“Get your acorns out!” – the National Trust at Pride

I’ve finally handed a full version of my thesis to my supervisors, so hopefully will have more time to blog, and I’m also planning on making the blog a bit nicer too, and adding more info about the exhibitions we’ve had at Sutton House this year.

This week has been a pretty unusual week for me at work. On Wednesday we hosted a member’s event at Sutton House hosted by National Trust Director Helen Ghosh. I was delighted to be asked to chair the panel event, and the discussion was around making the Trust more diverse and inclusive. On Saturday, the Sutton House team led the National Trust’s presence at Pride in London. If you’d have told me when I started researching and volunteering for the Trust in 2013 that either of these things were happening I’d have guffawed. It seems a very appropriate way to bookend the uphill struggle that has been my relationship with the Trust (and frustrations with the heritage world more broadly), and my PhD.

I’ve ranted on here before about how problematic I find Pride, and haven’t attended for the past few years, opting instead for Queer Picnic, Black Pride or Trans Pride in Brighton, all of which embody what Pride events should feel like for me much more than London Pride.

I hate that Pride now presents an opportunity for institutions to stick a rainbow flag on themselves and be seen to be visibly supportive of a community they do shit all to support all year round. I hate that the organisers so consistently get everything wrong (as an aside I attended a winter club night they did at Scala and they had a men’s queue and a woman’s queue… yet they claim to be for the whole LGBTQ community…). I hated that a police man came up to me this year to ask for a selfie, I said no, and that he could have a selfie for every time the police have appropriately dealt with a hate crime I’ve reported… Pride is too corporate, too white, too cis, too homonormative, pats people and institutions on the back too much for being “allies” but for not actually doing anything, is hypocritical and blind to the genuine pressing issues that queer communities face around the country and the world.

 

So it was with a lot of anxieties and doubt that I agreed to march in Pride for the first time, and especially to march as part of a huge organisation. But I’m actually pleased I did. The Trust haven’t always got it right this year when dealing with LGBTQ histories as part of the Prejudice and Pride programme, but I know that those who worked on it, and helped put together the Pride march are all coming from the same place as me. When we were first talking about Pride, I said I wouldn’t be involved if we were selling memberships on the day- as I think it would be desperately inappropriate to do so. Instead, our presence should be to show support, to celebrate the work we have done over the last few years (especially at Sutton House!) and to celebrate our LGBTQ staff and volunteers.

This year at Sutton House, all of our programming has been related to LGBTQ themes. We have worked with (and paid!) exclusively LGBTQ artists, have given platforms to people that otherwise wouldn’t have had them from the Sutton House community (such as Victor Zagon, who I will blog about more fully at some point!), we’ve worked with a young LGBTQ support group, we have explored queer themes with school groups and in our family offers. My exhibition Master-Mistress in 2014 was the first ever LGBT History Month exhibition in a National Trust property, we were the first to launch gender neutral toilets, we’ve been hosting queer club nights with Amy Grimehouse and Late Night Library Club for years, and I know that we won’t stop just because the Prejudice and Pride programme ends. I’m very concerned about legacy, but for now, I was very proud to march as part of Sutton House in Pride, I have worked very hard to help educate a large organisation about LGBTQ heritage, I have called out staff in the Trust when they have got things wrong, and just because the Trust are now on the cusp of progress, I won’t stop doing either of those things.

I love the National Trust, that’s why I’ve spent over four years researching and writing about it, that’s why I volunteered with them, and why I’m so pleased to have a job at my favourite National Trust house. Marching in Pride also made me realise how much affection my community has for the Trust too, even if sometimes it seems very conservative, or inaccessible, people appreciate the aims of Europe’s largest conservation charity, and recognise our attempts to get better. Fear not- I will continue to hold the Trust to account and work with my equally passionate colleagues to ensure that this is just the beginning of making the Trust a better place for EVERYONE.

We met a lovely man called Martin from the London Gay Men’s Chorus, who had been part of the Save Sutton House Campaign back in the late 1980s- I’m looking forward to getting in touch with him to start recording his memories, some of which we were lucky enough to hear over a pint after the march.

Also: huge shoutout to the man in the crowd that shouted “Get your acorns out!” as we marched past.

