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Perhaps more than any other group, the cultural heritage of the LGBT community has previously gone largely unrecorded and was particularly limited in Birmingham/West Midlands. Birmingham LGBTs Heritage projects have ensured that the rich experiences of a diverse group of people have been recorded for future generations, with archive materials going back over one hundred years, and personal memories going back to the 40s and 50s. All project materials are accessible in Birmingham Central Library Archives.
Following the success of a joint event with Birmingham Libraries during Gay History month, February 2006, Birmingham LGBT applied for and secured a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to undertake this “Gay Birmingham Remembered” project. The project has been collecting memories, documentation, photos and memorabilia in order to preserve the history of the city’s lesbian and gay community, dating back to the 1940s.
This project has ensured that the rich experiences of a diverse group of people with memories going back as far as gay life in the 1940s and 1950s are not lost.
By ensuring that a diverse range of LGBT individuals, community groups and commercial ventures have contributed to the project, we have recorded the process of transition from a time when homosexual acts were illegal and people met behind unmarked doors in back streets, to the current vibrant and open gay community in Birmingham. From a time when gay men and lesbians lived in fear of hostility and reprisals from the police, in the workplace and on the streets, to a city in which hundreds of residents have registered their civil partnership and thousands take to the streets during the Gay Pride Festival. Where once, statutory and commercial agencies didn’t even acknowledge the existence of lesbians and gay service users or recognise that they might have particular needs, to a position where Birmingham LGBT and its Forum of 35+ LGB groups are routinely asked to participate in consultations or contribute to strategic developments.
The project has traced this journey with its successes and setbacks, exploring the influence of local individuals and organisations in bringing about changes within the wider local and national political and social context, as well as gauging the impact of the changing laws, policies, culture and opportunities on the lives of lesbians and gay men over time.
A considerable amount of the materials collected can be viewed on the project website, but the physical archive amassed during the project has been lodged with Birmingham Libraries’ Archives, to ensure that this heritage is accessible by Birmingham’s citizens, whether straight or gay, in the future.
You can also read a thesis by Jeremy Knowles ‘An Investigation into the Relationship Between Gay Activism and the Establishment of a Gay Community in Birmingham, 1967-97.’here