The Netflix-funded film Twinleberry tells the story of how 30 pupils from one year came out as LGBT+ in a competition in Gloucestershire

When outsiders picture Tewkesbury, they probably picture the historic Abbey surrounded by the flood waters of the River Severn. But to a group of students who left the local college about a decade ago, Tewkesbury is simply Twinleberry.

The city they grew up in to get through their school in “the gayest year ever”. Because around 30 students in a grade who went through secondary school between 2005 and 2012 were finally identified as queer.

Now one of the 30, Daisy Ifama, has teamed up with Netflix to tell the story about an unusual pink period in the life of a small Gloucestershire market town they dubbed Twink.

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Six of the 30 LGBT+-identifying students agreed to return home to talk about their experiences for a light-hearted short film she made after impressing the streaming giant and winning £40,000 for her story. Their experiences range from Kathleen being surprised no one cared when she came out as gay to Harvey being tied to a tree and stoned to death.

But what emerges from all of their stories is how in the “Gayest Year Ever” the students forged a strong bond of friendship to protect and support one another from any form of homophobia throughout their school years. Daisy, now 27 and based in London, said she decided to do the film after speaking to other people over the years and realizing how unusual her experience was to be surrounded by so many openly gay friends .

Six of the 30 pupils who identified as LGBT+ in a Tewkesbury school year agreed to return home to talk about their experiences for a light-hearted short film entitled Twinleberry.

“When I was in school, it didn’t strike me as odd that there were so many queer people in our class,” she says in the film, which she hopes will eventually be shown at the city’s Roses Theater. “It’s just very, very normal.

“It’s only when you look back that you realize that it was really something special. To have more than 30 people in a year group identifying somewhere on the spectrum in this tiny town in 2005-2012, not the year above. Not the year below. I don’t know how it happened, but I’m just so glad it happened.”

Twinleberry became a reality when Daisy became one of 10 successful applicants from thousands who bid for money from the Netflix Documentary Talent Fund to support up-and-coming filmmakers from across the UK.

Last August, Tewkesbury School’s Headmaster Gary Watson welcomed Daisy back to direct the film, which begins with one of the six former students saying it’s “bizarre” that so many gay kids the same age come from “a little rinky dink.” -Hometown” found everyone else.

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The film features the six people in Daisy’s friendship group chatting about that time in a school classroom, alongside phone footage from their school days showing them enjoying parties and picnics and even pirouettes down the aisles of the local supermarket.

Many knew each other from Tirleybrook Primary School and one of the six, Kath, said it started with one or two people coming out in the early days of secondary school. After that it wasn’t a big deal.

Another former student, Kathleen, tells the camera that she expected to be hated for coming out, but nobody cared, and it was a five-minute miracle. “The next week someone else would come out and it was this chain,” she said.

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Josh says he has more gay friends in Little Tewkesbury than in Birmingham, where he lives now, and feels so fortunate to have had so many queer people around growing up. Daisy didn’t have room for all the stories, but vividly recalls standing in line outside a math class when someone attempted to abuse a gay student and faced 20 others who called themselves “the bodyguards.”

She says the teachers were fairly neutral about the situation, but recalls a group of students complaining when a staff member tried to stop a gay couple from sitting together outside the classroom.

In 2012, Daisy wrote to Rep. Laurence Robertson asking for gay marriage to be legalized, and the group read the letter and his reply. He told them he had gay friends but said, “I have to disappoint you by saying that I believe marriage is between a man and a woman.”

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Though the film largely complements acceptance in Tewkesbury at a time when it wasn’t as tolerant in many other small rural towns, the six also say they were lucky to have a family of like-minded people at the time, often feeling scared and different.

Harvey, who is now a drag queen in Leeds, is two years younger than everyone else and struggled with being the only gay man in his school year until the older students took him under their wing and started looking after him.

“People would knock me over,” said the 25-year-old. “I was spat on, tied to a tree, and stones were thrown at me. I got pinned down and someone spat a bogey in my face.”

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After reuniting, the friends held a Pride Parade which was filmed in the middle of town and Daisy said they had a very positive response from locals who wanted to know what was going on. It was a big moment for Harvey, who first appeared in drag in his hometown.

Now working adults living across the country, friends admit to feeling conflicted about returning to Tewkesbury because they have both happy and sad memories of growing up gay in the quintessential rural market town. They laugh at people calling it twink, which is gay slang for a boyish looking gay man.

Daisy says that if her English teacher, Ms. Strachen, hadn’t persuaded her to give up her pocket-money cleaning job for a week and instead apply to university, she would never have gone on to study media at the prestigious Goldsmith’s College in London. She didn’t want to pursue higher education but was glad she did because she was later selected by Google for a two-year program for young creatives and now works in the documentary field.

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She says that she and her fellow students loved making the film and wanted to be honest, but didn’t want to portray Tewkesbury as a stereotypical, bigoted small, rural town.

“Everyone has both positive and negative thoughts about where they grew up, and people have a certain image of small towns,” Daisy said. “But I didn’t want to make Tewkesbury look like a backwards small town, because it’s not

“We wanted to tell the truth about the dark side, but also show that there is so much love. We’re all very protective of our little twinks.”

She now hopes to get all 30 people from the class together for a reunion at school and has ambitions to do a musical like Jamie. You can watch the 12-minute film on Netflix’s Still Watching YouTube page:

The most commonly cited figure for the percentage of people who identify as LGBT+ is around one in ten, but officially nearly 95 percent of people who fill out census forms report being straight. In a school with 1,300 students like Tewkesbury, that would be between 65 and 130 students in total.

But what’s different about that year is the number of students who are openly gay because so many young people back then waited until they were older or moved away before they did. Laura Russell, Stonewall’s director of campaigns, strategy and research, has previously welcomed the regular rise in the number of people identifying as LGB, saying it means younger people are starting to feel comfortable, to say frankly, who they are.

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But in 2020, when the latest figures were released, she told the Guardian: “We know these figures will still not be a fully accurate representation of the number of lesbian, gay and bi people in the UK. If we are to live in a world where everyone is accepted without exception, we need every person who believes in equality to stand up and support their LGBT friends, family and the wider community.”

To win the award, Daisy told the judges, “Twinleberry is a light-hearted documentary about my super-gay school year, which had over 30 queer students in one year group…between 2005 and 2012. In the late ’00s and early 2010s, Britain hadn’t woken up , it was asleep and Twinleberry was barely progressive.

“So it was quite surprising that my year alone had so many openly queer students who were pretty content with fluid teenage years while people now had to hide their sexuality.”

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