2020 John Addington Symonds Lecture

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Nov 012020

The lecture at our AGM this year was given by Dr. Alan Greaves of the University of Liverpool. His talk was quite interactive, and also included some material that we don’t have permission to share on this website, but Dr. Greaves has given us permission to share the substance of his talk here.

The focus of the lecture was statues, something that is very topical in Bristol right now. In particular, Dr. Greaves looked at one particular statue that is now in the World Museum in Liverpool. It is titled “Sleeping Venus”, and if you click through to the Museum’s website you will see a fairly typical Roman statue of a near-naked woman reclining, apparently asleep.

The statue came to the Museum from the estate of Henry Blundell, a wealthy art collector who lived around the time of the Napoleonic Wars. Blundell records that this particular piece required extensive restoration before he was able to put it on display at his mansion, Ince Blundell Hall. It is the nature of this “restoration” that is of interest to us.

We know what the statue originally looked like because the statue was sketched by Blundell’s friend, Charles Townley. That sketch is part of a collection of that is now in the British Museum. Here it is.

The “restoration”, it seems, involved more taking away than repairing. The three child figures, one of whom was apparently suckling at the reclining figure’s breast, have been cut away and the statue repaired so that their removal is not obvious. A careful look at the Townley sketch also reveals a set of male genitals nestling between the thighs of the adult figure. These too have been removed. The crotch is now entirely smooth.

The original statue, therefore, was not of Venus, but of her child, Hermaphrodit(us/e), who is both male and female. This god was well known in the Roman world, and many statues of them exist. There is a very famous one in the Louvre in Paris. No one is entirely sure what these statues meant to the Romans. Modern historians, who are often as perturbed by such figures as Blundell, tend to assume that they were some sort of crude joke. However, one of the functions of the god appears to be to watch over (heterosexual) marriage, in which a man and a woman join together as one.

What we can say about the statue is that Blundell’s alterations have erased its original nature and function. It was acceptable in Georgian times to have a statue of a near-naked woman in your house or garden. It was not acceptable to show her breast-feeding, and it was absolutely not acceptable for her (him? them?) to have a penis.

The alterations also erase another facet of ancient life. A small percentage of human babies are born with ambiguous genitalia, or other features which cause them to not fit neatly into our categories of boy and girl. These days we call such people intersex. There are over 100 different known medical variations of the more common body types. For many decades it has been commonplace for such babies to be operated on while very young to make them appear less different. Such operations can lead to life-long medical problems. The fact that this has been done is generally kept highly secret, with only the doctors and parents knowing it has happened. This could not happen in ancient times. They didn’t have maternity hospitals, or sophisticated plastic surgery techniques.

In the more brutal ancient societies such as Sparta, and Rome in its early days, a baby who looked unusual in some way might well be killed. But by the time of the Empire social attitudes in Rome seem to have softened. One intersex person, a man called Favorinus, became a famous philosopher and a favourite of the Emperor Hadrian, despite having apparently never gone through male puberty. That’s an amazing achievement in a society as patriarchal as Rome.

The modern intersex rights movement is fighting to ban all surgery on infants. For more information see

Queer loss, queer Classics – 2019 AGM Lecture

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Nov 052019

Jennifer IngleheartWe are delighted to present this recording of the lecture from our 2019 AGM. The speaker is Professor Jennifer Ingleheart, Professor of Latin at Durham University. The title of the talk is, “Queer loss, queer Classics: A. E. Housman’s ‘lost country’”. For more information about the talk see the our earlier post advertising the event. A copy of the handout that accompanied the talk can be downloaded here.

In addition to being part of the AGM, the lecture celebrates the birth in 1840 of John Addington Symonds, Bristol-born writer, art historian and pioneer of homosexual rights. Mr. Symonds birthday is celebrated annually by the Institute of Greece, Rome, and the Classical Tradition at the University of Bristol who also provided the venue and refreshments. Our thanks to both Professor Ingleheart for a fascinating lecture, and to the Institute for the arrangements.

Reclaiming Queer Feminist Liberation

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Feb 132019

Ellie O’Connell, Education Co-ordinator, Feminist Archive South will kick off our day of talks at M Shed on Saturday with this great presentation:

This talk will share how exploring feminist and queer archives with LGBTQ young people can stimulate vital discussion around intersectionality, inclusivity and solidarity in activism then and now. Drawing on the Feminist Archive’s educational workshops funded by the Government Equalities Office and delivered in partnership with T.I.G.E.R, teacher Ellie O’Connell will share how creative methods can bring archives to life and mobilise activism.

