THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

8 posts categorized "LGBTQ+"

04 November 2019

Recording of the week: the lesbians aren't into dustbins

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This week's selection comes from Lucia Cavorsi, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

The British Library Sound Archive holds the most exhaustive oral history collection relating to LGBTQ+ lives in the UK: the Hall-Carpenter Oral History Project.

Set up in 1985, as part of the wider Hall-Carpenter Archive formed in 1982, it contains 121 interviews and ten recordings of meetings, covering the time from the 1930s to 1987. The project was coordinated by Margot Farnham and carried out by the two separate lesbian and gay oral history groups, which respectively published the books Inventing Ourselves and Walking after Midnight.

The title Inventing Ourselves was chosen because the book wanted to explore how lesbians had created their lives and contributed to the changes of their time.It stemmed from the need to question the past, become subjects and break silence and marginalisation, from the recognition of the complexities of lesbians’ experiences and from the necessity to provide their own social representation about lesbians.

This recording was made during a meeting whose nature, date and time could not be traced. It features Jackie Forster (06 Nov 1926-10 Oct 1998), contributor to the Arena Three magazine, and among the founders of its successor Sappho, established in 1972. The room is filled with women and contagious laughter. Amusement, freedom and togetherness seem to be the elements permeating the gathering. Jackie Forster delivers a talk which is a recollection of vivacious memories from the 1960s, a time where lesbians thought they were just women who happened to love other women. A time where no role models were available and nobody knew whether there were other lesbians or not. A time where, as a consequence, all that they thought they were and all that they wanted to achieve was to be ordinary, simple women. Perfectly ordinary. Perfectly invisible. Despite the effort, these women failed gloriously, and by doing so they bravely and decisively contributed to that visibility, both in public and in private lives, without which lesbian identity would today be weaker and more prone to external distortions.

Jackie ForsterPhotograph of Jackie Forster, courtesy of Jo McKenzie.

The story starts with that time Jackie Forster and Esmé Ross-Langley went to meet a businessman interested in advertising in the lesbian magazine Arena Three...

'Lesbians aren't into dustbins' (C456/62) - 6 min. 40 sec. 

'And I asked...are you lovers?' (C456/62) - 3 min. 59 sec.

We would like to thank Anne, Jackie's partner and Jo, Jackie's niece, for their help and support with this piece. We also wish Jo a happy birthday, a date which she shares with her aunt Jackie. 

The Hall-Carpenter Oral History Project has been digitised as part of the library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project. Follow @BLSoundHeritage for all the latest news from the project.

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19 August 2019

Recording of the week: securing the right to read

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This week's selection comes from Josie Wales, Rights Clearance Officer for Unlocking our Sound Heritage.

Along with many other libraries around the world, the British Library celebrated LGBTQ+ Pride this summer, with staff from St Pancras and Boston Spa joining the parades in York and London.

This Recording of the Week takes us back to 1985, when Pride was a very different kind of event with a much stronger political tone. With around 10,000 people in attendance, the 1985 march was considered to be the biggest to date. In comparison, an estimated 1.5 million people gathered in central London to mark the annual parade this year.

This recording comes from a collection of brief street interviews conducted at the 1985 Pride March, through which we can gain an insight into the atmosphere of the event and the thoughts and preoccupations of those attending. A recurring concern were the raids and seizure of imported books by UK Customs and Excise, which most famously involved independent bookseller Gay’s the Word in Bloomsbury, but also affected other organisations that sold or distributed gay and lesbian reading material. More than one hundred imported titles were deemed ‘indecent or obscene’ under the 1876 Customs Consolidation Act, and confiscated.

Photograph of rows of books in a bookshopPhoto of neatly stacked books placed in front of a wall of bookshelves by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash. Click here to view image credit.

In this short clip, a marcher from the Gay Christian Movement, a charity founded in 1976, describes the impact  of this state censorship and the expensive legal battle against it, and shares their thoughts on our right as people in a free society to read and, most importantly, to choose what we read.

Securing the right to read (C456/121)

Both the Gay Christian Movement and Gay’s the Word faced charges of conspiring to import indecent material, but mounted successful opposition to these acts of repression with the strong support of both authors and publishers and the wider community of readers.

Technology has altered the way in which many of us engage with and access reading material, but the sense of community and solidarity that can be created through literature, particularly for LGBTQ+ and other marginalised populations, remains just as important. This theme will be explored over several events at the British Library in the upcoming season, including Banned Books Week in September, which examines censorship and other barriers to self-expression. More information and tickets can be found on our events page.

Discover more LGBTQ history at the British Library.

This recording belongs to the Hall Carpenter Oral History Archive, which has been digitised as part of the British Library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project

Follow @BLSoundHeritage, @BL_OralHistory and @soundarchive for all the latest news. 

