This post is the result of a talk I did for the School of Architecture and the Built Environment as an effort to process my own growing awareness of decolonising education. I wanted to share this process as a reflection and hope that somewhere something may resonate with readers.
February in the UK is LGBT+ History Month: a time for reflection, celebration, and activism by and for lesbian, gay, bisexual trans, and non-binary folk. Certainly, there is much to remember, and even more of which we should be rightfully proud. But there is also a growing need to be aware of the challenges facing our communities. The increased prevalence in public discourse of certain forms of intolerance – especially against trans and gender non-conforming people – is something we must be steadfast in resisting. We should not lose sight of the fact that LGBT+ History Month is held in February precisely to commemorate the successful campaign of activism that led to the repeal of the discriminatory Section 28 of the UK’s Local Government Act. Together we are stronger; together we can change our society for the better.
Recent controversies should also inspire us to remember the importance of solidarity. We must recognise that many people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities or gender expressions are marginalised not only by mainstream society but too often within supposedly inclusive LGBT+ spaces as well. In the West, political activism has been reasonably successful in articulating rights claims and carving out spaces for social participation for particular groups of lesbians, gay men, bisexual folk and trans people (the LGBT of the acronym). But we have paid far less attention to intersectional experiences of oppression and the lives and needs of those represented by the supposed catch-all of the “+” in “LGBT+”. This LGBT+ History Month, I’d like us to spend a bit more time thinking about these issues – inside and beyond the plus. Here I am inspired by thinkers from queer of colour scholarship and those seeking to bring decolonial perspectives to bear on issues of gender and sexuality.
So, what might unpacking some of these issues lead us to consider? Firstly, it would involve acknowledging that anyone’s experience of sexuality or gender is shaped by a range of other factors: age, race, ethnicity, religion, culture, migrant status, bodily capacity, class, education, location, profession, to name just a handful. For too long, much of our activism, commemoration, politics and practice in the West has centred the experience of white, Western, cis-gendered, non-disabled people. If we are truly to embrace and value diversity in our communities, we have to start by asking ourselves how diverse and inclusive they already are. There are heartening steps being taken here, from programmes combating sexual racism to the development of connections and resources regarding sexuality and gender in, by and for particular faith-based, ethnic or social groups. But more urgently needs to be done in order to make LGBT+ spaces and politics ones in which non-white, non-cis, non-Western and/or non-normative people and bodies see themselves recognised, valued and included. The Black lesbian scholar Audre Lorde famously wrote: “community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretence that these differences do not exist.”
Secondly, this should lead to us think about the stories we tell and the experiences we centre. Whether it be the Stonewall riots in New York in 1969, the election to the Board of Supervisors and subsequent assassination of Harvey Milk in San Francisco in 1977-78, the emergence of the Gay Liberation Front in the Britain of the 1970s or the rise, oppression and rebirth of queer society in Berlin during the 20th century, it can sometimes seem as if the LGBT history we celebrate and remember took place within a handful of postcodes in majority-White, Western cities, with White, cis-gendered gay men as its key actors. If we are truly to remember LGBT+ history, we must ensure that the contribution of women, drag practitioners, trans and non-binary folk and people of colour is never overlooked. To take just one example, when we consider the history of the Stonewall riots we do not celebrate and honour enough the central roles played by people like Marsha P Johnson (a Black gender-non conforming drag queen), Zazu Nova (a Black trans sex worker), Stormé DeLarverie (a butch lesbian drag king) and Sylvia Rivera (a Latinx trans person). The heroes who fought many of the early battles for LGBT+ freedom and inclusion are largely from the communities that are still, currently, under the most attack and experiencing the most oppression. We would better honour their memories by ensuring the inclusion they fought for is extended to everyone today.
Finally, I would like us to be more sensitive to terminology. Those who do not fit into the categories of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT), deserve to be spoken of more – and with more respect and recognition. These folk deserve much more than just a “plus”; they are not just an addendum after the main event. Inclusion matters. Here in the UK, we need much greater awareness and sensitivity towards those who live and identify as queer, asexual, aromantic, genderqueer, intersex, non-binary, pansexual, polyamorous, genderfluid or polysexual (and the list could continue!). There’s a wealth of rich, beautiful, fascinating history and experience that we should be celebrating and recognising.
