A Day Out - Gay History Explored In London During February 2007

By Kate Smith | 23 February 2007
photo shows newspaper cutting which suggests reasons for male homosexuality

A newspaper cutting from the Daily Mirror, April 15 1965 - one of many from the LGBT exhibition now showing at the Church Farmhouse Museum.

This February is the third annual LGBT history month. It is also 40 years since the male homosexuality was decriminalised by the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. So many displays and talks across London museums this month focus on the experience of criminalised sexuality, and the snowballing of change after '67.

1. The is showing 1967 and all that - around 50 objects and press cuttings from the Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive describing the events leading up to decriminalisation. The ephemera of a now very remote social world quickly draw you in. One newspaper cutting headed 'Sink Of Filth' describes how a 'coffee bar' was closed down at the World's End Chelsea, and its owner jailed in 1966. The newspaper describes the scene as the police closed in:

"The two rooms were remarkably small: one was 12ft by 9ft., the other 14ft by 12ft., and they were not particularly well lit. Only 12 people could sit down but in the two rooms the police saw up to nearly 200 men standing up trying to dance together or swaying to the music. They were like the proverbial sardines. Some were kissing passionately and fondling each other in an indecent way."

photo shows newspaper cutting with cartoon of Lord Montgomery

A newspaper cutting describing Lord Montgomery of Alamein's opposition to legalising homosexuality. Cutting from LAGNA, courtesy of the Church Farmhouse Museum

Another cutting gives a vivid picture of the tensions in the House of Commons as the change of law was debated. Lord Arran speaks for the bill:

"This offence has been a crime for 600 years. Why a law which has been in existence for 600 years should necessarily be a good law, I do not know. The law which made sheep-stealing a hanging offence was not a good law, and was repealed."

The piece continues

"Then came the salvoes from Monty who was in his most disapproving mood. At one moment he and Lord Arran stood, faces inches apart, glaring at each other..."

1967 And All That is on daily at the Church Farmhouse Museum until March 18 2007.

photo shows women looking at exhibition panels

Courtesy the Museum In Docklands

2. The Museum In Docklands has a 12 panel exhibition in the entrance to the museum until March 9. It describes the gay history of the East End.

Inevitably many of the earlier stories have come down to us because of court cases - beginning in 1395 with the story of the resourceful John/Eleanor Rykener. Working as a prostitute dressed both as a man and a woman we're told he "also confessed to paid sex with a number of noblemen, many nuns, married and single women as a man, and many clerics dressed as a woman".

There are also stories of gay people in the military - including Hannah Snell, who in 1742 enlisted dressed as a man, and served for years whilst having relationships with various women. Though simple in format, it tells stories that many won't have heard before, and charts clubs and pubs across the area that were gay friendly back into the Victorian period.

The exhibition also recalls how in 1989, the fightback against the passing of Clause 28 was conceived in kitchens across East London, and how Lisa Power, Michael Cashman, Matthew Parris, Ian McKellen and others started to plan the creation of Stonewall.

Out In Time display daily at the Museum In Docklands until March 9 2007. FREE

photo shows crowd holding banners protesting against section 28

Protests against Section 28. Courtesy the Museum of London

3. The Museum of London is again holding a free 'study day' on LGBT history. Speakers include Peter Tatchell who will be talking about activism and asylum in London - and what we can learn from London activists. The historian Bob Mills will also be speaking about what we know about homosexuality in medieval London.

Later there will be discussions about how to collect hidden gay histories, chaired by Matt Cook who has written about the homosexual scene in London in the 19th century.

Museum of London LGBT Study Day, Saturday February 24 2007, 11.30 - 5pm. FREE

photo shows t shirt promoting gay liberation front

Courtesy of the Church Farmhouse Museum.

4. Wardown Park Museum in Luton is holding a talk on the history of Transgender dressing from Elizabethan theatre to the present day. It's given by Janett Scott of the Beaumont Society which campaigns for transgendered people.

Dressing, Gender and Fashion talk at Wardown Park Museum, February 25 2007, 15.30 - 16.30. Talk free but please book on 01582 546722.

These are all relatively modest events but they indicate a desire by some museums to explore gay themes in more detail. It is cheering that they are beginning to address areas like transgender and gay medieval history that were previously either overlooked or regarded as too difficult to tackle. Let's hope that the momentum created by LGBT history month will encourage museums to bring more such stories to light in coming years.

More LGBT listings and events on the 24 Hour Museum

LGBT history month website

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