Tag Archives: LGBT History Month

LGBT History Month 2017

lgbt-high-res

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.

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Badges from the Gay Birmingham Remembered collection. [MS 2788]

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.

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In the Pink from the collection of Gay Birmingham Remembered [MS 2788]

Here are some snapshots from the newsletters:

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Birmingham’s First Gay Community Centre

 

LGBT History Month logo 2016As you may know, February is LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) History Month. I thought readers might be interested to know that it is now forty years since the establishment of the first Gay Community Centre in premises at 9-10 Bordesley Street, Birmingham, in 1976.

The draft rules state that the Centre intended:

            ‘To promote the benefit and welfare of those persons considering themselves as being homosexual or bisexual and in particular the promotion, maintenance, improvement and advancement of education with the object of improving the conditions of life of the said persons’.

The Centre was to be non-party in politics and non-sectarian in religion.

The lease on the property, three former four storey Victorian shops, was only for three years. In that time, with the help of many volunteers, the Centre established a coffee bar, open every evening; a newsletter; a library and information area, meeting rooms, a disco, and a home for Gay Switchboard (a telephone advice service started in 1975) and Friend, a face to face advice service.

Poster advertising a 10 week course on Lesbian and Gay History at the Lesbian and Gay Centre, Corporation Street. [MS 1836/3]

Poster advertising a 10 week course on Lesbian and Gay History at the Lesbian and Gay Centre, Corporation Street.
[MS 1836/3]

By 1978, the following local Gay groups were making use of the Centre:

Bridge Group; Campaign for Homosexual Equality; Drama Group; Friend; Gay Christian Movement; Gay Education Group; Gay Liberation Front; Gay Outdoor Club; Gay Socialist Group; Gay Switchboard; Lesbian Feminist Group; Metropolitan Community Church; One in Ten Theatre Group; Quest (a Gay Catholic Group); Photography Group; Transvestite Group and West Midlands Gay Activists’ Alliance.

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Fellowship, friendship, support and dialogue: the work of FHF

 

LGBT History Month logo 2016

To mark this year’s LGBT History Month, this week’s blog post takes a look at the history of the Friends Homosexual Fellowship (FHF) (now known as Quaker Lesbian and Gay Fellowship) which supports LGBT Quakers within the Religious Society of Friends.

Quakers first began to consider gay equality with the publication of the booklet, Towards a Quaker View of Sex in 1963. This was the culmination of work begun in 1957 by a small group of British Friends who met to examine issues of sexuality, including homosexuality. The booklet challenged traditional Christian attitudes to sexual morality, causing considerable controversy in the media, and sparking debate within the Religious Society of Friends. The authors took the view that,

An act which expresses (for example) true affection between two individuals and gives pleasure to them both does not seem to us to be sinful by reason alone of the fact that it is homosexual. Rather it should be judged by the same criterion as any heterosexual relationship.

(Heron, Alistair (ed. ), 1963, Towards a Quaker View of Sex, Friends Home Service Committee, http://exhibits.lgbtran.org/exhibits/show/towards-a-quaker-view-of-sex, p.32, accessed 04/02/2016)

Although the booklet was not an official statement by the Society of Friends, it was published by the Friends Home Service to encourage debate and is described as,

…probably the most influential document published by Quakers in Britain in the twentieth century.

(Religious Society of Friends, Quaker View on same sex marriages – updated 2013, http://old.quaker.org.uk/samesexbriefing, accessed 04/02/2016)

It was certainly the first of such documents to be produced by a religious organisation. You can read more about the work of the group which contributed to Towards a Quaker View of Sex, its publication and the response to it in this on-line exhibition of archive documents, which includes a full copy of the booklet.

Friends Homosexual Fellowship

Logo for Friends Homosexual Fellowship (Central Area Meeting Archives, SF (acc. 2014/213) 818)

Following the publication of David Blamires’ book Homosexuality from the Inside by the Social Responsibility Council of the Religious Society of Friends in 1973, a group of Friends gathered in Manchester in September of that year to form the Friends Homosexual Fellowship (FHF). This was an interest group rather than an official structure within the Society of Friends, and was one of the first religious support groups to exist. It was established to counteract the sense of isolation and loneliness many gay Quakers encountered and to provide them with a friendly, understanding, supportive forum in which they could get advice and find friendships. An introductory leaflet compiled for those making enquiries about FHF set out its aims:

To encourage fellowship, friendship and support between members, and, where necessary, to help those who have difficulty in either accepting themselves and others or in being accepted. To this end, the formation of local groups is encouraged.

To promote a dialogue within the Society of Friends at all levels, with a view to achieving a deeper mutual understanding and acceptance.

To liaise with other groups with similar aims, particularly with a religious basis.

(Central Area Meeting Archives, Ref SF (acc. 2014/213) 818)

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Celebrating LGBT History

Allies network jpegThis time last year the Library of Birmingham was showing its support not only for LGBT History Month, but also for our own City Council LGBT Allies Network by proudly wearing our rainbow lanyards. This year, to mark the 10th anniversary of LGBT History Month, we have been looking back through our archives to see how members of the LGBT community have been represented in our collections.

Between 2005 and 2007, the Connecting Histories project was making great strides into revealing the history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people in Birmingham. A wealth of resources were made available online showing the prejudice many faced and included oral history interviews recorded as part of the Millenibrum Project in 2000, such as the following which was testament to how difficult it was to find any information in the City….

“I was a lesbian in Birmingham and nationally there was a ban on the sale, the selling of gay and lesbian papers, so the only information you could get, as far as I can remember, was from the Pink Paper which was free and it was only free at selected outlets…you had to know where the outlets were to be able to get the Pink Paper to find out what was going on which was quite difficult and confusing because you needed the Pink Paper to be able to find the outlets, so you had to know somebody who knew something before you could find out where to go”. [MS 2255/2/67]

The interviews given show how difficult it was to socialise and meet other lesbian and gay people in the City. You can understand why, given the overwhelming sense from any press overage that popular opinion at the time saw homosexuality as seedy and unnatural, not something to be celebrated.

Going further back, in the 19th century, for some, homosexuality was treated as if it were a disease. Connecting Histories tells the story of Charles Record who was committed to All Saints Hospital on 18 May 1861 “the reason for his committal was that he was talking incoherently and that he was “affected with unnatural desires” and had been seen “in the act of sodomy”.

 Reception Order for Charles Record  [HC AS/15/1]

Reception Order for Charles Record
[HC AS/15/1]

It was also categorised as a felony. Since the 16th century, the act of ‘buggerie’ (often interchangeable with the term ‘sodomy’  meaning any form of sexual intercourse considered to be unnatural) had carried the death penalty, but was repealed by the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 to a sentence of ‘Penal Servitude for Life or for any Term not less than Ten Years’.

Section 11 of the Criminal Amendment Act 1885, made “gross indecency” between males a crime but did not go as far as to define the term.

Cases of gross indecency were brought before the Assize Courts in Birmingham, now the Crown Court, which shows how serious the crime was taken. For instance, on 21 March 1889, Arthur Cornelius Ridding, aged 42, pleaded guilty to committing an act of gross indecency with another male person  and was sentenced to 2 calendar months of hard labour at Birmingham Prison. On 3rd August 1891 Edward Verner received a sentence of 12 calendar months hard labour for the same crime.

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