February 2017 marks LGBT History Month. The archive of the project Gay Birmingham Remembered (MS 2788) held here at the Library of Birmingham contains material relating to the history of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans people in the city. The focus of the project was to collect material and memories from Birmingham citizens about gay life. The project culminated in the transfer of the records to the Library so that gay people’s lives in the city could be documented for the future and made available.As well as the colourful campaign badges featured in the photograph above, a number of LGBT newspapers and newsletters circulated in the West Midlands in the 1980s and 1990s feature in the archive. In the Pink: West Midlands free Lesbian and Gay newspaper is one of these and we hold copies dating from late 1980s. The newsletters are important because they record developments in the history of LGBT rights and are a reminder that legislation and attitudes taken for granted now were by no means commonplace in the 1980s. Here are some snapshots from the newsletters:
In September 1987 Birmingham City Council adopted an equal opportunities policy stating that ‘the council does not discriminate against job applicants on the account of sexuality’. In the Pink praised the City Council for this but suggested that it extend a non-discrimination policy to all council services.
In 1988 Wolverhampton lesbian and gay people won the right to be represented in a council for the first time in the West Midlands when Wolverhampton City Council recommended that they be given a non-voting seat on the Race Relations and Equal Opportunities Council.
In May 1989 a National Tour was held against Section 28 an amendment that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality”. In their account of this, In the Pink focused on Section 28’s impact on groups who felt they had to limit their activities. The national tour visited Leominster, Wolverhampton and Coventry.
As well as coverage of positive developments and social action taken by members of the LGBT community there are also accounts of more worrying occurrences such as when a peaceful picnic held in October 1989 by a lesbian and gay group outside St Philip’s Cathedral ended in violence initiated by some offended onlookers. Other violent attacks on gay people are also frequently referred to sometimes with advice on locations to avoid.
The Gay Birmingham Remembered Collection also features newsletters produced by other gay and lesbian groups such as Outspeak (the newsletter for the coalition of Lesbian and gay rights in the West Midlands), Outburst and the Outpost.
It is important that the events and points of view documented in these newsletters are preserved for current and future use so that the voice of LGBT people writing about their experiences survives and is accessible. Unfortunately, records of an earlier date revealing the lives of LGBT people are sparse and for researchers interested in exploring how to research LGBT history, The National Archives has an online research guide about this.
We are keen to add to material we already hold in this area and we would be keen to hear from other individuals or groups interested in donating records relating to the lives and activities of LGBT groups or individuals in Birmingham.
This archive shows us that legislation affecting LGBT people and attitudes towards them have improved for the better, however LGBT History Month reminds us that there is still work to be done for equality and we hope that more positive changes will be documented in the archives of the future.
Advice on how to access the Gay Birmingham Remembered archive (MS 2788) can be gained by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that some material in the collection may not be accessible owing to sensitivity under the Data Protection Act.
Emma Hancox, Archivist