Unspeakable – LGBTQ History and Archives Conference

The 11th LGBT conference at London Metropolitan Archives in December was full of inspiring and unexpected things. An eclectic mix of film, live performances and presentations showed the diverse ways in which people are working together to document, collect, represent and interpret LGBTQ stories, experiences and histories.

The day was broadly focused into three themes; films and performance, heritage, and identity.

Films & Performance –

The film Mirror Mirror by Zemirah Moffat explored the infamous ‘Club Wotever’ in London, which opened in 2003. Short film clips showed club performers discussing contemporary issues around identity, gender and sexuality.

Veronica McKenzie’s film, Under Your Nose, explored the role of black lesbians in the late 70s and early 80s in establishing the Black Lesbian Group and the Black Feminist Network.

Q Theatre, an all female Queer friendly theatre group, performed an interactive live show involving Queer labels and water balloons!

Heritage Focus –

Projects archiving LGBT experiences at Plymouth and West Devon Records Office, and Gloucestershire Archives, explored problems such as reaching the right people and getting them involved.

The Pride in Progress? project at the People’s History Museum in Manchester was a good example of how to work in partnership with established LGBT groups, to increase the diversity of collections and create temporary displays using pop-up exhibitions with limited time and resources.

The Pink Singer’s Singing the Changes exhibition told the story of Europe’s longest running LGBT choir. An excellent example of how an LGBT group has proactively represented their personal stories, in their own words.

Identity Focus

Dr Clare Barlow discussed the issues and problems around interpreting historical portraits with an LGBT focus at the National Portrait Gallery; in particular the story of Chevalier D’Eon. The lively discussion raised many issues around the appropriate use of pronouns whilst interpreting trans identities and the problems around interpreting diverse historical narratives not supported by fact.

Surat Knan discussed Rainbow Jews, a pioneering oral history project recording Jewish LGBTQ history from the 1950s to today; including the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Community. This unique archive will be the only source of LGBTQ Jewish history in Britain.

LGBTI subcultures in post-communist Europe were explored in Drag artists in Eastern Europe by Dzmitry Suslau.

It’s clear that there is a lot of new and exciting work going on across the country. However, whilst many of us may have some LGBTQ representation in our museum collections, archives and displays, is it truly representative of the places we live and work, today and in the past? Let’s make the unspeakable visible.

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