One of the many things I picked up during my MA course at London College of Fashion was a love of archives, so being introduced to fascinating places to undertake research now comes reasonably high up my list of Awesome Things. Therefore, you can imagine my joy when I opened up an email from a PR company and discovered that, not only was it sent by someone who’d actually read my blog and knew what I was interested in, but they were also raising my knowledge of London archives by introducing me to the wonderful work of Bishopsgate Institute.
The Twitter bio for Bishopsgate Institute sums it up beautifully as “an independent, free-thinking organisation since 1895, we are home to a library, historical archives, talks, discussions and courses.” As with any bio that contains a high proportion of words that I identify with, it meant that I instantly had to follow them. Of course, it also helped that the particular event that had been highlighted to me in that initial email was a talk entitled LGBT London in the 1980s – the Media and the ‘Loony Left’ which was definitely not something that I was going to miss out on.
So this was how, last night, I ended up in a room full of strangers listening to the inspirational Linda Bellos and Colin Clews speak about politics, activism, consciousness raising and a mutual desire for a restored sense of LGBT community. Clews opened the evening with a fantastic summary of the legal situation faced by lesbians and gay men in the 80s, media representation by the popular press, and the political landscape – including Section 28. Bellos followed on from this with a very personal talk that began by stating that, although Clews’ talk was very male dominated, that it wasn’t his fault but was instead the fault of the British media. The press chose the label ‘The Gay Movement’ which effectively excluded women, as most identified as lesbian rather than as gay women. Bellos went on to discuss the lesbian feminists’ fight for equal rights, and her time as leader of Lambeth Council. After a fascinating Q&A which highlighted that, sadly, not that much has changed in mainstream media’s reporting of LGBTQ issues, Bellos and Clews ended the evening on a wonderfully uplifting note. Agreeing that a renewed focus on community is desirable – rather than the individual/consumerism – Bellos said that we need to “focus on what we’re [aiming] for, and agree we might have different ways of getting there.”
This particular event was run in partnership with the Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive, which is held at the Bishopsgate Institute library. It is a national archive of press cuttings, books, t-shirts and badges relating to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, and houses over 200,000 cuttings taken from the ‘non gay’ press throughout the UK. If you’re interested in exploring the archive in a structured way, Bishopsgate have a course starting next Monday evening called Queer Britain: 20th Century LGBT History.
Image taken from the 2014 movie Pride.