Reclaiming queer feminist liberation politics works to provide spaces for learning about the connections between the Gay and Women’s Liberation Movements and facilitate intergenerational exchange within LGBTQ communities. The realisation of shared systems of oppression under what bell hooks termed the ‘imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy’ is a key point of learning around the foundations for solidarity; this is illustrated by a variety of compelling archive sources from the gay and women’s liberation movements included in our resource.

In developing an archival handling collection that highlights these key questions, we’ve sought to represent a range of voices at the intersection of the gay and women’s liberation movements, including queer people of colour, disabled and trans feminists. Through collectively mapping the major achievements of LGBT+ and feminist movements, we start to see what they have in common. For example, the way in which trans rights, free abortion and contraception, making marital rape illegal and decriminalising gay sex represent victories of bodily autonomy for those who do not conform to the heterosexual reproductive matrix. In seeking to understand what others face, we must first identify correlations between oppressions. As Shon Fay has articulated, ‘Misogyny, homophobia and transphobia share much of the same DNA.’ Considering the continuing multiple struggles faced by young LGBTQ people today, forming inclusive multiple alliances must be the way forward.

Central to the Feminist Futures educational workshops is the creative transformation of archival materials through DIY counter-cultural methods including badge, poster and zine making. How can we take inspiration from feminist archive materials and reconfigure them to envision queer feminist futures? This presentation will share some of the amazing work about LGBT+ feminism made by young people in workshops as well as showcasing work from the Feminist Everywhere, a project by UWE students using FAS to create Bristol site-specific artworks, including ‘Gay Disco History Parking Ticket’, a subversive work of activist performance art. In addition, we’ll share how including LGBTQ herstories in our A Level Art, Sociology, History and English workshops and resources not only creates spaces to stray from the heteronormative curriculum but also reclaims the presence of LGBTQ people and culture in all areas of feminist herstory.

You can download a free copy of the LGBT+ Feminist Movements resource and find out more about FAS workshops here.

Change of Speaker

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Feb 132019

Unfortunately Dr Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman has been taken ill and will be unable to speak at M Shed on Saturday. However, Dr Edson Burton has kindly volunteered to step in at the last minute and will be giving a talk on Decolonising Sexuality. Our thanks to Edson, who will be brilliant as always, and our best wishes to Nathaniel for a speedy recovery.

There are no changes to the timings of the talks. The full programme can be found here.

Forthcoming #LGBTHM Events

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Feb 122019

We are by no means the only people putting on LGBT History Month events in Bristol. Here are a few things you might want to attend.

Saturday Feb. 23rd: An afternoon of events at The Chocolate Quarter in Keynsham, including films, a short play and discussions. Places are limited so please contact St. Monica Trust to register. This event is a collaboration of the St. Monica Trust, The Chocolate Quarter, GayWest and the Bristol Ageing Better LGBT+ Group.

Thursday Feb. 21st: An evening Proud Bristol event featuring our Robert Howes.

Wednesday Feb. 27th: A Noon Reception at the Lord Mayor’s Chapel, courtesy of the City Council LGBT+ Employees Group.

Thursday Feb. 28th: An evening event staged by Unite the Union, featuring Tom Marshman.

Meet Silence – Non-Binary Knight

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Feb 112019

There was a great deal of excitment earlier this month when a previously unknown Arthurian manuscript was discovered in Bristol Library. These things do turn up from time to time. In 1911 a box of letters written by Henry VIII was found at Woolaton Hall in Nottinghamshire, and in 1927 something much older was noticed in amongst them. It was a manuscript of a 13th Century story called The Romance of Silence clearly set in Arthurian Britain and featuring the enchanter, Merlin. It turned out to be a very unusual story indeed.

The main character of the story, Silence, is assigned female at birth, but raised as a boy by their parents. Silence grows up to be a famous knight. Even the queen is enamoured of “him”, but of course Silence must remain mysteriously, and infuriatingly from the point of view of the ladies, chaste.

Performance storyteller, Rachel Rose Reid, will be in coversation with transgender literary critic, Cheryl Morgan, at our LGBT History Month event. Rachel and Cheryl will discuss the character of Silence, and how a 12th Century author produced a tale that is a sophisticated examination of themes of gender, and of nature v nurture.

In the evening Rachel will be performing part of the story just over the harbour at the Arnolfini. You can by tickets here.

For full details of the line-up for this year’s LGBT History Month event, click here.

LGBT History on Ujima

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Feb 082019

Cheryl Morgan has a regular monthly show on Ujima Radio in Bristol. This month she devoted the entire show to LGBT history. That included reports from the LGBT History Month in Taunton last weekend, and two studio interviews. Cheryl talked to former Bristol MP, Stephen Williams, about his time as an openly gay MP and his love of LGBT history. She then chatted with author, Alan Robert Clark, about his new book, Prince of Mirrors, which features the probably bisexual grandson of Queen Victoria. All of the music was by LGBT artists.

