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Nottinghamshire's Rainbow Heritage's David Edgley on Our City's LGBTQ+ History

19 July 20 words: Caroline Barry

Established in 2008, Nottinghamshire’s Rainbow Heritage aims to preserve the area’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history. With many of the city’s venues under threat of closure due to COVID-19, Caroline Barry talks to the project’s David Edgley about Nottingham’s LGBTQ+ history, the dangers of complacent activism and what can be done to preserve the city’s safe spaces.

Our culture is not having a great time at the moment. Our city appears to be shedding gay clubs and pubs at an alarming rate, as we’ve been forced to say goodbye to three so far this year. These venues are more than just a space to throw out some questionable 1am dance moves – they provide safe spaces where we can be our authentic selves.

As Nottingham joins the long line of cities at risk of losing their gay identity, it’s refreshing to know there are some community members dedicated to saving our history. Nottinghamshire’s Rainbow Heritage (NRH) has been in existence since 2008 as a means of documenting our past and present, as well as providing us with support for the future.

“Nottinghamshire’s Rainbow Heritage is a project which charts our LGBTQ+ history. Although it started in 2008, its origins are a little earlier, as several local people had been collecting LGBTQ+- related memorabilia for many years,” says David Edgley, one of the project’s founding members. “This included old copies of gay news circa 1972 to 1982, newsletters and magazines produced in Nottingham since the early seventies, badges, the minutes of various activist groups and photographs of LGBTQ+ events. The collectors were very aware of Nottinghamshire’s amazing queer history.”

One continuing challenge for the LGBTQ+ community is not to drift into complacency. There will always be people who wish to turn the clock back

The NRH project was given the opportunity to establish itself more officially thanks to a financial grant, which is when David’s involvement stepped up a level: “My own personal involvement stemmed from being one of those ‘collectors’ to being awarded a Millennium History Project grant in 2000 which funded twenty recorded interviews, lots of photographs, a book and a website.” He explains, “The project was launched with a large week-long exhibition on the top floor of Waterstones. On the opening night, we gave awards to people, organisations, groups and venues that have benefited the local LGBTQ+ community. Since 2011 the annual event has become the Celebration and Awards evening and is held at Nottingham’s Council House.”

The annual awards recognise the hard work and dedication of Nottingham’s LGBTQ+ volunteers and workers in providing services for the community. Although some of the services have since lapsed, David elucidates, “I sometimes think the awards are the kiss of death. Several groups or organisations which have received awards have closed shortly afterwards, such as Healthy Gay Nottingham, Breakout, Recreation, Lookout, Sapphist Writers and many more.”

Alongside the important work that NRH does, it also provides essential awareness training to organisations such as the police, the Council, schools and universities. It is a vital resource considering the recent divisions of the Pride parade over police inclusion, as the treatment of LGBTQ+ people by these organisations have not always been positive or inclusive. David explains: “NRH’s application to the Heritage Lottery Fund included an aim to carry out at least eight LGBTQ+ awareness training sessions per year. Since 2008, over 100 sessions have been delivered to statutory organisations: Councils, Police, NHS, schools, colleges and universities, but also to care homes, solicitors and the NSPCC. Much of the training for the past six years has been supported by the Police and Crime Commissioner.” He continues, “One important element in the training is the examination of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, looking at their causes, their effects and providing tools for tackling them. It is important to make it clear that LGBTQ+ people’s anticipation of homophobia frequently sets up a barrier to accessing services which could be of benefit. Organisations, therefore, need to be upfront in their recognition and support of LGBTQ+ people.”

Young people sometimes assume that things have always been like they are now. A lot of young LGBTQ+ people are shocked when they learn how things were just a few years ago

In the age of social media activism, online petitions and Twitter outrage, it’s difficult to understand if the younger generation of #instagays know their local history. David continues, “In 1999 there were about twenty instances where the law actively discriminated against LGBTQ+ people. Since then, these laws have nearly all been removed. Young people sometimes assume that things have always been like they are now. A lot of young LGBTQ+ people are shocked when they learn how things were just a few years ago. The members of the Worksop LGBTQ+ youth group, WOW, were certainly surprised by how things were and have put together a couple of videos dealing with those issues.”

Watching how many people took to the streets to protest that not just Black Lives Matter, but that Black Trans Lives also Matter, in recent weeks has been uplifting to see. However, with world events showing changes to LGBTQ+ rights across the globe, there is a danger that Twitter activism will mean no real progress is made. As David says, “One continuing challenge for the LGBTQ+ community is not to drift into complacency. There will always be people who wish to turn the clock back – we think of Section 28 (the law that prevented school teachers from being openly gay) and we observe what is happening in Hungary, Poland and in Trump-ville. We need to remain vigilant.” 

Nottinghamshire Rainbow Heritage website

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