This need for better awareness – and more sensitive language – becomes even more urgent when we widen our view. In their modern, globally circulating form, gay, lesbian, bisexual and even trans identities have emerged from very Western socio-historical experiences. Recently, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) recognised publicly that many of the terms used to describe our communities “are of Western origin, and that, in particular, the terms lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer represent concepts of personal identity that are not universal.” They pointed to the fact that around the world people conceive of their gender and sexualities in different ways, use different terms to describe them and prioritise different things in their gender/sexuality activism. Whether it be gender liminal categories such as the kathoey of Thailand, the hijra of India, the fa’afafine of Samoa, or the two-spirit of indigenous North American cultures, or the new types of identity coalescing around same-gender attraction such as同志 (tongzhi) in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, the varieties of gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation – and the terms used to describe them – are as diverse and polyglot as our planet itself. Accordingly, many NGOs and international organisations are now shifting away from using language like LGBT+ to more accurate and inclusive acronyms like SOGIESC (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression and Sexual Characteristics). Groups like the IOM and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) SOGIE Caucus are at the vanguard of making us think more critically and inclusively about the terms we use and how we use them. Roberto Kulpa and Joseli Maria Silva capture some of this in their piece “Decolonizing Queer Epistemologies”: “we need not only to look for ‘non-Western’ examples of the world-wide diversity. Rather, and perhaps foremost, we must reconceptualise our own practices of ‘doing knowledge’”.
This LGBT+ History Month, I encourage you to take some time to consider how those of us in the LGBT community have “done knowledge”. Whose stories have we told? What language and terms have we used? Whose voices, histories, bodies and struggles have been seen to count? Whose identities, politics and futures have been made central. And what – and who – has been overlooked or left out? We have so much to celebrate. But we also have much still to do, so many battles still to fight. Recognising and celebrating the diversity and richness of our communities is a necessary first step towards standing in solidarity with those whose voices have for too long, especially in Western LGBT activism, been marginalised, silenced, or ignored. Celebrating our successes is important. But so too is recognising that new forms of oppression, discrimination and prejudice are emerging within the UK – and elsewhere – today. Similarly, we must acknowledge that, in 2023, the legacy of British colonialism continues to shape understandings, laws and values to do with sexuality and gender in damaging ways around the world. Recognising the depth and diversity of our histories and the plurality of our communities is key to building better futures. And this will require many of us to broaden our view, deepen our understanding and be more ambitious in our goals. As José Esteban Muñoz, challenged us in his book Cruising Utopia: “We must dream and enact new and better pleasures, other ways of being in the world, and ultimately new worlds”.
In the past, I have been invited to speak on behalf of the charity Mermaids [link: www.mermaidsuk.org.uk] at Trans Day of Remembrance (TDoR) events at the University of Lincoln. So, it was especially meaningful to be asked to speak in my own right at the most recent, student organised TDoR event and vigil, on Sunday 20th November 2022. On Monday 20th February I have been invited to speak by the University of Lincoln’s student Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Humanities and Heritage School. Please join me!
The social impact of the COVID pandemic had emphasised the importance of connection, community and solidarity to many of us in the trans including non-binary community, where the isolating effects of prejudice and discrimination are already significant challenges. This has been compounded over recent years in the UK by a growing trend of hostile rhetoric in politics and the media, creating an environment where reported hate crimes and incidents break shameful new records year on year.
This past December, I was given the opportunity to create my own zine (available here on the Library website: Queer Love: An Invisible History) with the workshop that the lovely University of Lincoln staff hosted in the Library. Knowing little about zines, this event allowed me to unravel a rich queer history of self-expression. Much more than a booklet, the zine was a movement, an outlet, and a message to society. One in which allowed LGBTQ+ people to become fiercely visible in the face of oppression. Let me guide you through this rich cultural history as I take you back in time.
Tell’d is an independently published, queer led zine which curates local queer art, accounts and writing. Our aim is to aid in the communication of local queer people, especially those from isolated areas, something common in Lincolnshire – as well as to provide a source for marginalised local creatives to safely display their work. Our zine celebrates positive representation and visibility for the LGBTQ+ community in a place with few queer spaces and outlets.
We are currently working on our 3rd edition. We are so proud or our zine; editions 1 and 2 are full of such wonderful work. People are submitting written accounts, reflections, poems, art and photography – highlighting the wealth of talent from Lincolnshire’s LGBTQ+ community. Furthermore, people are making positive connections with other local creatives, discovering and championing their work. People have also expressed that they have found solace, reassurance and inspiration through engaging with the zine’s content. Tell’d is an outlet for celebrating people’s lived experiences and with this in mind, we are currently applying for funding to produce a book; we want to expand the scope of Tell’d zine, harnessing and exploring the positive response we have had so far.
The book will incorporate all forms of creative expression – as we have seen in the zine so far, but will have more focus on the stories, accounts and experiences of Lincolnshire’s LGBTQ+ community, past and present. This will be a powerful way of documenting queer histories, histories and lived experiences that are very difficult to access in Lincolnshire. To generate a book of these stories would provide a rich resource for LGBTQ+ heritage. It will help people to realise the richness of our county’s social and cultural fabric which will in turn help younger generations and people struggling with their identity/sexuality to feel connected with their peers. This project will help us to understand the social and cultural context of the LGBTQ+ community within different times and spaces.
We have had a great response to the initial stages of the book so far. We are calling out for anybody who would like their stories (or artwork) to be a part of this book. We would greatly appreciate this! We are happy to gather these stories by any means – for example, you could email them, send a word doc or we could gather them orally, recording them in an environment which suits you best. If you would like to find out more or have any questions at all, please email us at: email@example.com or on Instagram/FB @telldzine
And please remember – we are always looking for submissions for our zine – this is an ongoing call out!
