Queens of Clean: Puffs With Polish

Gay Homestays is proud to be the first LGBT-run online accommodation network for gays and lesbian travellers and hosts and as a company we are always keen to work with and help promote other start-up companies that also target this niche segment of the community. Puffs With Polish is the UK’s first openly gay cleaning service that employs LGBT cleaners that you can hire to help clean your home or your office.

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Founded by Neil Ralphs, who has nearly 3o years of experience in the cleaning industry, Puffs With Polish is – like us – based in Manchester and works primarily within private houses and with LGBT-owned businesses or businesses operating in the LGBT market throughout the northwest of England. And it’s not just cleaning services that they provide: Puffs with Polish can also provide laundry (including ironing), painting, decorating, security personnel and companionship to the highest standard for all customers.

For Neil though, Puffs With Polish is only is newest endeavour – he is already a well-respected entrepreneur who owns several other national businesses, is the winner of the Mayor’s Oscar and Young Business Person of the Year, is a Business Mentor for Richard Branson’s Virgin Start-Up and even had his own BBC documentary entitled “Dirty Work”. Neil is also a host with Gay Homestays and lets out his spare guest room in his luxury (and perfectly clean, we’re sure) apartment in Manchester.

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Just like Gay Homestays, Puffs With Polish aims to provide LGBT customers with a product tailored to their needs and preferences. So if you’re a busy professional or own a gay company and would feel more comfortable with another LGBT person cleaning your property without being embarrassed by anything they might come across or even judged, then Puffs With Polish is the ideal company for you to use. Puffs With Polish also wants to help create friendships and mutual understandings between the cleaner and the owner rather than a typical maid service where nobody talks except for orders being given so if the cleaner also identifies as LGBT that means if you’re around when they are working, you are more likely to have things in common that you can relate to and talk about.

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All Puffs With Polish employees are friendly and skilled or trained in the tasks they do and with experienced Neil and his partner Pete at the helm, you can be assured that you will be receiving the best service possible that your require. For a full range and quote of their domestic and commercial services, check out their website.

Top 12 Donna Summer hits

On 17th May 2012, Donna Summer – a.k.a. “The Queen of Disco” – passed away after losing her battle with lung cancer at the age of 63. She was one of the most influential artists, particularly for a female, of her era – the 70s. She was inspired by the likes of Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and Dionne Warwick, her contemporaries at the time included Diana Ross and Gloria Gaynor and she herself paved the way for other divas including Madonna, Whitney, Janet Jackson and Beyoncé.

Because of her impact on modern disco and for helping to kickstart the craze of dance-pop and electronica genres that followed in the 80s and 90s, Donna not only cemented herself as one of the greatest musical legends of all time, but also became popular with the LGBT community, despite controversy surrounding things she allegedly said about gay men. She was still recording music well into her 50s and within the first two decades of her career, which were her most successful years, notched up 19 Number One songs on the Billboard Dance and Club Songs chart and sold over 100 million records worldwide. Here is our list of our top 12 favourite hits by her:

12) She Works Hard For The Money

11) Could It Be Magic

10) This Time I Know It’s For Real

9) MacArthur Park

8) Dim All The Lights

7) No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) – with Barbra Streisand

6) On The Radio

5) Bad Girls

4) Love To Love You, Baby

3) Last Dance

2) Hot Stuff

1) I Feel Love

What do you think of this list and what are your favourite Donna Summer songs? Let us know in the comment box below! And if you want to check out some of her best but rare and lesser-knows tracks, then click here.

Gay marriage: 7 countries you can travel to to get married

With the gay marriage bill in the UK currently in the process of hopefully being passed by the House of Lords soon and after the recent news of New Zealand and France legalising gay marriage, equality for LGBT people around the world is slowly but surely becoming a reality in some countries. At present, there are 14 countries that recognise same-sex marriages and allows same-sex couples to marry, while in other countries it is legal in some states and areas (such as the US and Brazil) or same-sex marriages from other countries are recognised but not performed (for example, Israel).

So if you want to go abroad and get married, which of the 14 countries are the best place, not only to get married in but also travel to? Here are our top 7 picks and why:

7) The Netherlands

The Netherlands who was the first country to extend full marriage laws to include same-sex couples. The Netherlands is a very liberal country in general and Amsterdam, its capital, is known to be one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world.

