As we step into the LGBT History Month, James Deeley (Spectrum Chair, LSE), Gillian Urquhart and Gillian Murphy walk us through the history of Spectrum, the LSE LGBT+ staff network for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans(gender) people, and the LGBT archives in the LSE library.
On 13 October 1970 the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) met for the first time in the UK – in a classroom in LSE’s St Clements building. Founder member Bob Mellors was an LSE student and had just returned from the USA inspired by the progress of the American Civil Rights movement. The GLF was a massively influential part of the gay rights movement in the UK. The GLF continued to meet at LSE, in the New Theatre, East Building, until mid 1971.
Read more in this blog post about the GLF’s 40th anniversary in 2010.
Spectrum at LSE
Spectrum is the LSE LGBT+ staff network for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans(gender) people. (The + relates to other sexual and gender identities: e.g. pansexual, asexual, intersex, polysexual etc.). The network was formed in May 2008 by a small group of LGBT+ staff, led primarily by Sarah Bailey, Chris Connelly and Gillian Urquhart, who became the first Chair. Sarah organised an LGBT tea and cakes event in the East Building, paid for by the then Staff Development Unit. Thirteen staff members attended and discussed whether there was a need for a staff network at LSE – the answer was yes. A common theme was the need for support; for many, feeling unable to be out in the workplace meant they couldn’t engage with colleagues equally and participate in basic social conversations while at work.
The group decided upon aims and objectives early on: to promote the interests of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender staff and to give them a stronger sense of visibility and presence in all aspects of School life. Spectrum met monthly, but the perceived stigma around being an LGBT staff network meant that the group weren’t initially sure if they could even use LSE meeting rooms or advertise in staff newsletters.
The network grew slowly but steadily and LSE’s then Director Howard Davies spoke at the launch event, which was held in the Shaw Library in May 2009. In the same month, Spectrum commemorated International Day Against Homophobia (known as IDAHOT – now including Transphobia and Biphobia) by organising an incredibly bold same-sex hand-holding event on Houghton Street and Spectrum leafleting on Houghton Street and the Senior Dining Room.
Staff needed Spectrum in 2008 and they need it today. Over the past seven years, Spectrum has grown into an active and influential network, co-hosting sell-out public events with academic departments on marriage equality and LGBT human rights in Russia, whilst working behind the scenes with School governance to address more systemic barriers to inclusion for LGBT+ staff and students. Spectrum has played a key role in the School’s participation in the Stonewall Diversity Champions nationwide network, and continues to work with Stonewall to improve policy and strategy to better include people who are LGBT+.
Barriers to inclusion and equality persist at LSE, just as with society at large. As Spectrum looks forward, challenging these barriers and maintaining a firm LGBT+ voice at the heart of the School community remains paramount to our aims.
Spectrum is always keen to engage with LGBT+ members of the School as well as those who support LGBT+ issues. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to our mailing list, where you can keep up to date with what is going on in Spectrum. Also, visit our website lse.ac.uk/spectrum or follow @LSESpectrum on Twitter.
Contributed by James Deeley (Spectrum Chair, LSE) and Gillian Urquhart (Spectrum founder member, LSE)
LGBT history in LSE and The Women’s Library Archives
LSE has a fantastic resource of LGBT archives and Gillian Murphy introduces them here.
The Hall-Carpenter archive is a substantial collection relating to LGBT activism in the UK. Most of the archives date from after the publication of the Wolfenden Report in 1957. The collection is named after Radclyffe Hall and Edward Carpenter, although there is no material relating to these two people in the archive.
The Hall-Carpenter archive includes records and publications of gay organisations and individuals in the UK and worldwide such as Albany Trust, including the records of the Homosexual Law Reform Society, Campaign for Homosexual Equality, Gay Liberation Front, Lisa Power and Peter Tatchell. There are LGBT journals (newspapers and magazines) collected from the UK and the rest of the world, particularly the USA. They include: Attitude, Diva, Pink Paper. There is also an ephemera series (HCA/EPHEMERA) which contains small deposits relating to LGBT life and culture from various individuals and organisations, including regional gay groups, non-UK gay organisations, arts events and commercial organisations.
Other relevant archives in addition to the Hall-Carpenter archive are the papers of Mary McIntosh, sociologist, mainly relating to gay and feminist politics and Michael James, gay activist, including documents relating to the London Gay Liberation Front, Body Positive, and the Gay Switchboard.
In The Women’s Library archive there are records of feminist publishers such as Sheba Feminist Press andThe OnlyWomen Press. There are papers of individuals such as Vera ‘Jack’ Holme (actress and suffragette who adopted a masculine form of dress), Berta Freistadt (artist and creative writer), Elizabeth Wilson and Angela [Weir] Mason (feminist and gay activists – the latter a former lecturer at LSE and director of Stonewall in 1992), to name a few. There is also the Civil Partnership Collection which is an example of proactive collecting.
Collections of women who had close friendships and/or co-habited with women may be of interest to researchers in lesbian history. Archives to consider are records of Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, Louisa Garrett Anderson (physician and suffragette), Octavia Wilberforce (physician) and papers relating to Women’s Liberation Movement e.g. the papers of Sue O’Sullivan.
Search the archive catalogues using keywords such as ‘lesbian’, ‘gay’, ‘gender’, ‘sexuality’.
Other places to investigate:
LSE ‘LibrarySearch‘ for LGBT books and periodicals eg. Chroma, Dykelife
Bishopsgate Institute for Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive
British Library Sound Archive for Hall-Carpenter Oral History Project
For good tips for searching lesbian history read:
Known Homosexuals – Lesbian History In The Archives by Anna Kisby
Contributed by Gillian Murphy (Curator for Equality, Rights and Citizenship based in LSE Library)
This article was first published in LSE History in 2015 and is being republished with relevant permissions. The image has been taken from the same article.