A Lavender Attic

‘LGBT+ archives,’ says Gerard Koskovich of the GLBT Historical Society of San Francisco, ‘are your queer grandma’s attic’. They are the place where younger generations will find our legacy.

News from our lavender attic

This spring our own archive – our own lavender attic – is  getting started. We’re clearing out the cobwebs in the attic and making space for almost 800 books. They’ve been generously donated by groups and individuals. We’re reaching out to find support to help us preserve the books which meant most to LGBT+ people in the thirty years after Stonewall. The years they were coming out of hiding, visualising, and demanding equality.

Because of lockdown, we haven’t been able to access our book collection (housed by Lighthouse Bookshop in Edinburgh). Instead, we’ve spent the winter finding out about queer archives around the world. They specialise in conserving documents created by LGBT+ people – pamphlets, posters, flyers. Lesbian and gay groups used them to publicise themselves before the internet turned it all into digits and pixels.

The GLBT Historical Society decided in 1985 that this material should be preserved for future generations. 36 years later, that means you and me. They called a community meeting to see who was interested. And the 65 who attended set them on the road to today’s extensive collection, exhibitions and museum in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, in London in 1984, the Lesbian Archive and Information Centre was set up and initially funded by the Greater London Council. They collected journals, pamphlets, oral history and books. Today the collection is at Glasgow Women’s Library.

Working with other archives

Book cover: Gentleman Jack: the Real Anne Lister

We’ve spoken to archivists in Scotland and beyond. We attended a Zoom Conference on 5 December, given by London Metropolitan Archive LGBTQ+.

Their theme was Unorthodox: What are the missing voices? Their network includes queer archives all over the UK. Some not only preserve books and papers but research the pubs and other spaces where LGBT+ people met in secret, help refurbish buildings where queer people lived. Or collect clothing such as Ann Walker’s wedding dress, which she wore to say her vows to Anne Lister (Gentleman Jack) in 1834.

LGBT History Month

But research wasn’t all we did – in February, Edinburgh City Libraries invited us to make a film for LGBT History Month Scotland. The 2021 theme was ‘Unsung’ and we chose three queer writers whose archive books are either out of print or were dismissed as ‘too queer’ for many years. ‘Unsung’ was released on 15 February and on 24 February Chris Creegan chaired a Q&A session on the film. It attracted participants from Scotland, England and the USA. They expressed strong interest in more material about Scottish queer writers. And more ways of making the books better known and available. You can view the film and Q&A here.

Book cover: Gay Bar: Why We Go Out

We’re grateful to Grainne Crawford, Lifelong Learning Libraries Development Officer, and Howard Elwyn-Jones of Pretty Bright who produced the film and the Q&A broadcast. We were delighted to participate in LGBT History Month with LGBT Youth Scotland, who sponsored our first appearance as a queer books group in 22 years.

On 11 March, Lighthouse Bookshop invited Bob to appear at an online event with Jeremy Atherton Lin. His new book, Gay Bar, is a memoir of his life in bars of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and London. Bob talked about his days running Taste, an Edinburgh house music dance club. Straights and queer people danced together in a friendly and inclusive atmosphere in the 1990s and the early aughties.

Pride Month 2021

We aim is to take part in events about LGBT+ writing, publishing and history to promote the archive and encourage donations. The thrilling thing about this collection of books is that it shines a light on authors and titles from the past. Some of whom have been forgotten and remain unrecognised. Pride Month is coming soon. And we’ll be announcing our next events and further news from our efforts to establish our archive and celebrate queer writing history.

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