6) South Africa

While many countries in Africa are very much against homosexuality, South Africa became the first in the continent, the second outside of Europe and fifth overall to legalise same-sex marriage, which will hopefully set a good example to the rest of Africa. South Africa has a lot to offer tourists, especially those who love outdoor adventures and wildlife.

5) New Zealand

The thirteenth country to legalise same-sex marriage, New Zealand seems to have always kept quiet when it comes to equal rights, especially when its neighbour, Australia, is still hotly debating over the topic. While Australia is of course a very popular travel destination, New Zealand is often forgotten about, but does in fact have a lot to offer travellers – and with it being close to Australia, you can easily visit both while you’re “down under”.

4) Argentina

Being a predominantly Catholic country, Argentina may seem like an unlikely place where gays are accepted but it is in fact becoming more liberal and isn’t as strict as it may seem, especially its capital, Buenos Aires, which is now known as one of the most popular gay travel destinations.

3) Canada

Canada became the fourth country in the world and the first in the Americas and outside of Europe to legalise gay marriage in 2005. With Canada being such a huge country, there are so many different areas to visit, that you could spend ages travelling around experiencing it, from the French-speaking area of Quebec in the east (where it may almost seem like a completely different country) to the southern provinces which are more modern and more concentrated, to the mountainous northern parts which are usually blanketed by snow.

2) Iceland

Iceland is one of the best gay-friendly countries in the world but is probably one of the least known by people. Icelandic geography, culture and history is extremely rich and interesting if you look into it and travel around the country to learn more and Reykjavik’s Pride event is very popular. The country’s Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, is an open lesbian who is legally married to her long-term partner. The couple became one of the first to become legally married (after being in a civil union in 2002) and surely became a pioneer for LGBT rights and politics in not only Iceland, but around the world.

1) Spain

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Spain since 2005, becoming the third country in the world to legalise it. Spain is undoubtedly not only one of the most popular holiday destinations in the world, but also well-known as a hotspot for LGBT travellers, with its big cities having some of the most vibrant and famous gay scenes and hosting some of Europe’s and the world’s biggest Pride events, such Maspalomas in Gran Canaria, Madrid, Barcelona and Tenerife.

Interview with artist Adam Pryce

You may have noticed on our Facebook page and Twitter and Tumblr accounts recently that we have posted illustrations by Manchester-based artist Adam Pryce. Adam is an up-and-coming freelance artist and illustrator who has worked with several magazines, publishers and websites such as Hallmark, Walker Books, The Illustrated Ape, Juxtapose, Design Week, Amelia’s Magazine and CreatureMag. In July 2012 he wrote and illustrated his first children’s book entitled “Mr Ordinary’s Prize” with children’s writer Emily Capstick, which was released in partnership with the People’s History Museum in Manchester.

He is now currently working on a his own new range of children’s books and a multimedia animation to be released later this year as well as teaching and leading workshops and painting murals in and around Manchester. We love Adam’s creative and quirky designs which follow an almost standard style throughout, no matter what he’s drawing or who his audience is, and the fact that they are something different and fresh that cannot be seen in other artists’ work. We caught up with Adam to talk more to him about his work, his artistic inspirations and his hopes and dreams for his future as an artist.

Adam’s first published children’s book, “Mr Ordinary’s Prize”.

1) When did your love of art start and when did you begin realising your talents as an artist?

I have always drawn and I’ve always got excited at the possibilities my imagination can create; I remember the thing that would make me happiest as a child would be to be given a pad of white paper and before I’d even draw on the front page I would think for hours of what characters I would draw and what adventures they would go on.

Growing up I’d always make my friends and family handmade cards, posters and comics and that’s when I realised that what I do is different from other people and then began to think about how to build a future that includes me drawing everyday. Luckily things went well and several years later I’m waking up each morning and drawing all day!

“Milo & Duke”.

2) Which artists or what animations inspired you when you were growing up and as you developed your skills and your own artistic designs?

Disney was a huge inspiration to me – I used to watch the animated films countless times and then practice drawing the characters by freeze framing old VHS tapes. These films made me realise my true passion was for character design and so I began designing my own characters and writing stories that I hoped one day would be made into a Disney film.

As I went through College and University, my inspiration changed as I found out about wonderful artists such as Paula Rego, Sara Fanelli and Grayson Perry – all of whom shaped the type of artwork I was creating back then. I then began researching outsider art and the works of Henry Darger and the possibilities of the type of work a person can create when they have limitless imagination and no boundaries.

