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Swings and roundabouts in Brighton

By the start of our period (1965) Brighton already had a long-standing queer reputation, and this chapter explores what happened both to that reputation and to the texture of queer life in this seaside town in the years since. It shows how these things changed as the town became more studenty, countercultural and self-consciously arty from the later 1960s, as women’s and gay liberation movements waxed and waned in the 1970s and 1980s and as AIDS took its particularly heavy toll here. The homophobic punch of Clause 28 (1988), which banned the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by local authorities, came as a jolt to activism in this town of historic queer ease and the result was a more strident and visible scene and community in the 1990s which was determined to act on its own behalf. Soon after, trans networks became more visible and the town consolidated its reputation as a supportive, if sometimes also problematic, place for trans people. All this, in the 2000s, was woven into the ways in which the new city of Brighton and Hove (from 2001) presented itself. The earlier conservatism and homophobia of the local authorities and press gave way to a civic pride in the city’s LGBTQ credentials. Though welcomed by many, for some this came a dilution of Brighton’s particular grassroots queer culture and community.

in Queer beyond London
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Migration and the queer city

This chapter, and the next two, draw extensively on oral history testimonies to highlight particular themes and compare the experiences of LGBT people across the four cities. The focus on migration in this chapter shows that ‘circling around’ was a common pattern of movement for many queer people as they tried out various cities and towns before settling down. Different factors pulled LGBT people into each city and shaped their urban queer cultures. With its dense and varied LGBT scene, gay businesses and sense of openness and welcome, Brighton offered the strongest queer draw throughout the period. Manchester became known as the cutting-edge northern queer rival from the 1990s. The LGBT cultures of Manchester and Leeds were stimulated by the mass migration of young people to their expanding universities, many of whom stayed on to contribute to their politics and queer scenes. Everyday reasons for migration, such as employment, relationships and family commitments, also influenced LGBT people’s movements. These are explored in detail in relation to Plymouth, a city which many LGBT people stayed in or returned to, negotiating various degrees of acceptance from their birth families.

in Queer beyond London
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In the oral history interviews and discussions, which are the source material for this book, people expressed a strong desire for community and inclusivity among queer people, and between LGBTQ people and others, especially in their local areas. This Epilogue discusses the idea of ‘conviviality’, the everyday pleasure in social mixing enjoyed by people both within their own networks and with other people who are different. It revisits some of the contexts between the 1960s and the present in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people met, partied and made alliances with each other and with people who didn’t identify as L, G, B or T, and across class, gender and racial differences. At times, political differences have caused splits along gender and other fault lines – fault lines which local contexts have both entrenched and bridged

in Queer beyond London

This chapter explores the multifaceted queer story of this postindustrial city and shows how and why it became Britain’s cutting-edge gay capital in terms of music, dance, drag and civic politics. It does this in three main sections. ‘Northern Soul’ charts overlapping queer, trans, lesbian and gay social, political and sexual scenes in the 1960s and 1970s. ‘Safe Spaces and Battle Lines’ is about draconian policing and the concerted resistance it provoked and also about the council’s pro-lesbian and gay work from 1984 which helped fuse civic and gay pride here. The final section, ‘Shifting Scenes’, explores the dynamics of the UK’s first gay village which grew in up in and around Canal Street’s emptied warehouses and also the alternative music and drag scene that developed in reaction to it in the late 1990s and 2000s. Each section speaks to particular experiences in the city at different moments but together they help to marshal something of the collective sense of the straightforwardness and solidarity which interviewees frequently associated with being Mancunian and being a queer Mancunian.

in Queer beyond London
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Matt Cook and Alison Oram

The Introduction outlines the inspiration for the book in the upsurge of LGBTQ community history projects across the UK and the growing body of published work exploring queer lives in places beyond London. It describes how the book contributes to this important ‘conversation’ about queer provincial life by looking across the gender divide, including trans histories, and bringing different cities into direct comparison. The authors discuss their choice of Brighton, Leeds, Manchester and Plymouth as case studies and sketch out the book’s structure, with its two distinct halves – the first, by Matt Cook, looking at the four cities in turn; the second, by Alison Oram, bringing queer life in these places into direct comparison via the themes of migration, home and family, and the uses of history. The Introduction ends with a discussion of the terminology used in the book and in particular of the problems and possibilities of ‘queer’.

