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3 posts from September 2017

15 September 2017

LGBT activism and creativity in the Bay Area

This week marks the end of the Library's 'Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty' exhibition.  In the wake of the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act which partially decriminalised homosexuality in England and Wales, the exhibition reflects on gay history in the UK from the trial of Oscar Wilde to the current day.  It is both a sober reflection and an inspiring account of the creativity and activism of gay people in the UK, and has led to a substantial reflection across Library blogs such as this post from Asian and African studies on LGBT writing in the Middle East, the sound blog's posts about the Hall Carpenter Oral History Archive, and this exploration of the literary aspects of the exhibition on the English and Drama blog.  As the exhibition drew to a close, it seemed timely to add the voice of the Americas to this.

A key concern of the exhibition is the UK gay rights movements, and the Gay Liberation Front's 1970 manifesto and collection of newsletters holds a particularly prominent position within this narrative.  The UK GLF was directly inspired by the US Gay Liberation Front which formed in the wake of the Stonewall Riots in New York.  Stonewall is rightly seen as a seminal moment in the worldwide Gay Rights movement, however it is best considered within a longer timeline of LGBT activism both on the East and West coast.

DBlrcnqXoAArsyP.jpg large

An earlier event in San Francisco has striking similarities with Stonewall: in August 1966, a riot broke out at Compton's Cafeteria after police tried to forcibly remove a transgender patron.  Some gay bars were tolerated in San Francisco following extensive negotiations by ‘homophile’ organisations with local police.  However, "cross-dressing" was still illegal and this provided a justification for police to raid and close establishments that transgender people frequented.  The Compton's riot was thus the culmination of years of harassment of drag queens, other trans and gay people.  The event has been called "the first known instance of collective militant queer resistance to police harassment in United States history" by Susan Stryker, a historian and director of a documentary about the riot, Screaming Queens.[1]

Protest, resistance, and social justice movements were particularly well organised in the city and wider Bay Area, including gay rights’ groups.  For example, the Society for Individual Rights formed in 1964 which opened a community centre and organised sit-ins; the gay youth group Vanguard established in 1965 and joined forces with a local church to peacefully protest establishments that refused service to LGBT people.  While the groups were focussed on gay rights, individuals made connections with other civil rights issues and shared tactics, a particularly interesting example of which were the links drawn with the Black Power movement.

The Black Panther party headquarters were across the Bay in Oakland.  In August 1970, co-founder of the BPP, Huey Newton, delivered a speech in which he challenged homophobia and misogyny within the party. 

The Black Panther
The Black Panther: Black Community Newsletter, shelfmark LOU.A499

The speech reflects how Newton was developing his thinking on gay rights, nonetheless it was unequivocal in its call to BPP membership to align with LGBT and women’s movements.

“…we must relate to the homosexual movement because it is a real thing. And I know through reading, and through my life experience and observations that homosexuals are not given freedom and liberty by anyone in the society. They might be the most oppressed people in the society… we know that homosexuality is a fact that exists, and we must understand it in its purest form: that is, a person should have the freedom to use his body in whatever way he wants.

That is not endorsing things in homosexuality that we wouldn’t view as revolutionary. But there is nothing to say that a homosexual cannot also be a revolutionary. And maybe I’m now injecting some of my prejudice by saying that ‘even a homosexual can be a revolutionary.’ Quite the contrary, maybe a homosexual could be the most revolutionary.”[2]

The relationship between the various different Bay Area movements is here spelled out, and BPP’s militant tactics for challenging police brutality and organising radical community anti-poverty programmes struck a direct chord with some LGBT individuals.  One such person was the Rev. Ray Broshears who had been at the Compton’s Riot, ran the Helping Hands Gay Community Service Center, and was one of the founders of San Francisco’s first Gay Pride march.  After witnessing multiple acts of brutality that were ignored by police, and being heavily beaten himself in 1973, he formed the ‘vigilante’ group the Lavender Panthers.  Consisting of 21 members, they patrolled the streets of the city to ward off attacks on LGBT people.  In a press conference announcing the group’s formation, Broshears stated “We deplore violence, but we must meet force with force… Never again will a gay person be beaten without retaliation.”[3]

