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OUTing the Past Festival of LGBT History at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

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A History of Queer Activism & the Activism of Queer History

For Brighton’s first OUTing the Past Festival programme I wanted people to reflect on what makes someone an activist. I chose speakers who made me think, not only about the history of LGBTQ activism, but about creating history itself as a political act. I want us to consider which points of view are privileged and imposed on us by a history that is written for us. I also hope people will come away thinking about the need to make space for multiple histories where the facts are obscured, contested or erased.

As an LGBTQ staff member working for the Retail &Trading team, I am extremely grateful to the management of Brighton Museum for allowing me to curate both the OUTing the Past Festival and the LGBT History Month Free Day. I have been programing one-off LGBTQ events at Royal Pavilion & Museums for several years and have always felt supported by my colleagues to develop and share my understanding of LGBTQ heritage. I hope the OUTing the Past Festival will become an annual opportunity for our local people and historians to experience that same support.

Photo Melita Dennett

Melita Dennett

Section 28: Promoting Prejudice

Melita Dennett, local radio broadcaster, provides an insight into life as a former member of the Brighton Area Action against Section 28. Looking at the context leading up to the introduction of the legislation in 1988 including AIDS, media homophobia and the Tories’ attacks on progressive Labour policies; Melita gives an insider’s perspective of how Brighton’s LGBTQ community came together to fight the clause with some audacious actions and plenty of wit and humour.

This presentation reflects on the urgency of remembering the campaign which made Brighton the place it is today. She reminds us that we need to be vigilant in a world shifting to the Right to ensure that legal and social protections for LGBTQ people are not undermined.

Dr Sharon Webb & Prof Kate O’ Riordan

GaySoc and Campus Life: Activism, Politics and Experience

A look at the fragmented, and often incoherent histories of Sussex University’s LGBTQ+ Society that shares events and insights drawn from oral history testimonies and archives. Since the late 1960s the Society has acted as a powerful lobbying group for a litany of gay rights and broader civil rights issues. This presentation will describe the political rallies and forms of protest used, including the Society’s involvement with Brighton Gay Pride, and consider the Society’s impact on campus life and their presence in Brighton more broadly.

Neil Bartlett & Stuart Marshall PEDAGOGUE, 1988 © courtesy of the artists / LUX

Neil Bartlett & Stuart Marshall PEDAGOGUE, 1988 © courtesy of the artists / LUX

Susan Eskdale & Neil Bartlett

PEDAGOGUE, Clause 28 and the 1980s

Neil Bartlett is an author, playwright and civil rights campaigner. In 1988 Neil was an out gay man working as artist in residence on the BA Fine Art Course at what was then Newcastle Polytechnic. Susan, who now works for Brighton Museum, was an art student keen to explore all creative options. PEDAGOGUE a short film, features performances by Susan and her fellow students, exploring in comic style the possible implications of Clause 28. This presentation, exploring how and why the film was made, will be followed by a screening of the piece.


Jane Hoy & Helen Sandler as Mary Lloyd and Frances Power Cobbe, Photo Alan Hale

Jane Hoy & Helen Sandler – Living Histories Cymru

“The oldest New Woman and her incorrigible Welsh friend”: Miss Frances Power Cobbe and Miss Mary Charlotte Lloyd in conversation.

The history of women’s suffrage often ignores the mid Victorian campaigners who blazed a trail for 20th century feminists. This performance throws light on the contribution of ‘women loving women’ to the early women’s suffrage cause. It follows a lively conversation in costume with Frances Power Cobbe (b.1822), an Irish feminist, theologian, journalist and political activist, and her partner Mary Charlotte Lloyd (b 1819), a Welsh artist and sculptor. From beyond the grave, the couple reminisce about how they met in Rome through ‘Charlotte’s Web’ (a group of women loving women), and a lifetime of campaigning for women’s suffrage and animal rights.

The Sugar Loaf Follie in Brightling, East Sussex (1820s) photographer unknown, Piéce Montée- Sugar Sculpture from the Cookbook of Jules Gouffé (1853), Their Dances Which They Used At Their High Feasts Theodor De Bry (1528 – 1598) illustrations from the book “A Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia”.

Ven Paldano

Decolonising the Legacy of Local Regency & (Black Indigenous People of Colour) Gender Narratives

Ven Paldano, Local Architectural Assistant and community organiser within QTIPoC Narratives Collective, unravels the heritage of 162 East Sussex slave owners. This visual essay looks at Georgian wealth and extravagance from the perspective of the people who paid for it. It examines the impact of British colonial laws on Queer people of colour, laws that wrote indigenous non-binary gender identities out of history. The talk examines how these past injustices still cause shame and hardship for many Queer people of colour today and how this relates to current LGBTQ immigration struggles.

Picture of Aaicha (1954) from private collection

Alex Bakker

Transgender Pioneers of the Fifties: a secret history

In December 1952, Christine Jorgensen, a former GI from New York, caused a media sensation by undergoing sex reassignment surgery in Denmark. This marked a time when many transgender people started searching for medical help to transition.

Sex reassignment surgery was officially prohibited in most countries and the Danish government quickly banned helping foreigners. However, through an international network of doctors, the Netherlands temporarily became a secret place of refuge for American and European trans women.

Alex Bakker, an expert in Dutch transgender history, looks at the difficulties faced by these trans pioneers of the fifties. He uncovers how the relationships between transgender persons and doctors developed and the ethical issues raised by this new medical approach to what many regarded as mental illness.

Watercolour of Knockaole Camp by Internee George Kenner -® George Kenner and Roy Karl Bedford CC-BY-SA 2.0

Dr Kit Heyam

Gender nonconformity and trans possibility at Knockaloe First World War internment camp 

From the outbreak of the First World War, and particularly following the sinking of the Lusitania in May 1915, Britain imprisoned nationals of enemy countries who were on British soil. These vast camps have frequently been written about as ‘all-male environments’ as only those of military age, who were assigned male at birth were sent there. However, investigation reveals some people lived full-time as females within them. How should we interpret evidence of historical gender nonconformity when we lack first-person accounts of how it related to identity?

This talk discusses Knockaloe, a camp on the Isle of Man which at its peak held 24,000 people. Using photographs and diaries from the camp alongside the testimony of early 20th century trans people, it argues for the importance of acknowledging the possibility of trans identity in history.

Kelly Boddington