Trans Pride Brighton

The 2nd Trans Pride in Brighton this weekend was the perfect antidote to my frustrations with last month’s Pride in London. I blogged about it here. Some of the feedback I received from that post was that if I want to feel included, I should volunteer. I don’t think this is necessarily the right attitude to take, suggesting that those who don’t feel welcome should get involved, it’s passing the buck, and saying you are welcome, but we’re not going to go out of our way to ensure you feel it. Pride, and the response I got from someone based on me venting my frustrations, became the anti-Pride.

HOWEVER, myself and a friend headed down to Brighton on Saturday for Trans Pride. Building on the success of the first one last year, which I unfortunately only heard about retrospectively so didn’t attend, Trans Pride held events over three days, with a film night on the Friday, a picnic on the Sunday and the main event on the Saturday. Unfortunately, we missed the march due to some train hold-ups at London Bridge, but the march was the first of its kind in Europe. Sarah Savage, one of the organisers, said in her opening remarks that it was emphatically a march, not a parade, as there is still so much to be angry about, as well as lots to celebrate. Caroline Lucas, MP of Brighton Pavilion (and the only MP that I actually have any faith in) said in her speech that ‘tolerance is not enough’ and addressed in particular the dreadful representation of trans* people in the media, and fighting for the opening of a Gender Identity clinic in Brighton and Hove.

For me, Trans Pride was exactly what a Pride event should be. It was celebratory, but its undercurrent was one of anger, action and protest. The main stage showcased the talents of various trans* and queer musical acts and spoken word performers, intersected with information about trans* services, including from the sponsors of the event, Broken Rainbow. The environment was relaxed and peaceful, and the crowds that gathered were warm and richly diverse.

One of the more moving speeches of the day came from one of the organisers Shabah Choudrey, who spoke about their own frustration at being a trans masculine person of colour at Pride events, and reminded us of the role played by trans people of colour in the Stonewall riots and in queer activism before and since.

Trans Pride has no corporate sponsorship. The venue of the event was not bedecked with Barclays flags. It was free to enter, the food and drink stalls were reasonably priced, water was handed out for free. The volunteers and security staff were helpful and even the presence of the police lacked the sinister edge it normally does at Pride events, they seemed to be there to protect those of us there, rather than to control our behaviour.

I look forward to Trans Pride growing and growing each year, and hope that as it does, the community spirit and grass-roots nature of it doesn’t dilute at all, and that the voices become more and more and louder and louder. I met so many lovely people who were taking great strides to making the world a safer and happier place for gender variant people, and unlike at London Pride, I came away feeling empowered, inspired, part of something and PROUD.

I did, however, get quite sunburnt knees, but that’s no one’s fault but my own.

Pride: #freedomto complain?

I attended my first Pride in 2005, just weeks after I had come out. It was in Manchester, and because I was new to the whole thing I saw it for what I then thought it was; a street party. This was also my first experience of Canal Street, which looked much like Queer as Folk had promised it would.

I hadn’t then began to think about my own identity, or at least I didn’t have the vocabulary to, nor had I started to think about where I fit in to Pride, or really about what Pride once was, or could be again. I thought it was expensive, at £15, to walk down a street that was usually publically and freely accessible, and I was annoyed that the club nights were all so expensive, but the weekend became a larger sort of coming out for me, it was the first time I had been ‘out’ with other queer people in the daylight. I met someone who was my age whose mum had come with his nephew in a pushchair. She came every year and loved it. This solidarity was, perhaps, my first subtle glimpse that Pride might actually be about something more, something bigger. I was handed a free porn DVD by a muscular man in a thong.

That evening we soon found out that all of the club nights that we had in mind were sold out, so we went to the only lesbian night, which was woefully under attended. They had a no-man policy, but naturally they didn’t batter an eyelid as I entered. My friend, the only other male in the group was allowed in after some bartering. It was a good night, a nice (albeit modest) crowd, but it felt very much removed from the rest of the activity of Canal Street that weekend. Another hint of something wrong about Pride.

The following year, me and a different friend attended Manchester Pride again. It was more expensive than the previous year, and I was heckled on Canal Street several times for being a ‘fucking goth’ or a ‘fucking emo’. It seemed an emphatically less safe space this year, since I had started wearing makeup. Another problem.

