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February is LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Trans) History Month

LGBT History Month logoLGBT(Lesbian, Gay, Bi and Trans) History Month in the UK celebrates the lives and achievements of the LGBT community and has been held every February since 2005. The campaign provides an opportunity to discover LGBT past and celebrate its present and future - this hidden history can reveal some surprising and inspiring stories.

Through participating in LGBT History Month Surrey Heritage is able to bring Surrey's LGBT history to a wider audience. This helps stimulate interest in a little known area of the county’s past, promotes further research, and can even engage new volunteers. Co-ordinating our efforts with community organisations and other Surrey County Council services helps to raise the profile of our collections and encourages more material to be placed with us.

Each year we have a different themed display which showcases famous and not-so-famous figures from Surrey’s LGBT history. Those featured so far include Alan Turing, Edward Carpenter, Noel Coward, Dirk Bogarde, Dame Ethel Smyth, Quentin Crisp, J R Ackerley, E M Forster, Harry Daley, Edward Onslow, Beverley Nicholls and Peter Pears, to name but a few.

The national theme for LGBT History Month 2017 will focus on the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales, through the 1967 ‘Sexual Offences Act’. This is a controversial area of LGBT history and as such 2017 will be more commemoration than celebration. Find about more about the campaign at the LGBT History Month website

LGBT collections at Surrey History Centre

Surrey Heritage has been preserving the archives and stories of Surrey's LGBT community since 2010 and, through research and outreach projects, we encourage access to local LGBT heritage. We are committed to developing this under-represented area of our library and archive collections, held at Surrey History Centre. We hold archive collections for a number of Surrey LGBT individuals and support organisations, including Outline www.outlinesurrey.org.uk and GIRES. Among the archives are historical records which reflect attitudes to and the treatment of homosexuality. Many do not use modern-day LGBT terminology, so we create case studies to highlight their relevance. For example, crime and punishment records of the Surrey Quarter Sessions court, dating from the seventeenth century onwards, show how homosexual activity, then illegal, was dealt with at that time.

Our local studies library collection provides a wonderful insight into the achievements of the LGBT community and is particularly strong on Surrey biographies. We regularly update our online LGBT bibliography. Find out more about researching LGBT history in Surrey.

LGBT projects and outreach

Pride of Place project Joining local LGBT support groups for community events, such as IDAHOT (International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, May 17) and LGBT History Month, has helped a wider audience discover hidden stories of Surrey’s LGBT past. This work also allows us to deliver the broader message of our work and demonstrates the relevance and importance of archives in recording the county’s LGBT past, present and future. 

Our work with local LGBT youth group Out, Loud & Proud and their ‘On Tour’ project helped with their quest to uncover LGBT persecution under Hitler’s regime during World War II. Their visits to Krakow and Auschwitz-Birkenau inspired them to present their work at Holocaust Memorial Day and IDAHOT events, and create LGBT History Month displays.

Working with Historic England on the ‘Pride of Place’ project, which aims to map LGBT places and architecture, has revealed a whole area of the county’s culture and history. This is now preserved online via their interactive map.

From Punishment to Pride: LGBT history resources on Exploring Surrey’s Past

Ethel Smyth Making all our sources and stories more accessible by putting them online is a vital part of our community outreach. Our LGBT collections can be searched online through the Collections Catalogue and our Exploring Surrey’s Past website, which promote all aspects of Surrey's history and archaeology, includes a growing Surrey LGBT resource. This resource includes a gallery of stories and themes connected with the county which reveals love and loss, tragedy and heroism, art and literature, crime and punishment, and inspiration and success. We update the resource annually, often incorporating LGBT History Month themes or national anniversaries. 

One example is the inclusion of stories reflecting the LGBT community’s contribution to the First World War, which feature as part of our ‘Surrey in the Great War: A County Remembers’ centenary commemoration project funded by the HLF. The case studies here feature Woking composer Dame Ethel Smyth, who served as a radiographer in France; author EM Forster, who worked as a Red Cross searcher; and authors JR Ackerley, and Noel Coward, who both served with the East Surrey Regiment.

Records and research - can you help?

If you have information relating to the LGBT community in Surrey, or relevant material to add to the collections, we would be delighted to hear from you. Similarly, if you would like to volunteer and help research Surrey’s LGBT history please contact us at shs@surreycc.gov.uk

Captain J R Ackerley, East Surrey Regiment, c.1916 (SHC ref ESR/18/2/2 p.6)Images:

  • LGBT History Month 2017 logo
  • Mapping Surrey’s LGBT past with Historic England’s Pride of Place project, February
  • Dame Ethel Smyth, nd [1920s] (SHC ref 9180/9/27)
  • Captain J R Ackerley, East Surrey Regiment, c.1916 (SHC ref ESR/18/2/2 p.6)

Online sources:

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