The British Library’s gay secrets



A scene from “My beautiful laundrette” | Oliver Stapleton | 17102

A new exhibition at the British Library, London, “Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty” explores Britain’s evolving attitudes towards homosexuality. Original literary manuscripts and rare prints of newspapers and novels document the “transformation in society’s attitudes towards gay love and expression”.

A memo from the lord chamberlain’s office, dated October 1958, proposed marginally greater freedom for gay playwrights. “For some time the subject of homosexuality has been so widely debated, written about and talked about, that it is no longer justifiable to continue the strict exclusion of this subject from the stage. … I therefore propose to allow plays which make a serious and sincere attempt to deal with the subject.”

The exhibition includes a manifesto from the Gay Liberation Front, notebooks and journals from writers including Sarah Waters, Kenneth Williams and WH Auden, a never-before-seen annotated script by Hanif Kureishi for the Oscar-nominated film “My Beautiful Laundrette”, and the first edition of Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando”.



Pheonix rises once more

Arizona State University Library archivist Nancy Godoy has been unearthing the treasures in the University’s collection of gay publications and memorabilia for a new exhibition.

On the cover of a newsletter dated Sept. 15, 1977, is a drag queen in full makeup, hair and dress, all gaping smile and wide eyes, white-gloved hand raised high above her head as if to throw all her cares away. The title of the periodical is “The Pride of Phoenix.” “When you think LGBT culture, you think this,” she says.

151 boxes of artifacts make up the BJ Bud Memorial Archives, which document the community’s history in Arizona from 1966 to 2015. She’ll be spreading awareness about the archives at this weekend’s Phoenix Pride Festival.

The boxes originally came from Hayden Library in Tempe, Arizona after being donated by The Valley of The Sun Gay and Lesbian Centre, and the archive is named after the late Harlene Bud, who founded the first Pheonix Gay Pride in the 1970s.

Hackney’s gay collection



Some of the items owned by Hackney Museum | Gary Manhine/Hackney Council | 17030

Hackney Museum has decided it doesn’t have enough gay history in its archive, and has launched a project to discover more of the London borough’s gay past. Emma Winch, Hackney Museum’s heritage learning manager, told an event to celebrate gay history month: “Young people tell us museums don’t do enough to collect and share LGBTQI history. This, and the lack of representation in the national curriculum, is unacceptable. It has an effect on their identity and confidence.”

Musician I’m Empire was at the launch to give a speech on his experience of coming out as a queer man in Hackney’s black community, while street artist Stik shared his memories of the queer “safe house” community in Dalston Lane.

Stik described how he first arrived in London in 2001 after “spectacularly crashing and burning” and joined a group squatting then-derelict London Fields Lido, sleeping in a wooden art shipping container. “I came to Hackney because it was somewhere possible to live and I found an accepting and vibrant community,” he said.

A house in Dalston Lane was a hub for wild parties. “Our parties like Behind Bars and Queeruption fundraisers were the most radical punk and progressive things I have ever seen, and there’s no way we could get away with such subversive actions nowadays.”


Pink filing cabinets invade London


Pink filing cabinets will be placed at London landmarks by campaigners calling for the capital to get its first dedicated museum of gay history. Campaigners want support for their plans to mark next year’s 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act which relaxed laws against homosexuality.

Jan Pimblett, principal development officer at the London Metropolitan Archives, said “LGBTQ+ people have always been part of our history but too often these histories have been made invisible and marginalised. An LGBTQ+ museum will be an important step in the mainstreaming of these rich and important histories.”


Missouri Museum gets gay collection


Huy Mach | 14130

The Missouri History Museum is hoping to acquire a private collection of gay memorabilia and artifacts from the last 40 years, for its collection and to begin its gay collection.

The private collection of Steven Brawley is being made available. Mr Brawley started collecting Drag queen dresses and wigs, leather vests, handwritten protest signs, Pride Parade T-shirts, and books.

“Sometimes things are happening right before our very eyes,” said museum curator Sharon Smith.

Mr Brawley said finding a home for three-dimensional artifacts is more difficult. “What worries me is this stuff sitting down here,” he said recently, nodding to the piles in his basement. “I want to keep it safe.”

He started about seven years ago, when he and other project contributors began to watch gay community leaders age and die without plans for their memorabilia. Families threw away boxes and boxes of history, either ignorant of their importance or embarrassed by what they saw.

This September, the annual meeting of the American Association for State and Local History included a session on the topic: “Entering the Mainstream, Interpreting GLBT History.”

