February is LGBT History Month in the UK, so to celebrate we at History Riot have been speaking to heritage practitioners and public history researchers about their work in LGBTQ-inclusive heritage.
We interviewed Claire Hayward, a public historian, Further Education History Lecturer and the Project Researcher for Pride of Place, a LGBTQ Heritage Project by Leeds Beckett University and Historic England (formerly English Heritage).
- So what is the Pride of Place project all about then? And how did it come into being?
Historic England and Leeds Beckett launched Pride of Place in June 2015. It builds on from other diverse history projects by English Heritage on The Slave Trade and Abolition, Women’s History and Disability History. These projects, Pride of Place included, aim to make often marginalised histories more visible, and to trace the ways that they are found across buildings and landscapes in England. One of the key aims of Pride of Place is to show that lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer histories can be found everywhere across England, and that LGBTQ histories have played an important part of local and national histories. Our online map, which anyone can add to, launched last year. The map shows LGBTQ sites across England, and covers everything from personal domestic spaces to long-gone ‘LGBTQ’ pubs and clubs. We’ll also be producing Teachers’ Resources and guides to researching the queer heritage of buildings and places for local authorities and community groups. We will be launching an online exhibition later this year, hosted permanently on the Historic England website. We’ll also be writing amendments to descriptions of already listed buildings, so that their LGBTQ heritage becomes a defined part of their national significance.
2. This is an area of Public History which has interested you for a while, isn’t it?
I took over this role from Justin Bengry last month, who has done an incredible job building the Pride of Place map as well as other resources yet to launch. I’ve just finished up my PhD in History at Kingston – my thesis was about LGBTQ public histories, and explored the ways that members of the public encounter and influence LGBTQ histories. Pride of Place is a great example of LGBTQ public history, particularly because the map that is being produced as part of the project is community-led, so I’m really excited to be working on it. Before the PhD I took an MA in Early Modern History, focusing on women’s and gender history in the eighteenth century.
“There has been a significant shift in how heritage organisations approach diverse histories over the last decade or so.”
- Historic England is behind this project – the traditional image of heritage organisations is very much “here’s a big old mansion with a tea room, don’t touch the tulipiere”, whereas this project actively engages with LGBT communities and histories that have been marginalised.
How do you think heritage is changing to incorporate these histories? Is it something that’s happening across other heritage organisations and sites too?
There has been a significant shift in how heritage organisations approach diverse histories over the last decade or so. Historic England is not alone in this, and other major institutions such as the National Trust have in recent years begun to reach out to their diverse visitors and include wider histories in the narratives they tell. For example, the National Trust’s Sutton House hosted Sean Curran’s exhibitions Master-Mistress and ‘126’ during LGBT History Month in 2014 and 2015. I was privileged to take part in a panel discussion about LGBTQ histories in museums and historic houses at the launch of ‘Master-Mistress’, which you can listen to online. Projects like Pride of Place and events like those held at Sutton House show that conversations about LGBTQ histories are now taking place in heritage organisations, and that they are also taking action to address the often marginalisation of diverse histories.
We’re still only at the beginning of this change, and there’s still a long way to go. One important change will be incorporating LGBTQ histories the year round. Although LGBT History Month has provided a specific time, and perhaps as a result more funding opportunities, for heritage organisations to connect with LGBTQ histories, it would be great to see a similar level of enthusiasm continuing outside of February.
- How important do you think social media is to this sort of project (and more generally in histories of sexuality)? Is it more about linking up with other interested parties in the same field and making connections, or letting members of the public know about its existence and spread the word?
Social media is hugely important to projects like Pride of Place as it allows us to reach wider audiences, and to reach people who might not otherwise me able to connect with the project. Because the Pride of Place map is crowd sourced, social media plays an even more important role. It means we can share stories and encourage others to contribute, and people can add comments via Facebook. It’s also great to hear about other projects, heritage institutions and academics who are working in similar fields, and social media allows us to share their work too.
“Although homosexuality was still illegal, this didn’t matter in their Brixton community. Instead, ‘Cyril and Terry were simply beloved members of the community, lovingly helping friends in need’.”
- What’s the most interesting / intriguing story or mapping connection you’ve come across?
It’s difficult to pick just one! Some of the entries are of national significance, while others are personal. The personal ones are incredible because they mean we can find out about histories we otherwise wouldn’t. For example, one entry explains why Brixton is an important LGBTQ site to the contributor; it’s where they grew up in the care of two gay men during the 1950s. They explained that although homosexuality was still illegal, this didn’t matter in their Brixton community. Instead, ‘Cyril and Terry were simply beloved members of the community, lovingly helping friends in need’.
Personal stories like these are incredible ways of sharing memories, and they show that LGBTQ histories can be found in all kinds of places. Personal stories have also appeared in our comments feature. Many of the histories on the map are personal and anecdotal, and some people have commented on entries for pubs and clubs to explain what it was like when they visited, or if it was the first ‘LGBTQ’ bar they went to. These connections are really important to Pride of Place, and they mean that some of the sites have multiple histories and stories attached.
- How can people contribute to Pride of Place?
You can contribute to our map of LGBTQ sites in England on mapme.com/prideofplace. You will need to either create a log in or log in via Facebook or LinkedIn.
You can also log in anonymously using the email LGBTQPlaces@gmail.com and password lgbtqplaces. We’re interested in any places in England, whether they are important for personal reasons or for national significance.
You can also host a pinning party with a community group – you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to ask any questions about the project.
Source for banner image: Pride of Place Facebook Page