As LGBTQ+ History month comes to a close, we ask Bishopsgate Institute – Britain’s largest LGBTQ+ archive – to select some of the most groundbreaking pieces from their collection
Located on the busy streets of London’s financial district, Bishopsgate Institute is home to the largest collection of LGBTQ+ artefacts in the UK. A trip to the institute’s Special Collections will have you occupied for weeks on end – the LGBTQ+ Library alone holds around 12,000 titles, from biographies and fiction to poetry and academic texts, while the Pamphlet Collection is home to over 3,500 different festival programmes, events catalogues and campaign material.
Set up in 1894 as a way of creating a new cultural hub for people working in the City, the institute has now become one of the most important sites for documenting resistance in the UK, with collections on activism, socialism and feminism as well as LGBTQ+ history.
Below, Bishopsgate Institute choose a selection of photographs, banners and print media from the collection, charting the long course of LGBTQ+ History in the UK.
ACT UP LONDON PICKET, 1989
“ACT UP London (Aids Coalition to Unleash Power) was a diverse, non-partisan group of individuals, united in anger and committed to direct action to end the HIV pandemic, along with the broader inequalities and injustices that perpetuate it. In 2014, a group of activists re-formed the organisation’s London chapter, which had originally been prominent in the 80s and 90s.
“In the fourth decade of the AIDS crisis, ACT UP London fights to ensure comprehensive and easily accessible treatment for all people, in all countries. As well as medications, this includes mental and social health services, along with housing and economic equality. In the UK specifically, ACT UP London works with a coalition of activists to keep the National Health Service free, publicly run, and fully funded.
“ACT UP London challenges anyone who hinders or cuts back on life-saving services around safer sex, education, clean needles, and all other HIV prevention measures. In a time of continuing stigma, silence, and isolation, ACT UP London combats discrimination against and promotes the visibility and leadership of those living with HIV and AIDS.”
QUIM MAGAZINE, 1991
“The Institute’s LGBTQ+ Library holds possibly the most extensive collection of LGBTQ+ erotica and pornography, including pornographic magazines, films and erotic novels from the 1950s onwards. Quim: for dykes of all sexual persuasions was a sex-positive lesbian magazine published between 1989 and 1994, with one further issue published in 2001. The magazine was edited by Sophie Moorcock and Lulu Belliveau; the latter had worked previously as a photo editor for On Our Backs, the first US magazine of women’s erotica. Quim published fiction by authors including Pat Califia, Jane Solanas, Jo Fisk and Leonora Rogers Wright, and photography by Della Grace and Lola Flash.”
COUNTDOWN ON SPANNER PROTEST, 1993
“Operation Spanner was a police investigation into same-sex male sadomasochism across the United Kingdom in the late 1980s. The investigation, led by the Obscene Publications Squad of the Metropolitan Police, began in 1987 and ran for three years, during which approximately 100 gay and bisexual men were questioned by police. The investigation culminated in a report naming 43 individuals, of whom the Director of Public Prosecutions chose to prosecute 16 for assault occasioning actual bodily harm, unlawful wounding and other offences related to consensual, private sadomasochistic sex sessions held in various locations between 1978 and 1987. A resulting House of Lords judgement, R v. Brown, ruled that consent was not a valid legal defence for actual bodily harm in Britain.
“The case sparked a national conversation about the limits of consent and the role of government in sexual encounters between consenting adults. It also spawned two activist organisations dedicated to promoting the rights of sadomasochists: Countdown on Spanner and The Sexual Freedom Coalition, and an annual SM Pride March through Central London.”
REBEL DYKES AT HACKNEY PRIDE, 1994
“Rebel Dykes are self-described as a group committed to preserving, exploring and sharing the archive of a bunch of kick-ass post-punk dykes who shook up London in the 80s. The Rebel Dykes Archive (RDA) is centred around the heritage of a group of young lesbians and punk women who lived on the edge of society in 1980s London, specifically Brixton, Vauxhall, Peckham, Soho, Forest Gate and Hackney. These women were involved in political movements during 1983-1991, including Greenham Common, South London Women’s Hospital Occupation, anti-censorship, sex-positive feminism, sex workers’ rights, anti-Section 28, the Poll Tax Riots, OutRage! and other HIV/AIDS activism. As a movement, the Rebel Dykes were heavily involved in art and culture, by creating music, art, club nights, zines and festivals.
“RDA also holds materials relating to the eponymous documentary Rebel Dykes, which tells the ‘unheard story of a community of dykes who met doing art, music, politics and sex, and how they went on to change their world.”
BLACK TRANS LIVES MATTER BANNER, 2020
“The Museum of Transology’s collection was built by E-J Scott as a form of curatorial direct action designed to halt the erasure of transcestry. Scott established the MoT with the collection of artefacts they had saved from a gender-affirming surgical procedure (including human remains, medical documentation and hospital room ephemera).
“In 2014, Scott launched the MoT’s community collecting project in Brighton, thought to be home of the largest population of trans people in the UK. Rather than asking trans, nonbinary and intersex people to go into the museum environment (of which they were sceptical), Scott ran community collecting workshops in queer community spaces. This built trust within the broader trans community over the intent and integrity of the project, and it swiftly grew in scale. The Museum of Transology was therefore built by the trans community, for the trans community. The project has been designed to be open-source, with all workshops, artefacts, logos, object photography, collections documentation and exhibition interpretation free to borrow, use or replicate.”
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