When I began working professionally as a freelance illustrator, my inspiration found its way back to Disney and the fantastic works of Mary Blair and the bold colour and composition she uses. I’m also fond of modern day illustrators such as Marc Boutavant and Jon Klassen and the worlds they create in their books.

Adam working on his art and displaying it in public.

3) You mainly do illustrations for and write children’s books, but what kind of work have you done in the past that also appeals to a wider and older audience as well?

My work has fallen into children’s books as its a perfect vehicle for my characters to get from inside my head and onto a piece of paper. I also create posters, logo designs and most recently branded a local festival – from the banners to the T-shirts. I also design for Hallmark cards on a freelance basis and design artwork for friends’ bands and tour posters.

I’ve recently started taking pet commissions, which I have found to be a really fun creative outlet and reignited my love of drawing animals and I love seeing and hearing people’s reactions when they see my illustration of their pet. I have also experimented with animation and shadow puppetry – something I wish to continue doing more when I get some free time.

I feel as an illustrator you really can’t have a set way of working – my approach has always been to not disregard a commission if its something you’re not used to doing – do it and surprise yourself!

A selection of Adam’s “Happy Friday” illustrations.

4) Your “Happy Friday” pictures are quite popular with our Facebook fans and our followers on Twitter and Tumblr. Where did you come with the concept and how do you get ideas and keep it fresh and innovative every week? 

I used to draw these characters and then put them to one side and nobody would ever see them, until one day a friend remarked how much they loved them and said “why not create one character a day for a month and post them on Twitter?” So I did that and soon got a lot of interest on Twitter and Facebook and approached the website CreatureMag about becoming a regular contributor, and thankfully they loved my work and readily agreed.

The “Happy Friday” item was already a weekly thing on CreatureMag with contributions from several illustrators. The creators of CreatureMag felt my characters fit the brief so well that I’m now the main contributor and have been for the last year or so. It’s a great working relationship we have for in exchange for weekly promotion through social media sites, and for them we create a character.

The main inspiration is the world around me and when that fails to inspire me I either close my eyes and the character just appears or I simply start drawing and surprise myself by what character walks onto my iPad.

An image Adam created using his iPad.

5) Where do you hope to take your art in the future and what kind of work or illustrations would you love to do if you got the chance?

My dream is to be a concept artist for Pixar and Disney so that’s where I’m working towards at the moment and without intentionally doing so my work is becoming more and more “Disney”. I’m about to have my second book released later this year – both in the UK and America in digital and printed paperback so I’d really like to do more books and write some more stories. I’m really happy with the direction my work is going in and my work has evolved so much in the last 12 months I can’t wait to see what type of work I will be producing in 5 years time!

You can “like” Adam’s Facebook page, follow him on Twitter and Instagram or watch his art and music videos on YouTube.

Exclusive Interview: LGBT Equality Activist, Simon Rodgers

Simon Rodgers may be young but he’s already achieved a lot in the past few years; not only is he a Category Manager in Procurement at Aviva, but he has been campaigning for LGBT equality and human rights in the UK and worldwide since 2007, is a founding member of Aviva Pride (the Aviva Employee Network Group), been involved in local politics and fundraised for numerous charities, to name but a few of his accomplishments.

Recently, Simon attended the One Young World Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he gave a rousing speech in front of 1,300 people from 180 countries about key issues affecting the world. Focusing on LGBT equality and human rights, his session was a huge success. He joined other big-name personalities, including Bill Clinton, Bob Geldof, Jack Dorsey (founder of Twitter) and Jamie Oliver.

We managed to get an interview with Simon to talk about his work as a campaigner of LGBT rights and equality and ask for his thoughts on some recent news topics regarding human rights, homophobic abuse and bullying, as well as what he thinks about Gay Homestays as a company.

GH: When did you start getting into LGBT rights and was there a specific reason for doing so?

SR: I haven’t been involved in LGBT equality for very long actually. I only became involved in 2007 when I helped found the Aviva LGBT Employee Network Group, which is now called Aviva Pride. But it wasn’t until later that year when I went to my first Stonewall Workplace Conference, which really opened my eyes and made me want to do more.

GH: What is the most shocking case regarding homophobia or anything else that you have heard or come across whilst working as an activist?