Since moving to London I’ve attended Pride four times. I’ve watched the march only once and usually my attendance has consisted of drinking shop-bought booze on a curb with friends. I feel like I can’t criticise Pride in the way that perhaps I know I should, because it would be hypocritical. I’m complicit in its flaws, I don’t march, I don’t help. Pride, for me, has become annual event where me and my friends drink in the street and have a lovely time. Nothing more. I am part of a complacent and lazy generation. We know where Pride’s roots lie, we know how embarrassing Pride has become, but inspite of this, we still find being allowed to be obnoxiously queer en mass in a public space extremely refreshing. The words ‘being allowed to’ are another problem.

This year, Pride was a last minute decision for me. Having just returned from a trip to Taiwan at 7am that morning I decided to cheat jetlag by joining my friends in our usual spot on a curb by Soho Square.

I broke tradition this year slightly by going to the ‘main stage’ in Trafalgar Square first, mainly to see the wonderful Conchita Wurst perform. The queues to get into the make-shift boxed-in arena were waves upon waves of umbrellas, and the fences around the arena were sheathed with giant adverts from selfless companies such as Barclays and ASDA. When rightly disgruntled folk began to pull down the adverts to see the stage they were quickly re-erected by the security. The theme of this year’s Pride was FREEDOM.

This picture captures Pride this year for me, a peeled back advert that prevented people from seeing a free event. Our view was literally masked by corporate sponsorship. The excessive crowd control for such a peaceful gathering was absurd, and everyone, even the security, could see that.

With sharpened elbows, we did get in. And after enduring a set from Sam Fox (whose set proved that no crowd are more forgiving of mediocrity than the queers), Conchita arrived. I was left with a real sour taste at the ‘banter’ between performances from several DJs, Antony Cotton (who in spite of playing the most visibly gay character in Coronation Street, manages to be the least queer of an otherwise deliciously queer soap) and Ian McKellan. While the sentiments from these folk were sort of blandly heartwarming, they all spoke only about (and to, and for) gay men.

Ultimately, what distresses me most about Pride, above the sinister corporate soullessness, is its misogyny, and ignorance of trans issues. Gay men are arguably the most privileged of a still pilloried community. A community that is sadly very fractured. Unsurprisingly, the trans community have responded to this by creating a more activism-focused Pride event in Brighton, and likewise, an annual Dyke March for the lesbian community and its supporters now exists. It seems to me that the trans, bi and lesbian communities are not really welcome at London Pride, and if they are it’s as an aside or a footnote. The trans community were integral not just in the stonewall riots in the US, but in countless battles for LGBTQ rights in the UK, our lesbian sisters are still underrepresented and misunderstood in ways that, on the whole, gay men (specifically in London) are not. Lest we forget that queer women were at the forefront of providing support, blood and their angry voices during the AIDs crisis in the 1980s, 90s and beyond.

I don’t know how these problems can be resolved, but until they are, London Pride will always be an uncomfortable and embarrassing affair. I will always be a staunch supporter of Pride, even if I’ve never seen it work well as an event that combines anger and activism with love and celebration. But why do I, like so many others, feel like I can complain about it when I’ve never marched? when I’ve never done anything about it? I’m part of a generation of lazy armchair activists whose anger at the keyboard is never realised as it should be in the flesh.

What can we do? How can we restore a sense of pride in Pride?

Answers on a beermat please.

LGBTI ALMS Conference 2012, Amsterdam

From 1-3 August, the fourth LGBTI Archives, Libraries, Museums and Special Collections conference took place at the Amsterdam Public Library, home to IHLIA (international gay/lesbian library, archive, information and documentation centre about homosexuality and sexual diversity).




This was my first ever visit to Amsterdam, and I was bowled over by how queer-friendly it is, the Central Station walls were adorned with huge posters about Pride and almost every canal bridge was lined with Pride flags. London could learn an awful lot from Amsterdam.



The conference took place in the most beautiful public library I have ever seen. Perhaps the difference between Amsterdam and the UK was most stark because of this, public libraries here are often quite grim, and certainly don’t have the money to do anything about it, but this library was huge, clean, stylish, modern and the restaurant on the 7th floor resembled the food hall in Selfridges- but nicer. There was a piano on the ground floor, which seasoned pianists were encouraged to play (with light fingers) and the result was surprisingly unintrusive and only added to the ambience. Jan Pimblett (from London Metropolitan Archives) described the library as ‘John Lewis for the brain’ which I thought was quite apt.

A great feature was on the sixth floor, home of IHLIA, these pink shelves, or ‘Rose Kast’ represent a project by IHLIA to advocate for a pink collection (LGBT books and films) in every Public Library in the Netherlands.