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26 June 2019

The Stonewall Riots: I wouldn’t have missed it for the world

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Stonewall_Inn_1969

Stonewall Inn, 1969 (New York Public Library)

In the United States, actions to protest against discrimination of gay men and lesbians began in the 1950s. A decade later times were ripe for what would become known as the starting point of the gay revolution: the Stonewall Riots. Starting at 1am on a Friday night, 28th June 1969, the riots lasted for six days. Six days where gay men, lesbians, drags queens and transgender people confronted the police to protect and claim their spaces, dignity and rights. The turmoil led to the formation of the intersectional Gay Liberation Front in early July and, later in December, of the Gay Activists Alliance which was more strictly focussed on LGBT issues.

The mythology that has developed around the event is not only due to the fact that it, unbeknownst to those who raised their voice that night, made history, but also because of supposedly conflicting accounts of the night. However, David Carter (author of the book ‘Stonewall, the riots that sparked the gay revolution’), shows that when put under close scrutiny, narratives of the night don’t conflict at all and unreliable information can be easily isolated. It was a collective effort in which the whole LGBT community played their role.

Leee Black Childers, a photographer who worked closely with artists pivoting around Andy Warhol’s Factory, is one of the people who witnessed the uproar from outside the Stonewall Inn. He was 24 at the time, and had moved to New York from San Francisco a few years earlier. Looking for alternative lifestyles he found Greenwich Village, an astounding and fascinating mixture of urban realities, from residential houses and deli shops, to the Women’s House of Detention, past the gay scene of the Stonewall Inn in Christopher Street. He recalls a buzzing atmosphere, brightened by mostly gay male youth and statuesque figures running in their stockings up and down late at night. It was around these streets that his passion for photographing drag queens began, thanks to a fortuitous invitation to the wedding of The Factory’s stars Jackie Curtis and Eric Emerson. This was an environment he felt he belonged to; frequented by talented and of control people such as Andrea Whips and Holly Woodlawn, as well as a crossroad of artists who shuttled between Warhol’s Factory in Union Square and Mickey Ruskin’s Max’s Kansas City (originally a steakhouse, with a backroom just dedicated to the craziest people from all avenues of life).

"They're raiding the Stonewall" C456/76/08)

The Stonewall Inn wasn’t the only gay bar in the neighborhood. The Snake Pit, the Checkerboard, and the Sewer were all well-established venues, and had all been raided and shut down in the weeks preceding the riots.

In his interview, Leee Black Childers describes one of the police attacks at the Sewer, an after hour bar, where drag queens were lined up and arrested. He explains how the detention of crossdressers was legally possible due to a law that prohibited masquerading in public. Yet in most of these occasions, although harassed by the police, gay people would be let away unless caught in explicitly homosexual activities.

A few days after, Leee was sitting on the stoops of Christopher Street with some friends, when someone in clacking slingbacks came down the street screaming ‘They're raiding the Stonewall!’ and...

Blog by Lucia Cavorsi, Audio Project Cataloguer for Unlocking our Sound HeritageThe complete interview with Leee Black Childers can be listened to onsite at the British Library in St Pancras or Boston Spa. For more information on an Oral History of British Photography see the collection guide to Oral histories of visual arts and crafts.

26 February 2018

Recording of the week: Trusting the Voice

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The late Martyn Taylor set out in the early 1980s to capture the lived experience of older gay men. In this extract from the start of an interview from 1982, Martyn explains to his visually impaired interviewee George how the microphone works, what happens after the interview ends and crucially what his motivations are in doing the project.

Martyn Taylor and George (C1245-01)

It is rare to hear this sort of preparation work in the oral history recording itself – usually context is given off-microphone, or via paperwork, and then a recording agreement is signed after the interview is complete. Martyn’s unusual and charming explanation forms a great introduction to ethical good practice in oral history.

Martyn Taylor advert redactedMartyn Taylor's call for interviewees, July 1982 (C1245)

The interviewee must understand why the interview is taking place, and what will happen to it afterwards, in order for their consent to be fully informed. Ignoring this can cause serious problems further down the line when interviewees discover where their words have ended up, and how they are represented.

GeorgeGeorge interviewed by Martyn Taylor, 1982 (C1025/01)

George, born in 1907, withheld his second name. In the rest of his interview, he discusses (among many other things) his family life and upbringing, realising his sexual orientation during his teens and meeting other gay men through swimming and cycling clubs. George also mentions his trouble with the police, problems of relations between gay men of different ages and discusses the changes he has seen in the language used about gay men. George was not gay - he was a homosexual.