P1090725
Coast, April 1974, currently being processed

Needless to say, the Bay Area continued to be a centre for LGBTQ rights and creativity, which is reflected in our collections.  Moving on from the 1970's, and keeping in mind the Compton’s riot included transgender, multi-racial, and gay participants, I would like to flag up three collection items.  The first is a newsletter produced by the San Francisco Women’s Centre between 1982-4 called Black Lesbian Newsletter (later retitled Onyx).  Each issue has a beautifully illustrated cover and consists of essays, poems, and news.  The two depicted below highlight the recurring theme of police brutality, but also the joy found in companionship, community and racial heritage (this is a Kwanzaa celebration).

Onyx
Black Lesbian Newsletter / Onyx, shelfmark ZD.9.b.724

The second is an independently published magazine from the early 2000's.  Shellac aimed to meld critical commentary with artistic expression, ranging from poetry, photography, digital art, and essays.  Stating in its opening issue that it "is the production of new forms of knowledge and political alliances among queer(ious) people of color" the magazine was sadly short-lived, but contains some gems such as 'A Poem Upon My Hate' by Richard Branco who expounds on the challenges he faces living in an increasingly gentrified and unaffordable city as a Latino homosexual.

Shellac
Shellac, shelfmark ZD.9.d.150

Last but by no means least is an audio recording made at the Library last year by the musician Ezra Furman which you can listen to on the Library's soundcloud account.  Based in the Bay Area at various points throughout his career, Furman has spoken at length about his sexuality, gender-nonconformity, Jewishness, and how they inform his creativity.  The Bay Area forms the backdrop to the video for his song Restless Year.  In it he playfully moves around the city trying on different identities, absorbing cultural influences, participating in a queer dance-troupe/community.  The lyrics of the song reflect on the experience of feeling as though you do not fit into society, and striving for freedom through personal creative expression. 

Ezra-furman2-23jun

These are themes that run through his catalogue and Furman discusses them in detail in his talk at the Library.  Opening with the reminder of William Burrough’s comment that the word ‘punk’ used to be a term of abuse for “someone who take it up the ass… it was a queer thing”, Furman reflects on punk music and the influence of Lou Reed who he has previously called ‘radically free’.  In the interview, he identifies this as stemming as much from Reed’s sexuality as from his creativity, both of which were in a process of constant flux.  Reed, he points out, was not afraid of contradictions or being limited by other people’s ideas of him.

Not on the soundcloud which is edited for copyright reasons, but available to listen to in the Library’s reading rooms, is the solo performance Furman ended the night with.  Covering several Reed/Velvet Underground songs, he also includes an unreleased song of his own.  Titled either ‘Amateur’ or ‘I Wanna Be An Amateur’, the lyrics are true to these preoccupations:

“I wanna be an amateur

That’s what I would like to someday be

I wanna be an amateur

Back like I used to be

I wanna go down to the essence, down to the essence, down to my clumsy childish essence

I wanna be essentially unfiltered, free.

I don’t like power,

I don’t like hierarchy.

I don’t worship human power,

And the idea of an elite is not for me.

I’m an American,

And I like to think that means real democracy”[4]

While the term ‘identity politics’ is often misused and at times can feel as though it is a hollow cliché, Furman’s work challenges us to take it seriously.  When considered alongside the above history of activism in the Bay Area, we can see the echoes of radicalism running alongside insinuations of Furman's religious thought woven into the song.  All of this lends the line ‘I’m an American’ a tone of defiance, it is an assertion of a vision of a more equitable and inclusive society.

 

[1] Nicola Pasulka, Ladies in the Street: Transgender Uprising Changed Lives, http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/05/05/404459634/ladies-in-the-streets-before-stonewall-transgender-uprising-changed-lives

[2] The full text of the speech is published in Huey Newton, The Huey P. Newton Reader, shelfmark m04/12950.

