PRESS RELEASE 15 January 2014
Brighton and Hove’s LGBT Heritage project celebrates real people’s stories and histories with a new book and an outdoor citywide photography exhibition
26 February 2014 at 7.30pm in Jubilee Library hosted by Amy Lamé: launch for Queer in Brighton book co-published by New Writing South and Photoworks, price £12.99 +p&p, available online
From 12 February: Photography exhibition across numerous outdoor sites in Brighton & Hove
Queer in Brighton is a yearlong heritage learning project celebrating and promoting the rich cultural life of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in Brighton & Hove. Launched in November 2012 with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Queer in Brighton aims to preserve the unique LGBT history and diversity of Brighton & Hove and to encourage understanding. The project will culminate in February 2014, during LGBT History month, with an outdoor photography exhibition displayed across Brighton and Hove from Friday 7 February and a published anthology of people’s stories, essays, creative writing, photography and memorabilia, Queer in Brighton, launching on Wednesday 26 February.
Through the themes of place, family, politics and language, this inspiring project uses oral histories, photography, performance and creative writing to explore, uncover and share the untold stories and experiences of LGBT people in Brighton & Hove, past and present. Queer in Brighton is not about fame and celebrity; it’s about real lives and real love in Brighton and Hove.
Queer in Brighton is a project consisting of four elements:
– Book: Queer in Brighton is a new anthology of oral histories, essays, creative writing and photography
– Exhibition: collaborative photography commission not going shopping by Anthony Luvera displayed on posters across the city
– Film: an intergenerational film Are you Happy? Are you Free? Made in association with Allsorts LGBT Youth Project
– Online archive: the archive is open access and will continue to grow
“This project began life as an oral history project and grew into a fantastic journey of discovery for everyone involved.” says Lesley Wood, Project Coordinator. “We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people who gave their time and their wonderful stories to make Queer in Brighton a success. Volunteers have written, told, recorded and transcribed their stories; they’ve taken or loaned photographs, shared memorabilia and contributed in a dozen other ways to help up capture a kaleidoscope of queer life in this unique city, and the book and exhibition are just two of the fantastic outcomes of the project.”
The anthology has many layers: it will include creative writing by established and published authors through to people who have never written before; excerpts from oral histories of people’s experience of Brighton and Hove recorded and then transcribed; four essays by academics on the project’s core themes of place, language, politics and family; and a visual element of collected photographs and memorabilia as well as portraits which form the photography exhibition. The book will be published by New Writing South and has been co-edited by Maria Jastrzebska and Anthony Luvera. [see appendix 1 below for extracts from the book]
Maria Jastrzebska says of the book, “It’s been exciting weaving together the many layers of this book. As editors working on Queer in Brighton we have been spoilt for choice. The stories and images sent in to us and those collected by the oral history interviewers are wonderful – ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. I’ve felt amazed and humbled by peoples’ courage and I’m thrilled by the mix of ages – from those still in their teens to those in their eighties. We’ve encouraged people who have never spoken out about their lives to contribute as well as including experienced speakers or writers. I feel I’ve got to know about 100 new friends!”
As part of Queer in Brighton, artist Anthony Luvera has also been commissioned to make a body of work with LGBT people living in Brighton and Hove, which will be shown in a citywide outdoor poster exhibition during Feb 2014 as part of LGBT History Month. In response to an open call, eleven participants volunteered to collaborate with Anthony to take part in workshops and individual meetings in order to create photographs that articulate their points of view about being queer in the city. The not going shopping blog charts the process of their work together: http://notgoingshopping.blogspot.co.uk
Anthony Luvera says of the commission, “While the first same sex weddings taking place in March 2014 will be a great step forward for the rights of queer people in the UK, bisexual, gay, lesbian and trans* people largely remain invisible or often misrepresented as clichéd caricatures in mainstream entertainment, advertising, newsmedia and other forms of public life. The need for cultural heritage projects such as Queer in Brighton, which celebrate the experiences of real people as told from their points of view, is relevant and needed now more than ever before. As an artist commissioned to create new collaborative photography work – not going shopping – and as an editor of the Queer in Brighton anthology, it has been a privilege to be involved in the telling of these stories, and I hope this work will inspire other groups of queer people to speak out and be seen.”
NOTES TO EDITOR
About the themes:
Place & Culture We asked what attracted people to Brighton and Hove; when then came; where they met other queer people… clubs, political groups, saunas, cafes etc. Where they went dancing, singing, cruising, shopping; and basically everything about who they saw, what they wore… how, where, when and with whom.
Politics In terms of politics we wanted to know if politics has or still is important to queer people. Questions like: have you been political? Did you go to meetings/rallies/marches etc? Were you involved in direct political action/lobbying? Have you made political theatre; played political songs; sat in; laid down; fought back? Are you out at work? Were you always? and have you ever been prevented from working because you are queer?
