WE EXIST! new LGF publication

The Lesbian and Gay Foundation has launched a new publication, which is available online as a PDF entitled WE EXIST! which aims to inform LGBT people how they can get involved in their local community, whether at work, in education, sport, faith, health & wellbeing, housing, policing and politics, and be an ‘LGB Community Champion’.
In their e-newsletter, they say: ‘Often the issues that directly affect the lesbian, gay and bisexual community may go unheard or un-addressed, unless there is an active voice around the table that is championing the needs of our community.’
I think this is really interesting, as in order for any community to be heard, it needs champions at the forefront. There really should be an LGBT presence in all of the issues mentioned above, and unless there is, often matters relating specifically to LGBT people become overlooked.

As I’m currently thinking about my presentation at the GEM conference, which looks at ‘making the case’ my argument is going to move beyond that, and say that the people pushing for LGBT and queer histories to be included in museums and other cultural and heritage sites are more often than not LGBT people, in order for these approaches to be fully adopted in earnest, we need straight allies and champions who believe in a more genuine form of inclusion as well, no community can break barriers in isolation, it needs people from outside of those communities to show an interest and actively support the cause.
It’s a great publication, so do check it out. More information about the project can be found here.

the women’s library

As part of the ARLIS (Art Library Society) conference that I mention here, two staff members from the Women’s Library, currently part of London Metropolitan University, spoke about two recent projects relating to sport (the theme of the conference was Olympic-based).

Cycling to Suffrage: The Bicycle and Women’s Rights, 1890-1914
·         Briony Benge Abbot, Curator of Special Collections told us about the current exhibition of called Cycling to Suffrage: The Bicycle and Women’s Rights, 1890-1914 which runs until 8 September 2012.
·         The Women’s Library was founded in 1926 after the suffragette movement. She gave a brief history of the library, which can be found here.
·         The main users are researchers, academics, students and family historians.
·         The library has two exhibition spaces, and aims to show four exhibitions a year. Themes covered in the past have included; prostitution, craft, make-up and work.
·         The current exhibition looks at the gender politics of cycling in Edwardian and Victorian Britain, a mode of transport that was considered masculine, unsafe and uncivilised for a woman.
·         The cycle became a symbol of the New Woman, but was also used as a negative symbol against the women’s movement.
·         The exhibition raises questions about class, “rational dress”, how the bicycle supported the suffrage movement, ie: how it was used in parades, cycling scouts canvassing and handing out leaflets, and its use in pilgrimages and marches.
·         The research carried out for the exhibition unearthed material that was previously unknown about, such as a radical book about women cyclists, which championed healthy lifestyles and showed women how to fix bikes.
·         The bicycle was also seen by some to represent a more militant wave of the suffragette movement, following activist activities it was used to get away at high speed, some women were accused of making bombs with bicycle parts, complaints were made about tyre tracks on golf greens etc.
·         This is the first time this subject has been looked at in any detail, and it has provided new perspectives to parts of the collections and has prompted the rewrite of some catalogue entries.
·         The outcomes have included talks and the exhibition has enhanced knowledge of the collection. It has also attracted new audiences, including lots of cyclist groups, who discuss how cycling is still a gendered issue. Only 29% of cyclists in London are women, and the death rate from accidents is highly disproportionate.
·         More about the exhibition here. I visited it briefly the other day, and it’s really illuminating and worth a visit.
 Sporting Sisters: stories of Muslim women in sport
·         Tracey Weller Learning Coordinator, whom I had already had the pleasure of meeting to interview for my dissertation, told us about some of the outreach they did at the Women’s Library, specifically about the Muslim women in sport project.
·         This was a community-led research project, originally with 12 or 13 young Muslim women looking at Muslim women’s participation from 1948 to the present day. By the end of the project, there were four women taking part, this reduction in numbers is fairly standard in community outreach work.
·         The project was funded primarily by HLF, followed by contributions from ESRC and the People’s Record.
·         The participants were given an introduction to the Women’s Library, and had a workshop about using a research library. They received training around oral histories and interviewing techniques, and film-making skills.
·         The collection of material relating to Muslim women in sport was quite patchy in the late 18th and early 19th century, but there was more relevant stuff from more contemporary times.
·         Issues raised involved class, ethnicity, over-representation of materials related to rowing and hockey, clothing- especially for Muslim sportswomen.
·         They discovered that Muslim women were amongst the most enthusiastic in women’s boxing.
·         The last Olympic sports to exclude men are rhythmic gymnastics and synchronised swimming.
·         They filmed and edited their own short film about their research, which can be found here.
·         The outcomes of the project were: the participants acquired new skills, such as research skills and filming skills. The film preserves their research and became part of the collection, they have helped to highlight a hidden voice and have raised the profile of Muslim women’s participation in sports. The project has also enhanced the knowledge of the Women’s Library staff of their collections.
Recently the Women’s Library have announced that there are seven bidders for alternative ownership, which I’m sure you will have heard about, there is a shortlist of seven, and I’m selfishly hoping it will stay in London, and particularly keeping my fingers crossed for Senate House as it would be a brilliant edition to the already blooming University of London (again, obvious bias on my part).

pride in our past plymouth

On Wednesday 27th of June I attended the Community Archives and Heritage Group conference at UCL, which was a varied and interesting event, that gave me lots to think about for my dissertation.
During the conference, there was an awards ceremony, and each of the winners presented a short presentation about the work they do. The winner of the Inspiration award was ‘Pride in our Past’.
The Plymouth Pride Forum embarked on this project to give a voice to an overlooked community in Plymouth, one that as well as being overlooked, was thought to be wrong, and shaded in secrecy and shame. They collected oral histories, and physical artefacts and formed the Plymouth LGBT Archive. They received funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund to put on one exhibition.


Image courtesy of Pride in Our Past
 
When the Hello Sailor! exhibition in Liverpool was in the planning stages, in spite of its rich naval history, no one came forward to tell their story, Plymouth apparently being more closeted than most UK cities. Collecting the oral histories got off to a rocky start.  One elderly woman spoke to one of the archivists and said “oh no dear, we don’t do any of that here”, but eventually voices- young and old- came forward. Age Concern also formed an LGBT group at the same time. The archivists were touched when an elderly gay woman said that she didn’t think anyone would ever want to hear her story in her lifetime.
Once the project got into full swing, an LGBT youth group Out Youth created art work to accompany the exhibition, one teen, on seeing his work in print in a magazine, said he felt like he was making history.
The project has brought together a community that had previously been living alongside each other in silence. For the participants it became about taking pride in who they are, and taking ownership of their LGBT identity. This was particularly moving for the older generations, one couple who had been together for 50 years loaned a painting of them together to the exhibition, marking a public recognition of their long-term commitment to each other. most of the material shown and created will become a permanent part of the collection.
Pride in our Past was obviously a worthy winner of the Inspiration award, and have formed a great model by which other regional archives could follow. Hopefully as time goes by, these narratives can be integrated throughout all parts of the archive collections, as the LGBT identity of people does not exist in isolation, but is a vital part of all aspects of community life.
You can find more about the archive collection here.
And more about the Pride in our Past project here.
The video of the presentation can be found here.
The other award winners can be found here.