“What the hell is the glitter ball and where is it happening?” asks the anonymous Facebook commenter of #oxfess9079. Gwendy Davenport, co-president of the Glitterball committee, has an answer ready. Glitterball, she tells The Oxford Blue, is an “amazing” Oxford ball aimed at the LGBTQ+ community, making its return for the first time since 2017. The Ball will be held in January 2022 at the Oxford Town Hall, following a recent two-month COVID-related delay. The delay is unfortunate, but the hype persists. Glitterball is primarily an “LGBTQ+ focused” event, though if an attendee has no friends from the community but still wants to come, they are very welcome to bring allies for support. Welcoming allies also “provides a great cover for people that aren’t out”, explains co-president Yannis Baur.
Glitterball has no specific theme or dress code. Though the co-presidents welcome something “black-tie inspired”, they’re keen to do away with rigid rules and instructions about cummerbunds, bow ties and jewellery. Inclusivity is their touchstone, reflecting a strong awareness that “LGBT+ [people] can feel ostracised because of the weight of tradition… We want people to feel like it doesn’t matter who they are; they can come to a ball and enjoy it,” the presidents say. “[People] can wear whatever they feel comfortable in, not what society says they need to wear depending on their gender.” The ball has been marketed to both Oxford and Brookes University students, as well as to non-society members of the universities. “They’re [also] here, they’re also queer,” notes Baur.
Glitterball exists for all queer community members and allies, but it makes a special effort to include those who have previously been scared away from balls by the rigidity of Oxford tradition. It’s an opportunity for people in the community “to have a ball to themselves”, Davenport tells me. It takes advantage of its particular moment in time, too. The co-presidents suspect the pandemic may have inspired some members of the queer community to go through a sort of rebirth, which might include growing more comfortable with their sexuality. Davenport summarises the attitude: “The world is crazy; I’m just going to be myself.”
There have been challenges along the way, even before the Glitterball’s recent postponement. Baur, who co-ran Keble Ball in 2019, is one of only two committee members who have actually attended a ball, which makes things difficult in terms of envisioning what a ball might look like. This has not deterred the committee, though, who have launched a ball which seeks to subvert Oxford tradition and wastefulness in more ways than one. Environmental and ethical concerns are central, rather than a side project. Everything, from decorations to sponsorship partners to catering, is ethically assessed. The committee has two dedicated ethics and environment officers who oversee decisions across the project. The ball’s catering will be entirely plant-based, including a range of ‘replacement-meat’ dishes. Water at the ball will be available in cans rather than bottles. If cups have to be used, they will be made of environmental plastic. There will be very little actual glitter involved, with the co-presidents preferring to create glitter ‘effects’ using lighting (and any glitter used for marketing purposes will, of course, be biodegradable). Suppliers are local where possible; the ball’s paper materials are printed by Oxford-based Seacourt Printing. Even the Glitterball’s marketing giveaways have sustainability in mind, including a pair of big, stompy Virón vegan boots.
The committee are nonetheless aware that a ball is, by its very nature, a wasteful event, though they more than justify its value as an experience for LGBTQ+ and other students who usually feel ostracised by Oxford tradition. And, as Baur says, “if [attendees] have to choose between one [ball] or the other, then if they choose ours, that’s a [positive] contribution… our event is better for the planet than if they go to a conventional ball.” The committee would like to leave an environmentally- and ethically-conscious legacy for Oxford balls, and are hoping to create info packs to instruct future balls on sustainability and inclusivity, advocating for gender-neutral toilet facilities and the service of an in-event welfare officer to be included as standard, for example. “Balls [have] been done the same way every year,” notes Baur. The Glitterball committee would like to show that things can change.
What’s the point, though? Baur suggests that responsible balls can promote individual responsibility: “People might go… home and think about [things] a bit more and maybe consider recycling more… if they have a house party next time they might put out recycling bins instead of just throwing it all in one bin because they saw that it’s actually quite easy and fun to do at a [ball].” But even if they fail to achieve everything in their ambition, the co-presidents hope that, at the very least, the Glitterball will enable members of the queer community to have a enjoyable, safe time in an extravagant setting.
At the conclusion of our interview, I ask the co-presidents if they have any advice for members of the LGBTQ+ community who are coming to Oxford for the first time. Davenport is extremely positive: “If you’re questioning anything, look forward to being at Oxford and thinking about your sexuality,” she says. “Obviously it’s never going to be easy, but this is an amazing place to explore it and to ask questions.” Baur, meanwhile, emphasises the variety of ways that new students can get involved. “You don’t have to go to drinks if you don’t like drinking; there are other events for LGBTQ+ people… figure out what you like and then look for the LGBTQ+ version of [that], because it will be here somewhere.”
When I ask them if there’s a Glitterball anthem, they pause – nothing official yet – and then Davenport comes out with an off-the-cuff rendition of The Pointer Sisters’ “I’m So Excited”. And with the way they’ve hyped it up, it’s hard to disagree.
Glitterball will be held in January 2022 at the Oxford Town Hall. General Release Tickets are £89, available from 7pm on 11th October. A limited number of cheaper tickets, priced at £37, have been set aside for those who may be financially or otherwise pressured.
The Glitterball launch party will be held this Sunday, 10th October, at the Jolly Farmers pub in Paradise Street.