You can listen to the entire show via the Ujima Listen Again service for the next few weeks.

A Film & The Schedule

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Feb 072019

We are now able to announce the running order for our LGBT History Day at M Shed on the 16th. See below for details.

As usual we plan to have a half hour break at 13:30 for people to get lunch. However, we are delighted to be able to use that time to show the Talking LGBT+ Bristol film produced last year by Bristol 24/7 and Tusko Films. Charlie, Robert and Cheryl all feature in that film.

That gives us a full running order as follows:

  • 12:00 — Gemma Brace, Wake Up & Dream
  • 12:30 — Elissa O’Connell, LGBT history in feminist activism
  • 13:00 — Dr Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman, Maud Sulter
  • 13:30 — Lunch break & Talking LGBT+ Bristol
  • 14:00 — Rachel Rose Reid, The Romance of Silence
  • 14:30 — Max Carocci, Native American Two-Spirits
  • 15:00 — Lisa Power, Founding Stonewall
  • 15:30 — Stephen Wlliams, in conversation with James Higgins

Additional information about all of the talks is available on the main event page.

Lisa Power – Founding Stonewall

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Jan 282019

In the 1980s a flourishing, noisy, confident lesbian & gay movement clashed with a right-wing homophobic UK Government — and lost. In disarray after Westminster passed the first major anti-gay legislation in a century, many of us wondered what to do next. Taking lessons from what went wrong, the Stonewall Group emerged with a very different style of activism and grew into the most successful LGB — and now T — lobby organisation in the world. One of the founders, Lisa Power, had been active in the movement since the 70s and looks back on how and why Stonewall came about and what made it different.

Come and listen to Lisa at our LGBT History Month event at M Shed on Saturday, February 16th. Full details here.

Native American Two-Spirits: Alternative Histories of Gender and Sexuality

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Jan 212019

In this second post about our 2019 LGBT History Festival we are delighted to introduce Dr. Max Carocci. Max is the former curator of Native American artifacts at the British Museum and now works at their Anthropology Library and Research Centre. He has written a number of works on Native American culture, including contributing to Professor Richard B. Parkinson’s legendary A Little Gay History.

In his talk Max will address the existence of non-binary genders among Historical North American Indians through their own art, visual representations, and imagery. It is an attempt at weaving together new gendered histories starting from scattered and fragmentary lines of visual and material evidence. The talk will conclude with the ways in which contemporary Two-spirits (Native American non-binary genders) are slowly recovering traditions on the basis of this material, oral histories and the recovery of indigenous languages.

A Gay Historical Novel

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Jan 182019

With LGBT History Month coming up, we have news of an historical novel with a very gay theme. The Prince of Mirrors by Alan Robert Clark is a tale of two young men with expectations. One is predicted to succeed, the other to fail. Here is some blurb:

Prince Albert Victor is heir presumptive to the British throne at its late Victorian zenith. Handsome and good-hearted, he is regarded as disastrously inadequate to be the king. By contrast, Jem Stephen is a golden boy worshipped by all – a renowned intellectual and the Keeper and outstanding player of the famous Eton Wall Game. He is appointed as Prince Albert’s tutor at Cambridge — the relationship that will change both of their lives.

Set mostly in London and Norfolk from the 1860s to the 1890s, The Prince Of Mirrors is, behind its splendid royal facade, a story about the sense of duty and selflessness of love, that have a power to show someone who they really are. Blending historical facts with plausible imagination, it is a moving portrait of Britain’s lost king, the great-uncle of Queen Elizabeth II.

Hardcover and ebook editions are already available. A paperback should be out in June.

Wake Up and Dream – Oliver Messel: Theatre Art and Society

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Jan 172019

This is the first of our feature posts on the talks we will be offering at our LGBT History Month events at M Shed in February. For more details on the event, click here.

Wake Up and Dream is an introduction to the life of Oliver Messel, through the Oliver Messel Archive at the University of Bristol Theatre Collection, presented by Gemma Brace

Designer, artist, maker, magician… Oliver Messel’s (1904-1978) career embraced a multitude of guises and, like his papier-mâché masks, allowed him to inhabit numerous social worlds and stages, moving between backstage and high society with ease. Often regarded as one of the twentieth century’s brightest theatrical stars, his imaginative and illusory design skills were in high demand. He appeared to implicitly understand the all-encompassing attention to detail required to transport audiences from modern life back to Ancient Egypt or Renaissance Italy, considering each element, from costume to staging.

