GWL’s LGBTQ Collections

Glasgow Women's Library

Explore the Glasgow Women's Library's LGBTQ Collections.

The objects, publications and archive items you see here are drawn principally from GWL’s own home-grown collection of LGBTQ materials, as well as the Lesbian Archive and Information Centre collection, which is popularly known as ‘The Lesbian Archive’. These collections form a significant part of GWL’s overall collection making up almost a third of our Archive and Museum collections, and together they make one of the most unique and important collections of LGBTQ history in the UK. Here we've selected just a small number of objects from our LGBTQ resources. They tell the powerful stories of LGBTQ activism over the last 50 years.
The relationship between lesbian politics and the politics of Women’s Liberation and feminism now feels very closely aligned. Though lesbian women initially had a complicated and hostile reception in the Women’s Liberation Movement, the 1970s witnessed lesbian women finding more affinity with Women’s Liberation.

Arena Three was a British publication which ran between 1964-1972. Edited by one of its founders Esme Langley, the magazine was produced by the English Minorities Research Group of which Langley was driving force. It is commonly understood to be the first explicitly lesbian publication in the UK.

The final issue of Arena Three was published in July 1971. Its absence was quickly filled by a new publication called Sappho, which was first published in April 1972.

Sappho was an influential publication produced between 1972 and 1982, and edited by the lesbian broadcaster and campaigner Jackie Forster.

The magazine had wide ranging concerns, but principally sought to give voice (through its letters pages in particular) to lesbian women across the UK.

The magazine charts the powerful influence of lesbian women in the feminist movement, as well as the beginnings of visible social and political activities of LGBT women in the UK.

This article appeared in a later issue of the magazine and showed the readership the process by which Sappho was produced and sent out to its readership.

Discussions around labour and content creation became an increasing preoccupation in later issues, and these discussions were regularly echoed in wider feminist discourse.

In recent years, the solidarity between lesbians and gay men during the Miner’s Strike between 1984-1985 has been highlighted in newspapers and high profile films like Pride.

Our collection has campaign materials which track the involvement of lesbian and gay support for the miners, as well as other high profile strikes from the time, particularly the Wapping printworker’s strike.

Police brutality, unfair state retribution and press vilification allowed striking workers and lesbian and gay people to draw close parallels between the others experiences.

2018 marks 30 years since the Thatcher government introduced Section 28.

Section 28 was introduced by the Conservative government as an amendment to the Local Government Act prohibiting the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality by councils in schools or other areas controlled by local government such as libraries.

Our collection charts the efforts made by groups to oppose the introduction of the bill through media campaigns, debates, lobbying of MPs and direct action, as well as the charge to repeal the law once it was instituted.

This poster, for an event by the Lambeth Gay and Lesbian Working Party dates from before Section 28 came into effect in May 1988, raises concerns about the censorship implications of the law.

The Lesbians and Policing Project was a project set up in the mid-eighties to help Lesbians in contact with the Police, either through prosecution or as victims of crimes, through support and advice.

Much of the work undertaken by LESPOP advised women of their rights at the point of arrest, and helped them understand about police, home office and judicial processes.

These posters are part of a series produced by LESPOP, aimed at women who were part of the immigration system, advising them on what to do in the event of a raid on their home.

Before Section 28, Lesbian and Gay publications and press had already seen an unprecedented attack when the HM Customs and Excise raided and seized imports of books by the Gay’s the Word bookshop in Camden.

The bookshop was (and continues to be) an important source of LGBT literature and non-fiction. Due to the limited circulation of these kinds of materials in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Gay’s the Word imported a number of literary works from abroad as well as important academic books and journals which reflected on the fields of sexuality and gender.

The raid in 1984 was justified by UK authorities on the grounds of the distribution of obscene and indecent material. Seized works included works by the Joy of Lesbian Sex, as well as works by Tennessee Williams and Kate Millett.

The arrest of directors and staff of Gay’s the Word resulted in a high profile court case in 1985, and a huge campaign to save the bookshop and prevent the criminalisation of its owners ensued.

The case was thrown out in 1985 and the charges eventually dropped.

The GWL LGBTQ collections have been sorted, listed and researched by GWL staff and volunteers.

As part of this work, volunteers put together pieces of writing and artwork reflecting on the things they learnt throughout their research and engagement with the collections

This t-shirt, created by Bel Pye, was inspired by a badge from the the LAIC (Lesbian Archive and Information Centre) collection.

The badge from the LAIC collection.

This new t-shirt, now part of our collection, responds to controversial legislation that defines access to public toilets by transgender individuals.

Reflecting on working with the GWL LGBTQ collections, Bel commented:

"What the archive has taught me is the importance, as an activist, of understanding your history. Knowing what came before allows you to build on top of that rather than starting from scratch – learning from the mistakes of others rather than having to make your own, as well as making informed criticism and highlighting what you want to change in the future. As an activist I have learnt that I am part of a timeline that stretches back long long before I was even born."

Credits: Story

This exhibition has been curated, designed and produced based on articles and interpretation by Alice Andrews and GWL Volunteers.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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