Family Under this theme we asked about the family queer people have made for themselves, and how are our queer families now different from our queer families 10, 20 or more years ago. We asked about the families they came from and the friends who became family; about the friends who became lovers and the lovers who became friends (you know how it goes!).
Language & Representation We asked what have you called yourself? What have you been called? How has language changed? Were you a Polari speaker? How was your queer life represented when you were young – in the media, the arts; the law? Has that changed in your lifetime? How has that affected the way you live?
New Writing South
New Writing South inspires, enables and nurtures all kinds of talented creative writers and connects them to audiences and the industry throughout the UK and beyond. It provides a myriad of activities that stretch, empower and promote writers and their work including the progression of young writers. New Writing South cultivates new audiences for literature, theatre, poetry and new media with high profile author events, innovative live literature, poetry slams, public debate, book launches and much more.
The company is a registered charity and is supported by Arts Council as a National Portfolio Organisation.
Photoworks curates, commissions and publishes new work and writing on photography. We produce exhibitions, books, participation and learning projects and events including the Brighton Photo Biennial. Collaboration and participation are central to our vision. We work with a broad range of artists, organisations and experts to engage the widest possible audiences, encourage learning, participation and debate and to inspire new thinking about photography.
We are a registered charity and a National Portfolio Organisation, funded by Arts Council England.
Pink Fringe makes Queer & LGBT culture in Brighton. They produce theatre, performance, dance, immersive art and entertainment, presenting an exciting and ambitious programme of live performance throughout the year.
Our aim is to challenge perceptions around diverse work, specifically art created by and about Queer & LGBT people, placing it multiple contexts, some familiar, some new and unusual, with the aim of attracting new audiences.
APPENDIX 1 – BOOK EXTRACTS:
In hindsight I can see transitioning was quite clear for me in some ways when I was growing up. But I had no language for it. I didn’t know how to say, ‘I feel like I’m male and this body doesn’t feel like it’s my body’. It seems like such a bizarre thing to say. I guess it just never occurred to me. It was as if I’d found out that actually you could grow wings and fly like a bird on the NHS.
The first psychologist I saw when I arrived at the clinic said to me, ‘Now, you are a very pretty girl, which means you will be a very pretty boy. You will have to deal with a lot of male attention and you’ll have to be prepared for that.’ I really had no idea what to do with that statement. Ed
Damascene Moment’ – I had friends living in New York, and I used to go and visit them quite a lot. On one of my visits there they took me to see Christopher Street. At that time Christopher Street was full – during the day – of gay men just hanging out, chatting, talking, perhaps embracing or kissing each other, whatever it may be in a completely casual, acceptable way. And I was completely blown over by this, because they were kissing each other in the street in daylight. This was in 1975, when if you tried in Brighton at that time to even hug a friend goodbye at a bus stop, that was quite a dangerous thing to do. Ted
We’d found out that the Brighton Centre was hosting the International Family Congress, a conference for those seeking a return to ‘traditional’ family values: right-wing, religious, authoritarian, and not big fans of the gays. Then we found out that Princess Diana was to attend and make a speech. We knew the eyes of the world would be on that stage… and so the plot was hatched.
………… We walked with purpose up the steps at the side of the stage, lined up behind the panelists, and silently held up our message on four sheets of pink paper: LESBIAN MOTHERS AREN’T PRETENDING.
I remember the cameras – lots of them. And police. And guns – I’m pretty sure there were guns. And all those people – I mean, this was the Brighton Centre – I’d never been ‘on stage’ in front of so many before. School concerts and the odd pub gig didn’t come close.
Initially there was a stunned silence. And then booing. And actual cries of ‘Shame!’ This, from two thousand supposedly God-fearing family-caring adult human beings, directed at five non-threatening students who just wanted to speak up about their right to love and form families. My memory may be imagining a slow hand-clap, too. Seffy
In 1985 I started off with Brighton and Hove LGBT Switchboard. It was only Gay Switchboard in those days but they had Thursdays as a women’s night. We were told when I first started: ‘don’t tell anyone where the office is, except maybe a close friend. Don’t advertise it’ because of course you could be queer-bashed and the guys were very wary of this.
Nowadays it’s completely different, you’ve got to have references. In those days you wouldn’t dream of asking for a reference from your employer because, being gay, you could possibly lose your job over it. Discrimination was really rife. You’ve got to be CRB checked now.
Sometimes there would be as many as 20 gay women on the walk, and we went all over the Downs and the coast. What was so great about the walking group was the chance to meet all sorts of gay women and have as long or as short a conversation as you wanted. If you talk to strangers in clubs and pubs, they tend to think you are chatting them up, but on the women’s walks, people assumed that you simply wanted to get to know them, and it was much more relaxed, you could make friends more easily.