 

The format of the conference was quite intense, with four keynotes each of the three days and then several ten minute papers followed by breakout sessions to discuss issues raised further. This was a very democratic way of allowing as many speakers to present as possible, and also to allow everyone to hear all of the speakers.
I’m not going to report on all of the papers, as most of them are available on the conference blog , but I will highlight a few of them that stood out for me.

IHLIA, as a collection, was reconstructed following world war two, the original was half self-destroyed and the rest was seized by the Germans. The collection now recieves 300,000 Euros subsidy per year by the Dutch government, and aims to give a face to the emancipation of gay people.

E. G. Crichton, Artist-in-Residence at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco shared with us some of the work she had done with the archive collection, and looking at ways art practice and creativity can play a role in archives, how memories can be made tangible. She spoke of a particularly interesting project where she paired living LGBT people with people whose collections lived at the GLBT Historical society and asked them to interpret the material, she also produced portraits where images of the living and the dead were seen together. See more about her work here.

Pawel Leszkowicz spoke of his work curating Ars Homoerotica at the National Museum of Poland, I have heard him speak before at the Tate Modern, I won’t say much now, I will dedicate a future  blog post to his work, but you can read his paper here.

James Miller and David DeAngelis spoke about their work with the Pride Library, and the Closet Library collection. Based in Western University in Canada, the Pride Library occupies a dedicated space in the main library. The Closet Library is a collection of gay pulp fiction, found in the basement of a collector whose family did not want his identity to be known, hence the name of the collection. The Library students at the University help with scanning covers and cataloguing the material, more can be found here. PhD student Danielle Cooper has done some really interesting research about the Pride Library as Place for queer people, her full thesis can be found here.

Independent scholar Agnieszka Weseli, who specialises in the history of sexuality, women and queer history, spoke of archives as a tool of social change, and where non-heteronormatives fit into history. She said that history gives the possibility of rebellion, and that famous people are often outed as part of the discourse of patriotism, “deviants” who don’t fit squarely with general impressions of sexuality and gender, might be overlooked in this. She is working with a grassroots organisation in Poland, and I look forward to the prospect of collaborating with her in the future.

Angela Brinskele and Jamey Fitzpatrick are doing great work with the Mazer Lesbian Archives at UCLA, they are both so positive and full of innovative ideas for sharing the work they do, by engaging with social networking/media, oral histories and by creating their own merchandise to promote the archives. Their papers are here and here, I hope to get the chance to visit the Mazer archives some time.

Gabriel Khan from GALA in South Africa, presented a fascinating talk about the role of the archive as a vessel for memory, I was particularly interested in this as there were many echoes with my own research for my MA dissertation about women’s archive collections. He said that a community archive should be necessarily politicised, and that the archive is a place for unpacking and repackaging memory, where the archivist must be facilitator for this. He also said that memories can’t always be captured and instead are experiential, memories and stories can be (and should be) channeled into something positive that helps a community.

Topher Campbell spoke about Rukus! which I was already aware of, he spoke with great passion about an incredibly radical collection, that benefited from being run by himself as an entertainer, and Ajamu X a photographer. I hope to be able to engage with this great collection during my research.

Richard Parkinson from the British Museum was another highlight, but I will write a dedicated blog post about his phenomenal work in the future. It was a real pleasure to meet Richard, and to share ideas in our joint break-out session.

Jan Pimblett, an archives outreach pioneer (and friend) from London Metropolitan Archives spoke passionately about the LGBT History Club at the LMA, I will be posting more about upcoming events on this blog soon.

Suzie Day, a Library school student from Western Australia gave some tips about making school and public libraries more inviting to the LGBTI community even when there is no extra funding available. Many of her ideas were very simple, but would never have occurred to me, she stressed that libraries can provide a service that others can’t and used her personal experiences to demonstrate this. Things as simple as having LGBTI related posters and community publications in the library, taking part in Pride and engaging with social networks, would make these environments safer, and more inclusive spaces for queer youngsters. The paper can be found here.

My paper was well recieved, and it was a pleasure to present it to so many experts in the field. It will be available online shortly, I will post on the blog when it is available to be read. As thanks to all of the speakers, IHLIA gave us a pair of same-sex porceline figurines, it’s a contemporary twist on the classic Delft blue kissing boy and girl doll, such a great souvenir to take home with me!

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.