An LGBT-themed Lucky Dip

By Ross Horsley, Local and Family History, Leeds Central Library |

The city’s Pride weekend may still be a week away but events are well underway in Leeds Libraries. Yesterday, Stonewall’s Josh Willacy hosted a discussion on ‘The History of Pride and Why It’s Important’, and still to come at Central Library are a special Rainbow Storytime and two screenings of classic gay films (details below). You’ll know by now that we never need much in the way of an excuse to go rummaging through our collections in the hope of turning up something interesting and less well-known to put on display; and I have to say I haven’t been disappointed in that respect when it comes to finding items reflecting LGBT history. Largely, that’s due to my discovery of the works of Edward Carpenter (1844-1929), which were brought to my attention by our Collections Manager, Rhian.

In and around the usual flurry of workshops, enquiries and admin in Local and Family History recently, I’ve just about managed to scrape the surface of Carpenter’s output – or at least get a feel for his warm writing style. If you’re not familiar with him, he was an author, writing passionately on a range of humanitarian and philosophical subjects, including what can be pretty accurately classed as the early days of gay rights. He was also gay himself, and a lecturer, and a sandal-maker, market gardener, poet, and multitude of other things. He grew up in Brighton but moved to Leeds, travelled through India, lived in Sheffield for a time, and in rural Derbyshire even longer. He settled down with a partner, George Merrill, with whom he spent half of his life and described in an incredibly touching ‘true history and study in psychology’. As you can tell, I’m possibly becoming a bit fascinated with him – to the extent I don’t feel ready to do him justice with a blog post just yet.

What Rhian and I did manage to pull together is a selection of books both by and about Carpenter, including references from the journals of his friend, the Leeds historian Alf Mattison. These we’ve put on display in Central Library’s Room 700, their pages opened to interesting passages in the way you do when you put books in glass boxes (a practice I’m not always a fan of, but can live with as long as I know they’re coming out again in the not-to-distant future, having hopefully served a tantalizing purpose). I also promise to report back on them here at The Secret Library sometime soon.

Today, however, I’ll offer a small selection of what I think I’ll call gay-themed moments from our collections – not because I want to be flouncy about it, but because they don’t all quite qualify as individual items. There’s seven for you (one for each colour of the rainbow, natch) and I’m not going to town on the descriptions… it’s just a glimpse of what we have, okay? You can visit these too in Room 700 throughout the remainder of our LGBT-themed events.

Leeds Other Paper (pictured above, and shelved at: LQ 072 LEE) – For twenty years from 1974, the ‘LOP’ provided an alternative slant on life in the city, announcing its arrival with the mission statement: “It is our intention to support all groups active in industry and elsewhere for greater control of their own lives.” For the first time, LGBT readers found event listings, reviews and advice included within a title aimed at a wider readership of Leeds residents. Our favourite expose? July 1993’s “HETEROSEXUALITY: Can it be cured? What causes it?”

Out in Leeds – Following the example set by the Leeds Other Paper, most local guides began including LGBT sections in the 1990s, including Leeds Fax (L 914.2819 LEE), seen here from 1992. By 1995, West Yorkshire had its own monthly gay newsletter, SHOUT! (YQ 306.76 SHO). Also pictured below is a 2006 DVD package produced by the Leeds Animation Workshop, entitled Out at Work (L 306.76 OUT), which sought to promote better understanding about equal rights among lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

Spare Rib (Q Periodical 305.4 SPA) – With a similar lifespan to the more local Leeds Other Paper, the monthly Spare Rib magazine (1972-1993) challenged female stereotypes, especially where sex was concerned. Embracing gay and bisexual women within its audience from the start, its journalism was thorough and often hard-hitting, such as a damning condemnation of Clause 28 by Sarah Roelofs, published in April 1988 (when Greek comedy duo Donna and Kebab graced the front cover).

The Happy Prince and Other Tales (823 WIL) – Our 1907 edition of Oscar Wilde’s first volume of original fairy tales is illustrated by Walter Crane and Jacomb Hood. Wilde’s children’s stories occupy a complex place among his wider literature. Some readers have interpreted the tale of ‘The Happy Prince’, for example, as a symbolic depiction of a loving friendship between an older and younger man – here represented as a stone statue and a swallow. The story ends with a kiss… and a death.

The Well of Loneliness (823 HAL) – First published in 1928, this classic of gay literature tells the story of an upper-class woman called Stephen Gordon, who begins a relationship with another woman while working as an ambulance driver during the First World War. Despite its most explicit reference being the now-famous sentence and that night they were not divided,” the book was effectively banned almost immediately by the Home Secretary and remained unavailable in Britain for over twenty years. The oldest copy in our collection comes from 1973.

The Kinsey Reports (SR 612.6 K625) – Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953), by Alfred Kinsey and others, were two instantly-controversial studies drawn from thousands of interviews with the American public. On the subject of hetero- and homosexuality, Kinsey wrote: The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats.” Instead he proposed a seven-point scale of gradations in between, paving the way for today’s more fluid understanding of sexualities.

The Naked Civil Servant (B CRI) – The always openly (some would say flamboyantly) gay Quentin Crisp embarrassed the English at a time when they deserved to be embarrassed,” according to his friend and biographer, Paul Bailey. Crisp’s 1968 memoir, published not long after the passing of the Sexual Offences Act, describes his life up to middle-age, including the almost daily insults and physical assaults he took in his stride as simply a fact of his existence. The 1975 film adaptation of The Naked Civil Servant (starring John Hurt) is showing at Leeds Central Library on Tuesday 8 August at 6pm. You can book tickets via the usual link: www.ticketsource.co.uk/leedslibraryevents

And, as promised, here are further details of our other upcoming Pride-themed events:

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