Again and again, George emphasises the risks gay men faced in the early twentieth century, and the importance therefore of being able to judge the character of others. As someone with a visually impairment, George explains how he is able to tell someone’s character just from their voice. Likewise for oral historians, the voice is all we have.

George’s whole interview (C1245/01) can be listened to in the Library Reading Rooms, alongside five other interviews from the same collection.

Find out more about the British Library's oral histories of sexuality in our collection guide. Read and listen to more LGBTQ stories for the collections in the Library's new LGBTQ Histories webpage.

11 September 2017

Recording of the week: Allan Horsfall and Gay UK

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The other day I stumbled across an interview with Allan Horsfall in our collections. His story means a lot to me. The Wolfenden Report, published in 1957, opened the ground for legal reform but was not implemented by the Conservative government. Allan Horsfall, then a coal board clerk based in Atherton, Lancashire, decided to do something about it.

Allan was recorded in 2009 for the Millthorpe Project (C1405/05) which set out to interview LGBT trade unionists. Allan recalls that in 1966 the North West Homosexual Law Reform Committee, of which he was a co-founder, produced and distributed 10,000 copies of a leaflet entitled ‘Something you should know about’ using Allan’s home address for the committee. Allan was then able to use the lack of reaction, revealing ordinary working people’s tacit support, to reassure members of Parliament representing mining constituencies.

Allan Horsfall - There's something you need to know

Sylvia Kölling and I interviewed Allan at his home in Farnworth couple few years later in 2011. The version of the story Allan told that day (Manchester Central Library GB124.G.HOR/4) was slightly different:

Well, I never got any serious opposition. The fact was that Anthony Grey had an office in Shaftesbury Avenue on the third and fourth floor which was locked up when he went home. I, in contrast, was working from home. I was living in a house at that time which belonged to the Coal Board. And when we put out the AGM announcement the local paper did a front page spread with an eight-column headline, which they'd never done before, 'Homosexuals and the Law' and of course everybody thought we'd get our windows put through and all sorts of harassment but we didn't get anything like that at all. No trouble. I was in what was, what had been, a little mining community. All the ... two or three blocks of houses all belonged to the Coal Board. When the mining industry ran down they sold them to the council so they were in fact council houses. My immediate boss [was] the Estates Manager (I worked in the estates department of the Coal Board). Not my immediate boss but the ultimate boss after this big headline appeared giving the address said that since I was doing this thing in Coal Board property wouldn't I have thought it right to consult him first? And I sent him a message back to say that if I had consulted him first he would have said no! He didn't dispute that, and I never had any trouble after that. There was no harassment. It wasn't attacked until it was attacked by some journalist who did a column in the local paper but he didn't get round to it for three weeks after they ran this big headline. I think they thought that there would have been a range of letters from readers objecting to it but there was nothing at all. So they had to put up their tame journalist to attack it in a regular column, which he did, and that didn't bring any response either. So it was a learning curve, really, for everybody, because there were obviously people in the local paper and no doubt in the local council who thought all hell would break loose. But there was nothing at that time at all.

But then what you get depends on what you ask, and how you ask it. And Allan's memories were by that time over forty years old, so it's not surprising if he rehearsed the mechanics of the coal board story differently depending on his audience. However he tells the story, Allan's local experiences serve as a useful counterpoint to the voices you can hear in the Gay UK exhibition talking about the mechanics of lobbying in Westminster in the long fight towards the Sexual Offences Act 1967.

GayUKWhatsOnGay UK: Love, Law and Liberty, free exhibition at the British Library (Images © LSE Library and Peter Tatchell)

It's your last chance to see the free Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty exhibition at the British Library which closes on Tuesday 12 September. The exhibition tells the story of love, legislative change and the battles for equality experienced by gay men and women in the UK 50 years after the Sexual Offences Act.

You can find out more about the Millthorpe Project and many other oral history collections relating to sexuality in our collection guide.

24 August 2017

Made-up words and coded sweet-talk

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Rosy Hall is an ESRC-funded PhD student from Oxford University working with the BL's Spoken English collections. She writes:

When cataloguing the Evolving English WordBank, we often come across speakers donating words which they have invented themselves. This privileged access to speakers’ privately meaningful coinages is not only fun, but also a great reminder of how creative we can be with language when words fail us.

Usually, made-up words come from children’s early experiments with speaking; words invented at home – often to name new and unfamiliar objects – which have stuck as humorous and often quite useful family vocab. In the following recording, one visitor to the exhibition describes some of her own family terms:

C1442 Nonce-Words (female b.1960)

Another speaker discusses a personal nonsense word ‘amaluvaya,’ which she explains is used solely between herself and her partner in order to express affection secretly, meaning ‘I’m in love with you.’

