'We want people to find out what really went on in our queer history'
PUBLISHED: 15:07 09 August 2018 | UPDATED: 15:07 09 August 2018
The queer archive at Islington Museum has gathered some incredible artefacts since the Gazette last visited in 2016 – but it needs more memories to continue flourishing.
The Islington’s Pride project is an ever-expanding record of the borough’s distinguished LGBTQ+ history.
But the project, which is backed by Heritage Lottery Funding, needs more momentos so it can document events like the Highbury Fields protest in 1970, believed to be the UK’s first openly gay rally.
The museum wants to honour the 150 brave campaigners who took a stand that day, by making its gay records as detailed as possible before 2020, which is the protest’s 50th anniversary.
Alex Smith, who manages Islington’s Pride, said: “Although Islington has a rich history in LGBTQ rights campaigning, organisations and Individuals, we didn’t actually hold that much stuff for researchers to come in and explore.
“The idea is not to be some dark tower that holds things away in boxes. We want to make it easier for other people to come in and access the heritage.”
Alex showed the Gazette the museum’s copy of Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin, a seemingly innocent children’s book by Susanne Bösche.
But this is “a very important addition” to the archive because it catalysed Margaret Thatcher’s draconian Section 28 (S28) of the Local Government Act.
The book, which promotes a tolerant dialogue about homosexual couples raising kids, was found in a London Education Authority teaching centre library, which caused some right-wing politicians to become apoplectic. This led to S28 in 1988, which censored LGBTQ+ content from the national curriculum.
“An entire generation of kids was started under S28 and this law still creates a shadow on education,” said Alex.
She added: “In September we are hoping to do a film night at the British Museum looking at S28 but it can’t just be a conversation about S28’s abolition.”
It’s been 30 years since the policy was first implemneted and 15 since it was repealed.
A large swath of the Islington’s Pride archive comes from Central Station, a gay institution Alex reckons is the last LGBT+ pub in the borough. This venue, in Wharfdale Road, provides a wide range of activities to support the community, from organising sports teams to throwing funerals and putting on fun parties.
One of the many Central Station gems is a letter from the Queen Mother, who declined an invitation to attend the pub’s birthday party. Alex speculated the monarch didn’t go because of “Dockyard Doris” the drag queen, who was billed as the headline act.
Marlin Khondoker, an archivist who has been sifting through Islington’s LGBTQ+ history, showed the Gazette some “really special” Friends of Gay Switchboard (FroGS) pin badges.
London’s Gay Switchboard, which was founded in the Cally in 1971 and is still running, provides people with support coming out and also helps connect people in the community.
She also showed us a colourful array of North London Gay Strength and Lesbian Pride Festival event programmes, along with a rainbow banner from the Gay Gooners, the world’s biggest and the UK’s first LGBTQ+ football fan group.
Marlin told the Gazette: “It’s great to be able to record really meaningful things about the area and share them with the local community.
“We want people to use it and find out what really went on. Hopefully this will create more tolerance.”
Charlie Kiss became first trans man to stand for Parliament when he contested Emily Thornberry’s Islington South and Finsbury seat in 2015.
He told the Gazette: “I think it is important to remember the past – to understand our history of the fight for liberation and to record LGBTQ history as accurately as possible.”
Charlie, who used to live off the Caledonian Road, added: “I intend to donate some magazines to the archive. I hope other LGBTQ people who came out in Islington – pun intended – and campaigned also contribute to the archive.”
Pre-eminent gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: “Islington has always had a sizeable LGBT+ population and it’s very important to have a local history archive that reflects the diversity of the community.”