Pride Month 2022: Where to learn about London’s LGBTQ+ history

·4-min read
Painted history: an exihibit at Queer Britain  (AFP via Getty Images)
Painted history: an exihibit at Queer Britain (AFP via Getty Images)

Did you know that an 18th century Duchess and her husband were in a polyamorous relationship with another woman?

Don't beat yourself up if you didn’t — London’s queer past has always been shrouded in mystery. Stonewall’s 2017 survey found that two in five school students had never been taught anything about LGBTQ+ issues in class.

This years Pride theme is #AllOurPride, which encourages a look back at the past 50 years of LGBTQ+ history, taking stock of some of the key events and crucial moments that have shaped modern life for the LGBTQ+ community. Though there’s an argument that more can always be done, there are a few places in London where you can learn about queer heritage, whether by delving into the archives or dancing in a drag bar.

Queer Britain

Better late than never: after four years of planning this May finally saw the opening of what, astonishingly, is the UK’s only museum dedicated to LGBTQ+ history. The accessible museum is an inclusive space that proudly welcomes everyone — regardless of gender and sexuality — and is dedicated to celebrating “the stories, people and places that are intrinsic to the queer community in the UK and beyond.” It is free to visit and includes four galleries, a workshop, an education space and, of course, a trusty gift shop.

2 Granary Square, N1C 4BH, queerbritain.org.uk

Bishopsgate Institute

The library in the Bishopsgate Institute has a whole section for LGBTQ+ history, with areas dedicated to the collections of significant organisations. It holds placards and press cuttings for groups including Outrage!, set up in response to the murder of gay actor Michael Boothe, who campaigned through non-violent action for the human rights of queer people. The Lesbian and Gay Newsmedia Archive contains around 250,000 press cuttings about the LGBTQ+ experience from the late 19th century to now, as well as t-shirts, banners and club flyers.

230 Bishopsgate, EC2M 4QH, bishopsgate.org.uk

Museum of London

The Museum of London’s exhibits date back to its Roman origins and it boasts a range of LGBTQ+ artefacts from throughout history. In the mid-1500s, homosexual acts between men became a criminal offence – this only became legal in 1967 – and the museum holds records of these prosecutions, sometimes executions. A number of protest badges are also on display, including those for early Pride marches and pink triangle badges, which were worn as a reference to the cloth badges gay prisoners were made to wear by the Nazis.

150 London Wall, EC2Y 5HN, museumoflondon.org.uk

Gay’s The Word

 (IMDB)
(IMDB)

As the oldest dedicated LGBTQ+ bookshops in the country, Gay’s The Word is a treasure. The shop has everything from young adult fiction to crime and romance, as well as enough non-fiction books to last you through till next year’s Pride month. Many will have learned about Gay’s The Word from hit film Pride, which told the story of LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners). The bookshop served as headquarters for the campaign group, who raised money and support for striking Welsh miners in the 1980s. A plaque for Mark Ashton, who led the group before he died age 27, adorns the outside wall.

66 Marchmont Street, WC1N 1AB, gaystheword.co.uk

Chiswick House

As same-sex female relations were never a criminal offence, it can be difficult to find record of lesbian and female bisexual histories, but “romantic female friendships” were apparently all the rage in the 18th century. Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and resident of Chiswick House, though married to a Duke, had a number of affairs with women, which we know about through letters. She and her husband even entered into a polyamorous relationship with a Lady Elizabeth Foster, who they invited to live with them.

Burlington Lane, W4 2RP, chiswickhouseandgardens.org.uk

Admiral Duncan

A stalwart of Old Compton Street in Soho, the Admiral Duncan has been open since 1832, when it was home to a wooden-legged ex-sailor who was charged with throwing stones at King William IV and sent to Australia. Later, in 1999, it was the target of a neo-Nazi nail bomb attack, which killed three and injured more than 70. A plaque in the bar commemorates the dead and injured, and a memorial chandelier reads “we shall never forget our friends”. Showing the queer community’s strength of spirit, the pub reopened weeks later and is still the home to drag nights of raucous fun.

Old Compton Street, W1D 4UB, admiral-duncan.co.uk

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