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Diversity in Archives: LGBTQ+ Voices

Guide to searching for diverse voices within archive collections at Hull History Centre

LGBTQ+ Voices

 

Search for records of LGBTQ+ people in the Hull History Centre collections.

Background

Records relating to members of what we would now call the LGBTQ+ community can be difficult to find in archive records. Male homosexuality was illegal in Britain until 1967, meaning that it is often hidden from official records and records which do contain references to homosexual activity often relate to breaches of the law. This may give the false impression that, historically, members of the LGBTQ+ community were likely to be criminals.

Same-sex relationships between women were never illegal but, perhaps because of this, they can be even more difficult to find evidence of in the historical record.

Many LGBTQ+ people would not have written letters or diaries documenting their lives, or if they did they or their families may not have wanted them preserved forever.

Archive catalogues may also inadvertently obscure LGBTQ+ people. In the past people would have used different words to describe themselves, if indeed they described themselves at all. For example, although there have always been people who crossed gender boundaries, the word transgender itself is relatively recent in origin. Archivists try not to use terms to describe people other than those they used to describe themselves, so although catalogues will often try to indicate LGBTQ+ themes within a collection this does mean that some stories may be hard to find.

Searching

Although LGBTQ+ voices are currently underrepresented in Hull University Archives’ collections, there is material within several collections which sheds light on LGBTQ+ activism and wider attitudes to the community.

Most of this material is within the archives of Liberty, the civil liberties pressure group (reference U DCL). Files include pre-1967 correspondence and press cuttings, gay rights campaigning from the late 1960s onwards, and papers relating to homosexuality in the police and army. Voices of LGBTQ+ people can be found within these files, both in letters written to Liberty and in the collections of pamphlets and campaigning literature. Download two documents from the Liberty collection at the bottom of the page: a flyer for Sequel, a lesbian group and publication (reference U DCL/701/10), and a flyer for the Gay Liberation Front (reference U DCL/701/10).

Elsewhere there are files within the papers of the MPs Patrick Wall (reference U DPW) and Kevin McNamara (reference U DMC) relating to the Wolfenden Committee, homosexual reform, and homosexuality in the army.

When searching archive catalogues try using keywords such as “homosexuality”, “gay” (although be aware that this is also a surname which appears in a number of records at the History Centre), “lesbian” and so on to search for material. You can also try more coded language such as "partner" or "companion". If you know the names of prominent or local members of the LGBTQ+ community, try searching for them in case they appear.

Other resources

Searching local newspapers can be a way into locating hidden histories. Hull History Centre offers free access to British Newspapers Online, which includes the Hull Daily Mail amongst many other papers.

For help in searching newspapers, Glamorgan Archives has produced an excellent list of coded historical language and possible search terms, which is included in their publication Queering Glamorgan [PDF]. The guide also includes lists of archive collections which are likely to contain relevant information. Although it is based on collections held in Glamorgan, many of the suggested sources (such as court and hospital records) are likely to be held in other archives too, and may give you ideas of where to direct your research.

 

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