to find community," Harmeier said. "There were... about a dozen of us who had connected to different ways and said, 'How are we going to find community?'... We know the Queers are here, and they're at home with their cats and their kids in the suburbs...

"The whole point of this Facebook group was not to engage online. We were all sick of that at the end of COVID. We wanted people to feel comfortable getting together in person."

To find this in-person community, they rented the Mount Baker Theatre and hosted a documentary film titled Ahead of the Curve. This attempt to lure Queer people from around the area worked, as 125 tickets were sold to people aged 18 to 80 from every part of the LGBTQ+ alphabet. From there, using approximately 200 Post-it note suggestions submitted by attendees of the documentary, the BQC officially began.

"We... gathered [the suggestions] and then had some brunch and had some advisory meetings about once a month after that," Harmeier said. "We took all those ideas and synthesized them down to what could we do using just a free Facebook group to help bring people together. And so that's how it got started.

"The group named [itself] the Bellingham Queer Collective, and it was very intentional that we wanted to be very inclusive, and 'Queer' seems to encompass all of the genders and sexualities that were represented in our activity group meeting.

"And we also wanted to make sure that we were a BIPOC, anti-racist group that was welcoming of everybody and being very clear and explicit about that."

Bellingham Queer Collective  

Packed calendar
BQC now has a packed calendar of diverse events featuring everything from Rainbow Elder events to pickleball to erotic parties.

"We had 320 people attend the Bellingham Erotic Ball in the ferry terminal building in Fairhaven [in October]," Harmeier said. "That was our max that we could really handle [given the] capacity, and it was a lot of fun. It was... really focused on letting the Queer community feel like they could have a space where they can be themselves... Some people [wore] affirming clothing and costumes. [There was] great entertainment, with... burlesque and drag and some pole performers. And even a kink demonstration room.

"So, after that event, we said, 'Let's do another formal winter ball. People really liked it last year.' So, this year, we made it in February and called it Hearts Desire Dance and made it more of a Valentine's theme... It was just about dancing and music and just really a fun event.

"So, we're going to do those two events annually. They're going to be our two 'friend-raising' events, where we expect to not only bring people together but raise a little bit of money at the same time for our future community center."

Bellingham Queer Collective  

Future plans
While BQC members have enjoyed events located in local businesses, the group has decided to look toward creating a community center.

"It's been a little bit challenging for us, because it's hard to meet all around town in these places that are all monetized restaurants, coffee shops, and bars, because not everybody wants to go and spend money on an expensive meal or beverage," Harmeier said. "And there's also not much privacy.

"But at the same time, it's met our goal to get people out and see new places and kind of get out into the town and be part of our downtown culture. So in one way, it's been very empowering, but at the same time, we really need some space for some more privacy, and also that's not monetized.

"So we are looking forward to opening a community center space later this spring with several different partners, where we will have a space of our own to have small group meetings or workshops and also provide a resource center for community for things that have been identified."

The community center input sessions are set to take place March 14-17. Registration and times for the sessions are listed on BQC's calendar (https://www.bellinghamqueercollective.org/calendar).

For more information on BQC, visit its website at https://www.bellinghamqueercollective.org or join its Facebook group "Bellingham Queer Collective."