Saturday, 18 August 2012

500 Years of Lesbian and Gay Related Material in the British Library



I thought it would be useful (for me) to put some retrospective posts from my personal blog on here, just so that all of my LGBT stuff is in one place, but hopefully they might be of interest to others as well. I'll start with my rather peeved critique of an event held at the British Library on 9th February 2010 called '500 Years of Lesbian and Gay Related Material in the British Library', a talk by Dr Bart Smith hosted by Amy Lame.

Since 2005, LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) History Month has been celebrated each February, and has hosted a modest scatter of events in cultural institutions to mark the occasion. Often these events seem more like a tick-box exercise than a thoughtfully considered celebration.

The British Library held a talk which was advertised as an introduction to and showcase of the wealth of LGBT materials held in its collections. The evening was hosted by well known radio and TV personality and out lesbian Amy Lamé and the presentation was conducted by reference librarian Bart Smith, a minor celebrity in his own right having appeared on University Challenge and Mastermind. He had been given a three month research break to develop a way of making 500 years worth of LGBT material at the library more accessible. His research had clearly been intense and thorough, but the parts of it he decided to share were indulgent and just-for-laughs, resulting in an uncomfortable and offensive camp “show-and-tell”, that was thin on substance but high on innuendos and enforced stereotypes.

The song that played as paying guests entered the lecture theatre was ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man after Midnight)’ by Abba, and among the items highlighted was a great deal of pornographic material, same-sex erotica in fiction and a map of cottaging spots in London. There was no mention of AIDs, little mention of the legalisation of homosexuality or gay rights movements like Stonewall , and not even a reference to Section 28.

If you didn’t go, you didn’t miss much apart from seeing a manuscript where the word “pooff” first appeared and some fairly bland newspaper articles (which are available online anyway and can be accessed through most good universities) the talk should have been about promoting the massive wealth of unique material, giving an overview of the breadth of it and explaining how it can be accessed and used to educate. Instead it was a flamboyant pantomime of cocks and innuendoes.

It was followed by a question and answer session, but me and my friend Jess left during it, as we had already found the evening sufficiently offensive.

While it is difficult to begrudge the British Library’s attempt to highlight the LGBT related items in its collections in the context of LGBT History week, their attempt could hardly be applauded.

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