[3] Bob Calhoun, Yesterday’s Crimes, The Lavender Panthers, San Francisco’s LGBT Vigilantes https://archives.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2016/06/16/yesterdays-crimes-the-lavender-panthers-san-franciscos-lgbt-vigilantes

[4] The full recording can be found at shelfmark C927/1530

12 September 2017

Coronela Zapatista

Our post of 21 August, Soldaderas y Revolucionarias, discussed our new profile picture of a Mexican soldadera that is held in the Casasola archive.  At the time of posting, we had no further information about the woman's identity.  However, following a twitter intervention from one of our readers, we were pointed toward John Mraz’s book Photographing the Mexican Revolution.  His work with the Fototeca Nacional at the Mexican Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Historia has uncovered a tentative identity for the sitter: Carmen Robles, who was a Zapatista colonel.  

Little is known about Robles, but another image taken in Guerrero and thought to be of the same woman exists.  It was via this second image, printed in Gustavo Casasola's Historia Gráfica de la Revolucion and in which she is named in an accompanying caption, that she was identified (you can see this in our copy of the later abridged publication Anales Gráficos de la Historia Militar de Mexico, p.333).  However, the process of identifying historical actors is always a nebulous one and must be approached with care.  Racial categories in Latin America have often challenged black/white or indigenous/European binary thinking and raise important interrogations into the complex societies that colonialism and slavery produced in the Americas.  As B. Christine Arce has recently stated, "identities of women - both soldaderas and mulatas - have been obscured through misnaming, resulting in an historical odyssey of discovery, neglect, and recovery."  As such, this identification will no doubt continue to be debated.  However, one thing is clear: the photograph provides concrete evidence of the participation of Mexicanas mestizas in the Revolution who actively sought to shape their destinies and creatively adopted the guise of masculinity to do so.

- F.D. Fuentes Rettig

B. Christine Arce, Mexico's Nobodies: The cultural legacy of the soldadera and Afro-Mexican women.  New York: 2017, SUNY Press.  On order.

Gustavo Casasola, Anales Gráficos de la Historia Militar de Mexico 1810 – 1970.  Mexico: 1973, Editorial Gustavo Casasola.  BL shelfmark X.802/3798

John Mraz, Photographing the Mexican Revolution: Commitments, testimonies, icons.  Austin: 2012, University of Texas Press.  On order.

04 September 2017

Resources for engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander contemporary culture and politics.

Trees

 

Greetings from Darwin! I am currently very fortunate in that I am travelling around Australia for PhD research and learning about life and culture directly from the Aboriginal designers in the Northern Territory that I am interviewing. Prior to coming out to Australia I had to conduct most of my research online. In this post I have put together a list of websites that I recommend to anyone who is interested in gaining further understanding of Indigenous Australia. I have also included a list of books from the British Library that I found useful.

There are several hundred different Indigenous language groups with differing cultures and beliefs. In my list below I have tried to provide more general information, rather than represent each group. If you are interested in a specific community, many do have their own websites which will provide information on their beliefs and history.

I welcome any suggestions of other online and offline resources that are helpful for educating unknowing outsiders, I am sure there will be many I do not know about yet. I hope to put together a similar list for Maori culture and politics so would appreciate any recommendations for that. Just tweet me - @JoannePilcher1

 

Websites

The Guardian Online, Indigenous Australians:

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/indigenous-australians

This page provides a range of articles on different issues related to Indigenous politics and culture. There are exhibition reviews, personal essays and commentary on current affairs.

@Indigenous X:

http://indigenousx.com.au/

A blog run and written by Indigenous Australians covering anything from current affairs to a history of Indigenous representation in comic books. They also have a twitter account (@IndigenousX) where different Indigenous Australians are invited to host and run the account and tweet about things related to their expertise.

Creative Spirits:

https://www.creativespirits.info/#axzz4ptAGtpCS

This site is run by Jens Korff, a German who moved to Australia and took an active interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. This website approaches Indigenous cultures as an outsider and explains them in a way that people who have had no contact with Indigenous Australia can understand.