When I decided I’d like to be a rabbi in 1983 I approached the only place that was unorthodox in this country called Leo Baeck College, founded in 1956 – he was the leader of elders in Germany during the Holocaust in Theresienstadt and he survived and came to London. At the same time I turned up there another lesbian, who I had actually been in a Jewish Lesbian group with, Sheila Shulman, turned up at the college. We had both been in the same group but never discussed it. That was weird. So the college was presented with these two Jewish lesbians – they didn’t know what had hit them!
Elizabeth Tivkah Sarah
The Longbranch Club was then run by an older butch/femme couple who’d basically run it as a lesbian club for donkey’s years. They were quite scary and their door policy was quite strict. I remember you’d go up these stairs through a metal barred gate and then upstairs into the club. It would be so exciting. It would be absolutely packed and there’d be Eurythmics playing. There’d be Annie Lennox going, ‘There must be an angel’. It was that era then. I remember it was so fantastic. There were those dangly, sparkly wall hangings and on the walls there were also fluorescent cut out stars with ‘Pie and Chips £1.25’, ‘Fish and Chips £1.75’, ‘Fish Fingers and Chips’. It was all very folksy! I never ate there I have to say, but they were heady days. Very exciting!
My experience is that being a queer person of colour is different. I felt the need, and others that I spoke to felt the need, for having a space we felt safe in. Often as a queer person of colour, you have to live part of your life as either queer or your colour identity. It’s very difficult and rare that you can just be all of your identities, as well as your other stuff – your physical or mental abilities, disabilities, issues… Do you know what I mean? I guess it’s similar – but times a hundred – to if you’re a lesbian and you’ve never found a lesbian community and then you find one and it’s suddenly like, ‘Oh! I don’t have to explain everything from scratch. Everyone understands what I’m talking about. Everyone’s shared something about my experience.’ I’ve rarely found anyone who matches my particular mix of heritage but that’s part of the joy of it. That we can all be somewhere where we share the fact that we have – I wouldn’t even call it dual identities, because I think there’s other identities.
I found Freddie quite intriguing even though slightly nutty I have to say. I hadn’t met anyone quite like him. It was maybe a few days, if not a few weeks after that, I remember walking past his shop, Scene 22, for the first time but feeling quite scared about going in. It was after walking past it maybe two or three times that I eventually worked up the courage to walk in through the door.
Well, at that stage it wasn’t really so much a café, it was more of a gay shop, really more of a sex shop. So there were magazines, toys, cards, clothes. Really for a boy at that stage who had very little sexual experience I was quite overwhelmed by the stuff that was in there. But what was more important was that I noticed people would come into the shop to see Freddie. He would be reaching into the fridge where he would get the poppers, he would pull out a pint of milk and put it on the side, he’d have a kettle under the counter with some mugs and he’d be offering people, who would just be coming in to look at magazines or buy poppers or sex toys, a cup of tea or coffee.
The first time I went in there I think I spent most of the day there because it was almost like being at a party where everyone was having tea and coffee. Each time somebody came in, Freddie would go, ‘oh hello darling, hello lovey’ really friendly, ‘would you like a tea or coffee?’ And before I knew it the whole of the shop was filled with people just sort of hanging around, chatting to each other, and it felt really, really safe.
When I was in my twenties it was a lot more difficult. I lived in a small village in Oxfordshire and I lived a lie for many years. It was all hush-hush. I was beaten up a fair few times, queer- bashed. Although it wasn’t called queer-bashing in those days, but it was the same thing. I couldn’t do anything about it. It was pretty rough. I had a tough life.
It changed for me because I moved down here. I packed my bags and thought, ‘I’m going to head down to Brighton’, because I used to come down here when I was a lad with my straight friends. My straight friends used to say things like, ‘You have to be very careful when you go to Brighton because there’s a lot of queers about.’ We made a pact that if any of us got lost then we’d meet up outside the West Pier or the Palace Pier and I used to get lost on purpose. Around ten o’clock I used to vanish because I knew about some of the gay bars and in those days there were only a few of them. So I’d sneak off, go to the gay bars and have a sleepover, as one does.
The interesting thing was people’s attitudes when they realised I was bisexual. It wasn’t hostile exactly, they sort of ignored me basically. I wasn’t invited to things I had been in the past. There wasn’t really anything I did to tackle that but I was very open about my sexuality. I tried not to feel upset about it, but I did feel quite upset.
As a Black woman I’ve come up against a lot of prejudice against me as a Black person, as a woman, as a Black woman – all the combinations. I think my sexuality has never really been a big issue. The only time I think was when I told my family. I told my mum. I didn’t tell my dad. I assume my mum told him.