SR: That’s a tough question because there have been so many over the years that have touched me or shocked me and come from all over the world, but closer to home,  I  have worked with the Albert Kennedy Trust for a number of years now. I’ve heard many stories from young people who are disowned and kicked out of home by their own parents just for being gay, which really upsets me… I can’t believe anyone could do that to their own child!

Others would have to be when I was at the One Young World Summit where one delegate wrote a note which was read out in the Q&A session after my speech, saying that he couldn’t speak himself because he feared what might happen when he returned to his home country.

The new “kill the gays” bill which may be passed in Uganda really scares me It really saddens me because there seemed to be a glimmer of hope earlier in the year when they had their first Pride march over there, but now there is this issue, which I’m shocked by.

GH: In your Gay Star News article you mentioned a man who said he was no longer homophobic after hearing your speech. Apart from this, what other instances can you recall that was just as heartwarming?

SR: Again, there have been quite a few, but the one that really sticks in my mind was going back to my old secondary school in York, which I hadn’t been back to in over ten years. My old teacher invited me to go back and talk about LGBT issues and homophobia. I was a little anxious about doing so to be honest, because I was bullied there for being gay, however I also felt it would be important to share my experience. I was not expecting such a positive reaction from my speech; many pupils came up to me or contacted me afterwards – and a lot of them were straight young men – and told me how inspirational my talk had been. This really surprised me and touched my heart, making me think maybe I can make a difference if so many young people are interested in what I have to say.

GH: We recently interviewed Michael Black, one half of the gay couple who were turned away from a B&B for being gay. What are your general thoughts on this and the controversial issue of mixing religious and personal beliefs with business?

SR: This is certainly a controversial issue as I always think it’s a contentious one when it comes to religion and sexuality. The most basic point for me is that I think it is a basic human right that everyone should be treated and, in the case of businesses, served equally, no matter who they are and somebody’s sexuality, gender, race or anything else should not come into it.

GH: We also ran a recent opinion piece about homophobic abuse that took place on a train where the man was only cautioned by the police, and not punished further. Do you think that this was fair, especially compared to those who have been arrested and jailed for racial abuse in public before?

SR: Well first of all, I think his comments were disgusting and I was really shocked at some of things that were said; I don’t believe anyone should be spoken to like that. As regards to his punishment, I’ve not been close enough to the case to understand the full details, but I think the fact that police intervened showed that they acknowledged that a crime was committed. This story showed the power of social media and how strongly people feel about this since the response was huge, but it also shows how much work still needs to be done when it comes to LGBT equality. I do believe that sometimes we do actually need to see these sort of things so we know about it and it highlights that people should report homophobic crimes more often.

GH: For National Coming Out Day we compiled a list of our favourite pro-LGBT songs and ones that do or could relate to coming out. What would be at the top of your list?

SR: Another tough question with a lot of songs to choose from but I would say Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time”. It is a beautiful song, and I remember it bringing tears to my eyes at the Manchester Pride Candlelit Vigil this year. After a hard weekend of volunteering at the Pride event, that moment closed the event and the weekend perfectly for me. I think its particularly relevant because of the work Cyndi Lauper is doing in the US, recently launching the Forty to None Project, to address the inordinately high rate of homelessness among LGBT youth.

And although it is not directly related to anything LGBT, I feel like I can definitely relate to “Hall of Fame” by The Script and will.i.am because it’s about achieving one’s place in a “hall of fame” and making a difference or inspiring others so people know you for doing or achieving something; this is related to my purpose and what I do and what I’m all about, plus it’s a very universal song.

GH: We at Gay Homestays are passionate about providing friendly, safe and affordable accommodation to LGBT travellers who want to stay with LGBT hosts. As a worldly traveller yourself, what do you think about this and what we do as a company?

SR: I was actually really intrigued by the company and its concept, and yes, as someone who travels a lot I was definitely interested in it. Most of the time I am travelling on business so I do stay in hotels a lot of the time, just because it’s easier to relax and have my own space, although if I travelled more for pleasure I can understand why many people would like this, as hotels are impersonal. I you stay with a host in their home you can learn more about the place you’re in and meet new people. I think staying with LGBT people is a good idea as well, as you already have one thing in common with them, whereas if you booked a hotel or just any old B&B, you really have no idea who the owners or staff are or what they’re like at all. So in short, I think it’s an exciting organisation and I’ll be interested in seeing how things go for you in the future.