There are opponents who do not like tax payers’ money being spent on gay collections. “I don’t think it’s a good use of tax money at all,” said Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger, a Republican from Lake Saint Louis, who recently issued a news release criticizing tax benefits for gay couples.

Mr Brawley’s basement now holds several thousand little pieces of history. He has a handwritten poster from teacher Rodney Wilson’s 1994 Mehlville classroom, urging in multicolored marker that parents support their gay children. Wilson came out to his class, and went on to start the national LGBT History Month. A black bejeweled dress is tucked in another corner, wrapped in plastic. A local drag queen who called himself Lady Charles wore it on stage in the 1970s, at a time when the city’s “masquerading laws” made cross-dressing illegal and drew periodic police raids, and motorcycle vests remind of days when St. Louis had three gay men’s riding clubs. One of the vests, in leather, has a patch identifying its owner as a Show-Me Bear, St. Louis’s club for bears.


Florida’s gay archive


This item, originally published on March 22, 2012, has been updated with additional material on 16 June 2012.

Part of the archive | South Florida Gay News | 14384

At the Stonewall National Museum and Archives, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which was started in 1973, there’s the tennis racket signed by Martina Navratilova, says South Florida Gay News. News clippings of former beauty queen and gay rights opponent Anita Bryant. The gavel that hammered the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy against gays and lesbians last year. And 25,000 books and videos, Stonewall is the largest circulating library of gay literature and periodicals and one of at least a handful nationally. It changed its name last year, from the Stonewall Library & Archives, to reflect a more national focus with its collection and traveling exhibitions. The organization’s advertising boasts that it’s “the LGBT community’s Smithsonian. Stonewall has about 7,000 items in its archives, representing 8,000 linear feet or about 1 1/2 miles of materials. There are 16 towering rows of shelving racks packed with everything from gay pulp fiction novels from the 1950s to event buttons such as one from the 1982 Gay Games in San Francisco. Sealed plastic bags display jerseys from local and national gay sports leagues.

Mark N Silber | South Florida Gay News | 14385

Mark N. Silber is an openly gay man who grew up in South Florida and, in 1973, founded the Stonewall Library, which is now known as the Stonewall National Museum and Archives.

“I always stop here when I’m in South Florida,” he said during an interview at the archives. “This time I’m here for my 40th high school reunion at Nova High School in Boca. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long.”

Silber and some friends from FAU began gathering books for the Stonewall Library in 1973 largely through donations of volumes from their own libraries. The first collection was housed in a spare room in Silber’s parents’ home in Hollywood. It stayed there for almost 10 years when SunShine Cathedral MCC, which at the time was on SW 27th Street in Fort Lauderdale, offered to house the growing collection in a classroom on the church campus.

“We needed a public place where people could come and read or do research,” he said. “My parents’ home just didn’t make it so we were lucky to get space at the MCC.”

In 1984, Silber and his boyfriend at the time both got jobs in New York City. They were eager to experience life in one of the world’s cultural capitals so they packed up and left the library in willing hands.

“I wasn’t worried about the library when I left South Florida,” Silber said. “I knew the people who succeeded me were committed to keeping alive our history and culture and judging by what we see today, I was right”

“Remember,” he went on. “South Florida has an amazing history with gay rights even before Anita Bryant started spreading her poison. Miami was one of the first places that gave gays civil protections until Bryant got them overturned.”

Today Silber is a landlord in a historical neighborhood in Philadelphia and an active member of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides and the University City Historical Society.

“I’m thrilled by the growth of this place,” he said. “They have over 21,000 books and more than 7,000 artifacts. It’s amazing.”


Chicago’s gay archive


Chicago’s Gerber/Hart Library is named after Henry Gerber, who started the Society for Human Rights, believed to be the first gay rights organization in the United States, and Pearl Hart, a civil rights-era attorney who spent much of her career defending gay rights, and was founded in 1981 by historian Greg Sprague, who had earlier launched the Chicago Gay History Project.

It holds more than 14,000 volumes, 800 periodical titles and 100 archival collections, including the founding documents of Chicago LGBT institutions like the Howard Brown Health Center as well as personal diaries, artwork and newspaper clippings from the earliest days of the gay civil rights movement.

The library also has some of the original signs from Carol’s Speakeasy, a legendary Chicago gay bar from the late 1970s to the ’90s, and a pair of sequined red ruby slippers signed in 1992 by members of the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus.

Updated 22 November 2014: Photographs are no longer available.