Did you know that an 18th century British duchess and her husband were in a polyamorous relationship with another woman?
Don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t: Britain’s queer past has often been forgotten, or even hidden. The 2017 Stonewall survey found that two in five students had never been taught anything about LGBTQ+ issues in class.
But February is LGBTQ+ History Month, which is a great opportunity to learn about some of the key events and pivotal moments that have shaped modern life for the LGBTQ+ community. While more could always be done, there are now a few places in London where you can learn about queer heritage, whether it’s delving into the archives or dancing in a drag bar.
Better late than never: after four years of planning, what is surprisingly the only museum in the UK dedicated to LGBTQ+ history finally opened last May. 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. “. The visit is free and includes four galleries, a workshop, an educational space and, of course, a trusted gift shop.
2 Barn Square, N1C 4BH; queerbritain.org.uk
The Bishopsgate Institute Library has a whole section for LGBTQ+ history, with areas dedicated to the collections of major organisations. Contains banners and clippings from groups such as Outrage!, created in response to the murder of gay actor Michael Boothe, who campaigned through nonviolent action for queer human rights. The Lesbian & Gay Media Archive contains around 250,000 press clippings about the LGBTQ+ experience from the late 19th century to the present, as well as club T-shirts, banners and flyers.
230 Bishopsgate, EC2M 4QH; bishopsgate.org.uk
Last year also saw the opening of Queercircle, a wheelchair-accessible creative space entirely dedicated to presenting the work of queer artists. The gallery and library will hold exhibitions, residencies, workshops and has a dedicated project space to boot. All of this means that it’s a fantastic place to learn about LGBTQ+ history. Past events have included a listening session on UK Black Queer party culture, exhibits by Bones Tan Jones and the Queer Youth Art Collective and a poetry reading. Queercircle is currently closed until February 23rd as they are gearing up for their next exhibition Rafael Pérez Evans: Dust Bathers.
3 Barton Yard, Soames Walk, London SE10 0BN; queercircle.org
gay is the word
As the oldest dedicated LGBTQ+ bookstores in the country, Gay’s The Word is a treasure. The store has everything from young adult fiction to crime and romance, as well as enough nonfiction books to last until Pride month next year. Many will have heard of The Word of Gay from the hit movie Pride, which told the story of LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support Miners). The bookstore served as the headquarters for the campaign group, which raised money and support for striking Welsh miners in the 1980s. A plaque for Mark Ashton, who led the group before he died aged 27, adorns the outside wall. .
66 Marchmont Street, WC1N 1AB; gaystheword.co.uk
As same-sex relationships between women were never a criminal offense, it can be difficult to find records of bisexual histories of lesbians and women, but “romantic friendships between women” 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 series of affairs with women, of which we learn from letters. She and her husband even entered into a polyamorous relationship with Lady Elizabeth Foster, whom they invited to live with them.
Burlington Lane, W4 2RP; chiswickhouseandgardens.org.uk
A stalwart of Old Compton Street in Soho, the Admiral Duncan has been open since 1832. In 1999, it was the target of a neo-Nazi nail bomb attack, which killed three people and injured more than 70. A plaque on the bar commemorates the dead and wounded, and a memorial chandelier reads “we will never forget our friends.” Showing the strength of spirit of the queer community, the pub reopened weeks later and continues to be home to nights of raucous fun.
Old Compton Street, W1D 4UB; admiral-duncan.es
Queer History Walking Tour
Whether you’re new to London or have been here for years, there’s no better way to get to know the city than with a guided tour. Cabaret artist Mark T Cox offers a particularly good one, stopping at iconic spots like Heaven gay nightclub, Admiral Duncan, and what was once Molly House (places where men could meet and have sex in the 18th century). and XIX) – and it’s completely free, too. The two-hour tour is part of London With A Local, which means he won’t always be the guide on the route, so if you want to hear specifically from Cox, check his website for upcoming guide dates. .
Clermont Hotel, Charing Cross, Strand, London WC2N 5HX; londonwithalocal.com/lgbtqtour