However, his Personal Archive has many more stories to tell beyond the world of theatre, documenting his life as a gay man, a social campaigner and a member of the society set. These aspects of Messel’s life are illustrated through intimate photographs of family and friends capturing the cast of London’s ‘Bright Young Things’ alongside handwritten letters from Hollywood stars and touching notes between Messel and his longstanding partner Vagn-Riis-Hansen. These sit side-by-side with ethereal costumes and designs from fêted stage and screen productions, architectural drawings of Caribbean villas, advertising props, fabric swatches and illustrations, each object shining a light on Messel’s ability to turn his hand to all manner of artistic practice.

These objects weave together theatre, art and society, providing a glimpse into numerous worlds – both real and imagined. By revisiting these memories and searching out stories, the magic and mastery of an artist whose creative vision can be seen throughout all aspects of his making is revealed. Whether creating fleeting fantasies in papier-mâché and tulle or making them concrete in paint and stone, the Archive encourages us to both look back and reflect and to ‘wake up and dream’.

LGBTHM 2019 – The Line-Up

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Jan 142019

We have our full list of speakers and topics available now. Here’s what we will have for you at M Shed on Saturday, February 16th.

Stephen Williams – The former MP for Bristol West will be in conversation with James Higgins of Bristol 24/7, talking about what it was like being an openly gay MP.

Lisa PowerFounding Stonewall – what happened? A personal memory of the late 80s from Section 28 to the start of Stonewall’s rise.

Max CarocciNative American Two-Spirits: Alternative Histories of Gender and Sexuality.

Performance story teller, Rachel Rose Reid, will be in conversation with Cheryl Morgan, talking about The Romance of Silence, a French Mediaeval story with a non-binary person as the main character.

Dr Edson Burton Decolonising sexuality (LGBTQ+ in Black History).

Elissa O’Connell of Feminist Archive South will talk about Reclaiming Queer Feminist Liberation: using feminist and LGBT+ history to explore solidarity and inclusivity in activism then and now.

Gemma Brace: Wake Up and Dream, an introduction to the life of theatre designer, Oliver Messel, illustrated with items from the University of Bristol Theatre Collection.

In addition we will be showing the film, Talking LGBT+ Bristol, made in 2018 by Bristol 24/7 and Tusko Films.

The talks will be in the Studio rooms. The running order is as follows:

  • 12:00 — Gemma Brace
  • 12:30 — Elissa O’Connell
  • 13:00 — Dr Edson Burton
  • 13:30 — Lunch break & Talking LGBT+ Bristol
  • 14:00 — Rachel Rose Reid
  • 14:30 — Max Carocci
  • 15:00 — Lisa Power
  • 15:30 — Stephen Wlliams

As usual, there will be a variety of community stalls in the M Shed first floor foyer. Confirmed bookings include:

  • OutStories Bristol
  • Bristol Pride
  • LGBT Bristol
  • Off the Record
  • Historic England
  • Exeter University, Rethinking Sexology Project
  • Action for Children

Keep an eye open for in-depth posts about each of these talks. Everything is free, so we look forward to seeing you at M Shed on February 16th.

LGBT History Month 2019

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Jan 082019

The New Year has barely started, and already February is not far away. As usual, we will be collaborating with the M Shed to put on a day of talks and discussion about LGBT History. The date you need to put in your diaries is Saturday, February 16th. Talks will take place from 12:00 to 16:00, and as usual there will be an array of stalls run by local community organisations. Everything is free to attend.

This year our speakers will include Stephen Williams talking about his time as an openly gay MP. We will also have Lisa Power talking about the founding of Stonewall. Other talk topics include the life of the theatre designer, Oliver Messel, and sexuality/gender in Native American society.

More information about all of our talks and speakers will appear here over the coming weeks.

You may also be interested in similar events taking place in Taunton on February 2nd, and in Cardiff on February 9th.

AGM Talk on Classical Erotica

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Nov 082017

Embossed Roman cup showing two naked men, the young man being anally penetrated by the older.

Detail of Warren Cup

The audio from our AGM lecture, “EP Warren’s Classical Erotica: LGBT+ activism and objects from the past” by Dr. Jen Grove of Exeter University, is now available below. If you would like to see the accompanying slides they can be downloaded here.

EP Warren was an early 20th Century Classicist who developed a passion for collecting evidence of same-sex relations in the ancient world. Most famously he gave his name to the Warren Cup, now in the British Museum.

The talk was sponsored by the Institute of Greece, Rome, and the Classical Tradition at the University of Bristol in honor of the birthday of John Addington Symonds, 19th Century Bristol-born writer, art historian and pioneer of homosexual rights.

