To mark LGBT+ History Month in the UK, this article explores what it meant to be part of the LGBT+ community in 1987 through the lens of the Lesbian and Gay Youth Movement.
LGBT+ history weaves through the collections at the Planned Environment Therapy Archives and Special Collections. There are stories of young men ‘coming out’ in the 1970s; stories of women living together in the 1950s; stories of how sexuality and gender have been explored in adulthood in the present day.
The challenge as an archivist is celebrating this incredible history whilst protecting people’s dignity and right to privacy. Many of the LGBT+ stories in the collections were disclosed in confidence for the purpose of historical research only, which is not surprising given the legal and social oppression the community has faced throughout history. A reminder: it was only with the introduction of the Sexual Offenses Act in 1967 that same sex acts between men were permitted ‘in private’ and only over the age of 21 in England and Wales [equivalent legislation was not passed for Scotland and Northern Ireland until 1980 and1982 respectively]. In fact, the age of consent was reduced to 18 in the UK as late as 1994, and was finally equalised to 16 in 2000. And let’s not forget that same sex marriage was legalised in England and Scotland in 2014, and 2020 in Northern Ireland.
It is therefore even more impressive that the Lesbian and Gay Youth School Student’s Issue Summer 1987 is a loud and proud representation of teenage life. We are fortunate to have a copy of this issue within the Libertarian Education Archive which forms part of the PET Archives and Special Collections here in Toddington.
The magazine was published by the Lesbian and Gay Youth Movement, for young members of the LGBT+ community. Karina, age 15, uses the magazine to voice her confusion at being referred to a psychologist by her school mistress:
‘I told her I was gay. She said she wouldn’t tell my parents, she didn’t see anything wrong with the way I was – but she wanted me to see a psychologist for someone to talk to.’
One letter describes official policies at well known High Street stores permitting security guards to wear rubber gloves when searching ‘queers’. They express fear and anger about politicians openly advocating that ‘all gays should be shot’. What really comes across in the magazine is how discriminatory the general public was towards the LGBT+ community at the time, as Steve, age 17, explains:
‘Being a gay teenager in 1987 is far from easy. Realising and accepting that you are gay has never exactly been a bundle of laughs, but with the arrival of AIDS we are now unintentionally the victims of a barrage of confusing and scary government advice and information, press propaganda and various self-righteous and pompous bigots.’
To put this magazine in context, AIDS was initially called Gay Related Immune Deficiency (GRID) by the Centre for Disease Control in 1982 so it’s not surprising the LGBT+ community were still being targeted as the source of the epidemic by the media in 1987.
However, what the magazine illustrates is the strength and conviction of the Lesbian and Gay Youth Movement to mobilise, protest and fight the stigma, to come together as a community. This publication was for many teenagers the only way to express their feelings and be open about who they really are. There are posters and calls to action throughout the magazine encouraging people to be proud of their sexuality and to fight for improvements in political and medical representation. There are adverts for summer camps and meetings, youth groups and phone lines where young people could access support from others going through a similar situation. Just as important, the editors also recognised the need to be teenage, do teenage things and be allowed to have fun without being treated as a health risk.
Our current work includes providing a poster based on this magazine for the Education team at the Mulberry Bush School to use with the children. We are thrilled that archives are being used to support learning around LGBT+ history in this way; the struggles of young people in 1987 are still being heard, recognised and expressed by children and young people today.
The magazine is a powerful narrative of LGBT+ history written by people within the community. The final word should go to Philip, age 16, who was brave enough to offer this sage advice to his fellow readers:
‘I dare to be different, expressing my true self, my true feelings, to me. And that’s a big step to take. Accepting yourself, and who you are, what you are, and for gods (sic) sake enjoy it – sod the rest!’
Debra Doggett, Senior Archivist,
The Planned Environment Therapy Archives and Special Collections