Lindsay has been in discussions with Subject Librarian, Oonagh Monaghan about further collaborations including the planning of a Tell’d book, and has featured the current LGBTQ+ History Month display and zines promotion in the next issue of Tell’d which will be available soon!
By Jemima Sims
Library Assistant in the Main University Library
Founded in 2004, LGBTQIA+ History month is upon us, and the theme is “Behind the Lens”. In February 2023, the UK will celebrate the people behind the scenes of stage and screen, such as costume designers, composers, playwrights, screenwriters, make-up artists and many more. Queer actors and actresses are gaining more visibility than ever, however the people off-screen are often unknown, and their contributions are huge.
The University Library have put together some social media posts to celebrate these talented and creative people, beginning with some of the most exciting costume designers in history; Adrian, Orry-Kelly and Patricia Field.
For Black History Month 2022, the Library has two great activities for you to join in with! Everyone is invited to join in with these events.
Connected Heritage & Reimagining Lincolnshire: Black History Month Wikithon (in collaboration with the Library)
Reimagining Lincolnshire: Black History Month Wikithon logo used above was designed by Oonagh Monaghan and features art created by ‘Ccrow Illustration’ (Kes Whyte), University of Lincoln graduate, 2022 and photos from Reimagining Lincolnshire’s collection.
You are invited to learn Wikipedia basics and make some edits to highlight some of the stories and people with connections to Lincolnshire uncovered by the research team at Reimagining Lincolnshire. This event is a part of Wikimedia UK Connected Heritage project, which is funded by DCMS and The National Lottery through The Heritage Fund’s Digital Skills for Heritage initiative.
Editathons aim to address the underrepresentation of people from the Global South, women, people of colour, LGBTQ+ people in Wikipedia entries and among contributors.
The event will take place on Thursday 20th October 1pm-4.30pm online via Zoom and there will also be email communication before the event for all those registered to make sure attendees are prepared.
The Library Subject Librarians Hope Williard and Oonagh Monaghan have been active in researching decolonising initiatives at other Higher Education libraries. Attendance at conferences and liaison with librarians across the sector has enabled us to produce our own University of Lincoln decolonising guide for academic staff and students. The next step is to make the work we are already doing more visible. The aim is to embed decoloniality into the physical space of the library. The prospective projects have been grouped into the following four areas:
Revealing coloniality of existing collections
Embracing and extending decoloniality
In addition to new resources, sinage and use of the winning design in the recent competition, a permanent space in the Library has been allocated and we are now at the stage where we have the plans in place and materials ordered or arrived and we hope that the space will develop over the first term of 2022.
We want to reveal coloniality with the aim to share with our students, staff, and library community the ways that our practices of organising, displaying, and sharing information are shaped by colonial worldviews and outlooks.
We want to challenge coloniality by drawing on existing resources and highlightingnew developments in the library, this strand aimsto spotlight information and resources which challenge the colonial worldviews, allowing those who interact with it to broaden their knowledge and perspectives.
We want to research coloniality and collaborate, support, and promote research within the university relating to decolonisation. A particular focus of this area is the emerging project on zines, and efforts to actively engage with the university’s student as producer initiatives and internal funding schemes.
In the final strand we want to embrace and extend decolonialityand propose initiatives which would allow library staff and the wider university community to extend their knowledge of decoloniality and apply this knowledge in the workplace and beyond.
Part of this work is about developing awareness in the physical space of the Library and developing a dedicated Decolonisation and EDI area for display and promotion. Oonagh Monaghan has collaborated with two Interior Architecture academics, Raymund Konigk and Zakkiya Khan on the design of the area to showcase:
resources in the Library that show the diverse range of voices already in the collection.
Reveal and raise awareness of historical and colonial injustices which are embedded in the Library systems
Provide a space for materials that highlight issues of social justice and underrepresented voices.
showcase the new zines collection
Any questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
(The Reimagining Lincolnshire Project who have a blog Reimagining Lincolnshire – Discovering and sharing untold stories has been engaging with local people and organisations to uncover and celebrate the marginalised and forgotten stories of our city’s past with the hope that we can imagine an inclusive future. Public space can become a bridge between past and present, a site where differences are celebrated by breaking down barriers and starting conversations. It also sits alongside the decolonising agenda at the University of Lincoln which aims to challenge the language we use and the ways in which we teach and learn. The project aims to tell the marginalised stories in new and creative radical ways, challenging existing hierarchies and oppressions that are the result of colonial legacy.
In collaboration with Librarians Hope Williard and Oonagh Monaghan, there are two projects for 2022/23.
For Black History Month, the team have partnered with Wikimedia UK to run an online Wikimedia Heritage Project ‘Wikithon’.
Secondly, Librarian, Oonagh Monaghan has teamed up with Dr Victoria Araj and College of Arts Technician, Jantze Holmes on a ‘Reimagining Zine Project’.