Some Bristol Trans and Intersex History

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Oct 032017

In 1997 a Bristol City Councillor caused a media sensation when she announced that she would be transitioning gender from male to female. Her name is Rosalind Mitchell and she represented Redland for Labour. Sadly, in those days, life for trans people was not easy. Mitchell was not always treated well, both by the local media and by some of her colleagues in the Labour Party. She ended up leaving Bristol.

At OutStories Bristol we have kept this story under wraps to avoid any unwanted media attention for Mitchell and her family. However, times changes, and Mitchell is back in the public eye. She now lives in Scotland and is involved in politics once again with the SNP.

Last Thursday, Mitchell appeared on the BBC 2 Scotland programme, Timeline, to tell her story. That broadcast is currently available on the iPlayer. Mitchell tells us that some material has been recorded for Points West and, provided there are no big local news stories, will be broadcast this Wednesday (Oct. 4th).

We will be bringing you more of the Rosalind Mitchell story in the coming weeks.

Beyond The Well of Loneliness – The AGM Lecture

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Oct 102016

We are delighted to be able to bring you a recording of the keynote lecture from the 2016 OutStories Bristol Annual General Meeting. The lecture is titled “Beyond The Well of Loneliness: Reassessing Radclyffe Hall’s Place in LGBTQ History” and is given by Dr. Jana Funke of Exeter University. Unfortunately we can’t make the slides available as some of the images are subject to copyright.

In addition to being part of our AGM, the lecture was given to celebrate the birthday in 1840 of John Addington Symonds, Bristol-born writer, art historian and pioneer of homosexual rights. Mr. Symonds birthday is celebrated annually by the Institute of Greece, Rome, and the Classical Tradition at the University of Bristol who also provided the venue and refreshments. Our thanks to both Dr. Funke for a fascinating lecture, and to Dr. Nico Momigliano for the arrangements.

Bisi Alimi Cancellation

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Feb 162016

Sadly Bisi Alimi is no longer able to join us for the LGBT History Festival on Saturday. He has to go to Africa as part of his campaign work, and we have been unable to arrange his talk and flights so that he can do both. Our thanks to Bisi for trying hard to accommodate us. Hopefully we’ll be able to have him in Bristol some other time.

Of course we do have many other fine speakers available on Saturday. We hope we will still see all of you there.

15 Feb 2016 – Stuart Milk to Open Revealing Stories Exhibit at UWE

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Feb 122016

Revealing Stories display panelWe are delighted to announce that our guest for LGBT History Month, Stuart Milk of the Harvey Milk Foundation, will be at UWE on Monday (Feb. 15th) to formally open our latest traveling incarnation of the Revealing Stories exhibition.

The exhibition will be at UWE’s Frenchay Campus Library from Feb 15th to 29th. Stuart will be at the Library at 1:00pm on Monday for the formal opening ceremony.

Revealing Stories was first created for M Shed in 2013. It was very popular there, and was mentioned in Parliament by Stephen Williams, MP. It was later visited by Maria Miller, MP, who was in the process of guiding the same-sex marriage bill through Parliament at the time. The exhibition has been available for travel to venues in the South West since then.

Stuart Milk is the nephew of Harvey Milk, and one of the USA’s top LGBT rights activists. Stuart will be undertaking a number of events in Bristol as part of our role as South-West hub for the 2016 National festival of LGBT History. These include a talk about his uncle at Bristol University on the evening of Wednesday 17th, the launch of our events at M Shed on the evening of Friday 19th, and a talk at M Shed on Saturday 20th.

Monday 1st February 2016,  1pm

Frenchay campus library, University of the West of England, Coldharbour Lane, Bristol BS16 1QY

Directions, map and parking

HLF logo Bristol museums logoUniverity of the West of England

Presenting Jacq Applebee

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Feb 042016

Jacq ApplebeeContinuing our list of headline speakers for the headline speakers for the 2016 National Festival of LGBT History, we are delighted to welcome Jacq Applebee. Jacq is the co-founder of the support and social group, Bi’s of Colour. They are a bisexual, nonbinary activist, writer and poet. They have written zines and spoken at numerous events on subjects as diverse as Blackout Poetry to Mental Health for Black LGBT people.

Jacq was #58 on this year’s Independent Rainbow List. Their talk will be on the Saturday of the Festival.

Bisexual people who identify as Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic, are a minority within a minority. But was it always this way? How can we shape our present lives so that we are not continually erased from existence, both inside and out of the LGBT community. How does racism, biphobia and violence affect us? What are our chances of having a brighter future? Explore these questions through poetry, stories and discussion.