in Queer beyond London

This chapter seeks to capture the vitality of community oral history projects in all four cities and shows how important the queer past is to many of their LGBT residents. Contributors to these projects felt that recording the queer past helped to bring together different generations of LGBT people and created political lessons about changes over time in LGBT experience and the importance of safeguarding gains made. The feelings accompanying recollections of the queer past varied considerably between the four cities, partly reflecting the ‘present day’ in which oral interviews were recorded. Interviewees looking back from the difficult Clause 28 years in the late 1980s and 1990s viewed Brighton in the 1960s with nostalgia, as an easier time to be lesbian or gay. Plymouthians recalled the 1980s and 1990s as the heyday of their queer city, regretting the closure of venues. In the 2000s, however, contributors in other cities were more likely to feel that their present day was an improvement on a darker past, though there were concerns about the commercialization of queer culture. The aims and organization of the projects themselves also reflect the different queer cultures of the four cities. In Leeds, the older community histories tended to be single sex, while in Brighton they aimed to be inclusive of different LGBT communities. The most recent community projects sought diverse contributors and have adopted a more playful and creative turn in their approach to the past and how they represent it.

in Queer beyond London
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in Queer beyond London

Plymouth is the city in the book most distant from London, and also the most homogenous in terms of class, occupation and ethnicity. It was buttressed economically and culturally by the docks and the navy; the prohibition of homosexuality in the armed forces until 2000 had a tangible impact on queer life here. There was a desire and perceived need for Plymouthians carefully to negotiate established local, military and familial traditions and expectations. This chapter shows that this did not preclude a vibrant queer subculture – far from it – but it did create a particular dynamic in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s for which, in the 2000s, there was real nostalgia. The LGBTQ scene of the new century felt ‘sterile’ and ‘generic’ to some; what was queerly exceptional about Plymouth had, they felt, been lost. The chapter begins by looking at queer scenes from the 1960s to the 1990s and then doubles back to explore the dance of queer and ‘normal’ in naval and civilian life over the same period. Finally, it examines the particular significance of other places and of people from elsewhere and at a key turning point – not, as elsewhere Clause 28 of the local government act, but rather the horrific murder of Terry Sweet in 1995 which, along with the decline of the docks and a shifting economy, ruptured Plymouth’s longstanding queer culture.

in Queer beyond London
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Authors: Matt Cook and Alison Oram

Where exactly is queer England? There has been much discussion of London as a queer city, but what about the many thousands of queer lives lived elsewhere? In Queer beyond London, two leading LGBTQ historians take you on a journey through four English cites from the 1960s to the 1990s, exploring the northern post-industrial heartlands and taking in the salty air of the seaside cities of the South. Covering the bohemian, artsy world of Brighton, the semi-hidden queer life of military Plymouth, the lesbian activism of Leeds and the cutting-edge dance and drag scenes of Manchester, they show how local people, places and politics shaped LGBTQ life in each city, forging vibrant and distinctive queer cultures of their own. Using pioneering community histories from each place, and including the voices of queer people who have made their lives there, the book tells local stories at the heart of our national history.

This chapter starts and ends in the area adjacent to the station in the centre of Leeds – a queer hub in the 1960s and then again in the 2000s. Though gay bars and clubs in that area came and went in the years between, this chapter shows how the city’s inner-north suburbs and satellite towns and cities were often more significant to gay and lesbian lives and networks here. There was a split between that central ‘scene’ and the often more politicized gatherings in homes, community centres and upstairs rooms of pubs elsewhere – a split which in turn related to the especially sharp divisions between lesbians and between lesbians and gay men in the city; early expressions of trans community faltered in this context. The chapter shows how the so-called Yorkshire Ripper killings and the misogyny which laced the press and police response fuelled feminist action and lesbian separatism here. If this politics was fraught, it was also utterly transformative for many women. This chapter tracks these ‘split scenes’ but also shows the ways in which they converged and connected with other communities and artistic and political networks in the city.

in Queer beyond London