Queer the Pier goes to the Bishopsgate Institute

The Bishopsgate Institute is an important cultural centre in the heart of London that houses one of the world’s most renowned LGBTIQ+ collections, including sources from Stonewall, Outrage!, and Switchboard.

Naturally, as volun-queers, we were keen to visit the archives to see what could feature in the upcoming exhibition. We were particularly excited by the Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive (LAGNA) which boasts over 200,000 cuttings from the straight press on everything LGBTIQ+ since the late 19th Century.

We went to have a look at what we could find relating to Brighton and Hove’s queer heritage.

Having already gained permission from The Argus to use any of their old articles, we searched through hundreds of newspaper clippings to find pieces that help shed light on how LGBTIQ+ people have been portrayed in the straight press over time.

We found coverage of key historical events in our queer history, such as:

  • Convictions for acts of homosexuality
  • The HIV/AIDs crisis
  • The first Pride protests

What was really interesting to see was that a lot of the debate happening in the early 20th Century is still very much alive today, albeit framed in a different social context; for example, LGBTIQ+ education in schools.

Thanks to the archive’s vast collection we were able to find titles relating to a variety of fractions of our community that will be of interest to a breadth of identities. However, we did notice an absence of some who seem to have been excluded from media coverage and this begs the question;

  • Why have some instances of sexual dissidence been worth reporting and not others?
  • Has this erasure meant that these sections of our community avoided oppression at the time, or was it another way of alienating and marginalising LGBTIQ+ people?

We may not have the answers, but it is vital for us to think about as a community.

Our trip to the Bishopsgate Institute was a true highlight for us.

It was an incredibly insightful experience to see how social attitudes and policies have changed over time and this is something we want to recreate in Queer the Pier . The articles we selected will be displayed in the exhibition as a show-reel to provide insight into media portrayals of LGBTIQ+ people in Sussex over the past 50 years. It will reveal how reporting about the county’s LGBTIQ+ residents has changed dramatically, compared to the misinformation of earlier years.

LGBTIQ+ lives shown on screen and in print were often presented negatively, sensationalised or vilified. A demonstration of how the mainstream media and news sources fuelled the misunderstanding of HIV/AIDS and the marginalisation of queer people will also be evidenced.

The Argus were kind enough to give us the permissions to use historic articles in order to inform our research, so it should be mentioned that these articles do not reflect the current views of The Argus or the views of Royal Pavilion & Museums.

We hope that these articles will encourage a dialogue and discussion about previous attitudes of the media towards the LGBTQ+ community and perhaps raise questions about what has not yet changed.

Launching 2020

Queer the pier will launch in 2020, but in the meantime:

Zoe Smith & Cameron Tallant, Queer the Pier working group members

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