NITV:

http://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/

National Indigenous TV is a channel on SBS that is made by and for Indigenous Australians. While the channel may not be available internationally, their website and Facebook page share lots of information on current affairs.

Menzies Centre For Australian Studies:

https://www.kcl.ac.uk/artshums/ahri/centres/menzies/index.aspx

Part of King’s College London, The Menzies Centre does not focus specifically on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia but does have a range of interesting talks and events that sometimes relate to this area, such as a recent talk by Marcia Langton on Indigenous art. They also have a twitter (@menziescentre) and Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/AusNetwork/) that regularly have information shared on them.

Australian Government:

http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/austn-indigenous-cultural-heritage

The Australian government website has an overview of the heritage of Australian Indigenous culture.

 

Facebook Groups

Many of the above websites have Facebook pages that are worth following. The two listed below do not have websites.

Blackfulla Revolution:

https://www.facebook.com/ourcountryourchoice/?hc_ref=ARSENjrSyYj8gYEUr-tttpgbQIJ1tVh8SqARY7pMiX7uM4Am_TR-vTz7x7bOCpvw2w8

This group shares a wide range of posts and articles related to life as an Indigenous Australian.

Aboriginal News – Australia:

https://www.facebook.com/AboriginalNewsAustralia/

This page regularly posts articles related to Indigenous Australian current affairs. They collect articles from a range of sources.

 

Podcasts

It’s Not a Race:

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/itsnotarace/

This podcast covers a variety of topics surrounding racial identity within Australia and discusses issues Indigenous Australians face in several episodes.

 

Books

There is a wealth of information available within the British Library on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia. There are too many topics to go into specific areas on this list so I have selected ones that give a ‘whistle-stop tour’ of Indigenous Australian culture and history. All of the below are available in the British Library collections and I have included their shelfmarks.

Rachel Perkins and Marcia Langton, First Australians: An Illustrated History, Carlton, Vic.: Miegunyah, 2008, [Asia, Pacific & Africa LD.31.b.2662]

This book was produced as an accompaniment to a nine part series on the history of Indigenous Australia. I have selected this as it gives a general overview but anything by Marcia Langton is worth reading, she is considered to be one of Australia’s most important Indigenous historians and is the Foundation Chair in Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne.

Australian Aboriginal Studies Journal, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Melbourne, 1983 –

[General Reference Collection X.0525/685, General Reference Collection ZD.9.a.1762, Document Supply 1796.654990]

Some printed copies of this journal are in the British Library collections, the rest are available online through the library database.

Stephen Mueche and Adam Shoemaker, Aboriginal Australians: First Nations of an Ancient Continent, Thames and Hudson, London, 2004. [General Reference Collection YK.2011.a.3122]

This short book gives a general introduction to different beliefs and histories across various communities within Australia.

David Unaipon, ed by Stephen Muecke and Adam Shoemaker, Legendary tales of the Australian aborigines, Melbourne University Press, 2001 [General Reference Collection YC.2002.a.21382]

Unaipon is credited with being the first published Aboriginal Australian author and appears on the fifty-dollar note. He toured Australia collecting the local stories of various communities and translating them into English in the 1920s; initially his publishers sold his work to an English man who published it in his name instead. Unaipon’s original manuscript was found and republished in his name in 2001 by Muecke and Shoemaker

Pauline E.McLeod, Francis Firebrace Jones, June E. Barker Gadi Mirrabooka: Australian Aboriginal Tales from the Dreaming, Englewood,Colo. [Great Britain] : Libraries Unlimited, 2001

 [General Reference Collection YK.2003.b.2308]

Many compilations of Indigenous Australian stories can be considered as exploitative as they are sharing stories that could be sacred without permission from the communities the stories are from. This compilation has been produced by the story custodians themselves who have permission to share them. 

By Joanne Pilcher

 

Joanne Pilcher is currently carrying out a PhD placement project at the British Library, exploring contemporary publishing in Australia. If you would like to know more about placement opportunities at the Library for doctoral students please click here.