C1442 Amaluvaya (female b.1953)

Like a lot of home-grown linguistic innovations, the idea behind ‘amaluvaya’ is to allow the speaker and hearer to communicate a message in public, but privately. Another example of a coded speech strategy is ‘Pig Latin,’ a pseudo-language with rules for re-arranging syllables, often used by school-children to conspire without their parents overhearing – or sometimes the other way around!

Occasionally, secret languages are needed for more serious purposes; being able to communicate covertly can of course be a matter of life and death, freedom and persecution. Polari, a form of cant slang used in gay sub-culture at the turn of the century, offered gay men a means of conversing without running the risk of arrest or abuse. A number of our Spoken English collections include fascinating discussions of Polari; you can listen to them here and here.

You can find out more about Polari at the current Gay UK exhibition, and in Paul Baker’s Fantabulosa: A Dictionary of Polari and Gay Slang (2002)

Continue the conversation with us @VoicesofEnglish

21 August 2017

Recording of the week: being the prize guinea pig

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Jonathan Blake was one of the first people in the UK to be diagnosed with HIV. An activist for LGBT rights and HIV and AIDS awareness, Blake remembers the circumstances around being diagnosed in the 1980s, what it was like being on of the first people to be diagnosed, his experience of losing friends, and the impact of diagnosis on his outlook on life.

Jonathan Blake on his HIV diagnosis

The interview was conducted by Margot Farnham for the Hall-Carpenter Oral History Project in 1991, when Jonathan was forty years old. His full interview (C456/104) is available on British Library Sounds in the Observing the 1980s package, alongside three other Hall-Carpenter interviews: the Greenham Common campaigners Cheryl Slack and Sue King and the feminist Roberta Henderson.

Walking after Midnight - Gay Men's Life StoriesWalking After Midnight - Gay Men's Life Stories by the Hall Carpenter Archives Oral History Group

In the four and a half hour life story interview, Jonathan discusses (among many other things) his family history, upbringing, school experiences, coming out to his parents, Kings Road in the 1960s, his involvement in Gay Pride politics in New York in the 1970s, his acting career in theatre and film, his diagnosis with HIV in 1983 and his decision to live a 'healthy' life.

Funnily enough, he doesn't talk much about his time campaigning for Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners in the years following his diagnosis. But then you can watch the film Pride to find out about that - and read Pride - The Book, just out this month. And you catch up with Jonathan's latest campaigning work over on Twitter.

Come to the British Library's free exhibition Gay UK (hurry - it's only open until 19 September) to listen to many more oral history extracts from the Hall-Carpenter oral history collection.

07 August 2017

Recording of the week: Gay UK - falling in love with peace

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This week's selection comes from David Govier, Oral History Archivist.

The Second World War saw women take on roles that they had not been expected to undertake before. Women moved from the home into factories, ship yards and pivotal roles in war administration. In one of the earliest recordings used in the British Library’s Gay UK exhibition, Mary Wilkins (born 1909) remembers her war experience and reflects on how it informed her identity.

Mary describes how her emotional feelings towards women developed during her childhood. She remembers making a promise to herself, while working as an ambulance driver during the Second World War, to join a peace organisation. She also describes listening to the pacifist and suffragist Sybil Morrison give a speech in Coventry and falling for her ‘hook, line and sinker’.

Mary Wilkins on falling in love_C456/066

This interview extract is part of the Hall Carpenter Oral History Archive which is part of the British Library's Sound Archive. It is a collection of 113 oral history interviews relating to lesbian and gay experience in Britain, and, together with the Hall Carpenter physical archives held at London School of Economics, is one of the largest resources for studying gay activism in the UK. The British Library’s current Gay UK exhibition uses over a dozen oral history extracts from the Hall Carpenter collection to tell the varied stories of a broad range of gay people throughout the twentieth century.

GayUKWhatsOn

The Hall Carpenter Memorial Archive was established in 1982 and grew out of the Gay Monitoring & Archive Project, which collected evidence of discrimination and police arrests in the UK. The archives were named after lesbian author Marguerite Radclyffe Hall and writer and early gay rights activist Edward Carpenter. In 1985 the archives employed Margot Farnham to coordinate an oral history project documenting the life experiences of lesbians and gay men in Britain. Farnham worked with volunteers who located interviewees, carried out interviews, and helped produce documentation such as summaries and transcripts. In 1989, an anthology called ‘Inventing Ourselves – Lesbian Life Stories’ was published based on the interviews with lesbians.

HCALesbianCover

You can find out more about the Hall Carpenter Oral History Archive and our other oral histories of sexuality in our collection guide.

Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty is a free exhibition in the entrance hall at the British Library until 19 September 2017.

Follow @BL_OralHistory  and @soundarchive for all the latest news.