It wasn’t traumatic. It’s just that I really thought she would be disappointed. As it was, she was surprised but she wasn’t disapproving. She was quite accepting and that was emotionally very lovely.
Well, I’ve been raised in a family that’s not even conventional by gay family standards. I live with my mum and a woman called Sandra who is not partners with my mum, although both of them are lesbian women. I’ve always lived with Sandra and she’s never been partners with my mum while I’ve been alive, but I think previously they were. She has a daughter from the same dad as me–who was a donor–and we all live in a family of four and the dog.
I know quite a lot of people who are brought up with two or more mums. That’s usually because my mum knows them, because all lesbians know each other!
My dad was also a gay man. We would visit him quite a lot, probably once every two or three months, although he died about five years ago. We always knew who he was and stuff, and we knew the situation. We were close and everything. It was pretty functional, I think. I never had a problem with it. Actually no one ever really did have a problem with it. I’ve just found it quite confusing to explain to people.
A few weeks before my son was born, I decided to share my good news with the pupils in the special school I was working in (ironically, as a maternity cover). I came out first – a risky venture back in the dark ages, before employment protection. Then, a couple of weeks later, I told them I might not be in one day the following week because I was going to be a dad. I thought I’d done a good job of explaining my situation in simple, age-appropriate language, but lots of them just couldn’t get their heads around it. One 14-year-old girl was so frustrated at her friends’ bemusement, she shouted out:
‘Look! His friends, lesbians, want a baby, but they can’t ‘ave one cos they haven’t got a cock. So he wanked off and gave it to them. Now they’ve got a baby. Easy!’
My sight actually went, or faded completely, in 2004, just around when I was 50. I was working long and hard hours. I was reasonably successful and really enjoying my career in London, working for a large firm of surveyors, based in Hyde Park actually. But I became ill at work one day… What came out of that was that I had pneumonia, AIDS related pneumonia, something called cytomegalovirus.
The cytomegalovirus can either affect the sight, which is why people living with HIV or AIDS at that time were going blind, or it will create lesions on the brain, or it can affect the gut. In my case it affected my sight.
I think often people don’t like to be reminded of some of the survivors ’cause they see themselves as not being affected for some reason. The days of people dying en masse have gone. We remember them and we remember them particularly on December the first which is World AIDS Day. My own partner died, he was ten years younger than me. He was very fit, active and well, but would ignore his HIV status. But you ignore it at your peril. He paid the price, the ultimate price. He was concerned that he would die before me and I would be left alone. As it happens I have survived him by 14 years.
Tony and I, by the way, we are in what you call a serodiscordant relationship. He’s remained negative from the time I’ve known him. Serodiscordant is where one person is HIV positive and the other one is negative. It does work. These kind of relationships are much more common now then they used to be. For some people it doesn’t work but for us it does.
At any lesbian do I’ve gone to, there are always the exes. Fortieth or fiftieth birthday parties. I went to one thing where there was someone I actually went out with. And there were something like 16 of her exes. She’d been very, very busy! Normally six is about average. But certainly, if I think of my rocks in my life, they are my exes. I’ve got three exes. They’re my family. They’re much closer than my family could ever be. The love doesn’t stop. Maybe the ‘in love’ stops, but the love is still there. No-one knows you as well as an ex. That intimacy. And why lose that?
By incredible lucky chance, I’d been introduced by my professor to this elderly gay painter who lived out at Charleston called Duncan Grant. His housekeeper was quite elderly and they were clearly on the lookout for a likely lad to go over there and hold the fort quite regularly, which is what I started to do.
That was the most miraculous thing that could have happened really. Charleston, in those days, was very … if I say run down it wasn’t dingy … it was just kind of extraordinary; like a dream really, of long ago. The clock was ticking on the wall as it had since 1916 as it were. The bell stood on the table and it was rung for meals.
My boyfriend and I were two cute bunnies so we were taken up by the older gay scene in Brighton to some extent. There were all these extraordinary people round. Beverley Nichols and older gay writers; the Montpelier crowd, a whole network of much older, retired gay men and lesbians as well. Mark and I used to sit on the sofa and they’d pat our knees or pat our heads, that sort of thing. It was sweet; it was adorable, and we met lots of amazing characters. We started going up to London to art openings and parties and things. That’s how we, in 1970, got wise to the Gay Liberation Front.
Back in Brighton it was inevitable really that we tried to set up something else like that. We started meeting in our flat in Brighton. We were living in Little Western Street, off Western Road and invited loads of people we knew around. Alan Sinfield, people of our age and older friends as well. The word spread and we started renting a room above one of the pubs at Seven Dials.
We had GLF parties on the beach. It was a hoot and a half. It was a call to arms. A kind of collective assertion of our place in Brighton
and in Britain and in Europe.