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Birmingham LGBT has undertaken a series of heritage projects to research and archive the lives and experiences of LGBT people in Birmingham, and beyond.

LGBT Heritage

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. These project 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.

 

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Gay Birmingham Remembered

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.

http://gaybirminghamremembered.co.uk

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

Gay Birmingham Back to Back

Building on the success of Gay Birmingham Remembered, the ‘Gay Birmingham, Back to Back’ project researched as far back as the
1850s up until the 1970s. The project looked at the social, political and personal circumstances of LGBT people in these time
periods.

After a period of research, project partners Women & Theatre developed a series of site specific performances at the National
Trust Back to Back Housing on Hurst Street, Birmingham. We uncovered and characterised the lives of real life gay men Charles
Record and Fred ‘Jester’ Barnes and through a series of reminiscences and interviews created characters representing the lives of
lesbian and bi women during World War 2 and the experiences of Black lesbians during the 1970s.

 

Coming Out Stories

Gay Birmingham Schools Work

The Back to Backs schools project started in June 2012 and from here resources were planned and developed based around two plays performed by Women in Theatre. Fran and Leila are two women who both identify as Lesbian. Fran is an exhibit from 1970’s Britain and resides within the Back to Backs as a Ghost and Leila is from West Heath, Birmingham and is from the 21st Century. They share their experiences, similarities and differences throughout this light-hearted and well-structured play. From music to television and to their experiences growing up in Britain, the ways that they came out to their parents, their personalities and their journey to ‘find others like themselves’. This thought provoking and inspiring play gives students an insight into LGBT history. These women’s stories are based on information found during the ‘Back to Backs’ Archival Heritage project that explores Birmingham’s LGBT History.

The second play is set in 1940’s Birmingham and whilst the children are evacuated to Wales and her husband John is at war, the central character Annette falls in love with Rose – her lodger. Both work at Birmingham Small Arms Factory and they slowly fall in love and tell their love story throughout the play with humorous anecdotes and serious speeches. Annette has more to lose than Rose should they be found out, not only would she lose her freedom but also her children as she risks being sent to All Saints Asylum should their relationship be discovered. The play eventually climaxes when John comes home from war and Rose has to leave.

text here

Related Reading

In Memory of Lyra McKee – LGBT History Month 2022
Angela Davis on changing the things you cannot accept – LGBT History Month 2022
Gus Van Sant and My Own Private Idaho – LGBT History Month 2022