If you had found yourself the mouthpiece of a generation, how would you begin to tell their stories?
Opening the recent Queer Tour of London to a packed gallery at LSE, the septuagenarian raconteur Andrew Lumsden asserted, “we learnt everything we did from the feminist movement”.
In the coming hours, we were to visit a range of sites across central London which were vital to the ‘Gay Liberation Front’, a movement campaigning for the decriminalisation and further equality of LGBT people in the 1960s and 70s.
Moving through the streets of London like a small but equally obnoxious pride parade, Andrew peers over a paper map to the surprise of those of us under thirty. We arrive in Essex Street where the women of the GLF had once responded to the publishing of allegations of coat-hanger abortions in a book by Dr David Reuben by brandishing raw liver and their own hangers in a theatrical display that would have given Marina Abramović a run for her money.
The tales we heard were those of defiance and great personal sacrifice, with regular arrests at each demonstration. Arriving outside the now empty Bow Street Police station which had once held Oscar Wilde amongst many others, the feeling was one of collective rage but also of focus, this relic of Britain’s homophobic past (and present), serving as a reminder to the liberal-minded Brit now shocked at finding themselves unambivalently on the wrong side of history. In recounting the particular court case of ‘Fanny and Stella’ from 1880, in which the police were found guilty of invading personal privacy, history proved difficult to translate into modern terms.
As E-J Scott has found in curating the highly acclaimed ‘Museum of Transology’ exhibition at London’s Fashion Space Gallery, trans history is incredibly difficult to untangle due to the changing or often absent lexicon of different times and because of the sheer lack of recognition and documentation. Andrew sensitively navigated this discursive issues but there nonetheless remains a widespread need to appreciate the limitations of even contemporary terminology whilst trying to unearth these hidden histories.
Ending in Covent Garden outside what is now Galeria Melissa, hosting Vivienne Westwood’s latest installation, it felt apt as the place where the GLF had hosted three hundred person meetings and was, as Andrew remembers, “briefly fashionable”, receiving visitors like Warhol superstar Ultra Violet. People spoke about the bravery and humour of the movement and of Andrew’s wit. There was a felt sense of importance in claiming public space and building links between generations, something often brushed aside in activist spaces. But most poignantly was a shared desire amongst a group of queers to grow old and to keep resisting, a surge of hope much needed at this time.
The next Queer Tour of London, ‘Brixton Dykes on the Rampage – Morning Mince’, will be on the 18th March.
Author: Dex Grodner