‘These stories have been hidden for far too long’

Examining court records from 1890 relating to the conviction of two Derbyshire men for gross indecency.
Examining court records from 1890 relating to the conviction of two Derbyshire men for gross indecency.

A Derbyshire charity has been awarded £86,000 to run a project about the history of the county’s LGBT community.

Thanks to National Lottery players, Derbyshire LGBT+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans) will now run two years of activities and events across the county and beyond.

Derbyshire resident and Victorian gay-rights pioneer, Edwards Carpenter.

Derbyshire resident and Victorian gay-rights pioneer, Edwards Carpenter.

The project, named ‘Other Stories’, is timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1967 Sexual Offences Act - which was a milestone in the battle for gay rights.

This legislation partially decriminalised homosexual acts between men over 21 and paved the way for many further changes in the law and in public attitudes over the years since.

Greg Pickup, who is leading the project, said: “We were overjoyed to hear the news that our project had received the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

“Our community has a wealth of amazing stories to tell that have been hidden for far too long.

The funding will allow us to record memories from members of our community who remember what it was like to be criminalised simply for being gay.

Greg Pickup, Derbyshire LGBT+

“They are in newspaper reports, archives and in people’s attics - but they are also people’s memories.

“One of the most exciting things about this funding is that it will allow us to record memories from members of our community who remember what it was like to be criminalised simply for being gay.

“It will also allow us to record stories from other parts of our community, such as trans people, for whom legal changes still have a long way to go.

“The project could not have happened without this funding and we are so grateful - it shows that our history is as important as anyone’s and it really will put our heritage on the map.”

Greg Pickup (Derbyshire LGBT+), Geoff Nickolds (Heritage Lottery Fund) and Karen Millhouse (DCC Record Office).

Greg Pickup (Derbyshire LGBT+), Geoff Nickolds (Heritage Lottery Fund) and Karen Millhouse (DCC Record Office).

An exhibition of archive materials relating to the LGBT community has been organised at Derbyshire County Council’s Record Office in Matlock to launch the project - including records of people arrested and charged under pre-1967 laws.

The project will also be recruiting and training volunteers to delve into the archives and record oral histories which will then be shared with the wider community.

A variety of talks, film screenings and workshops to mark the anniversary have also been planned by the group.

Derbyshire LGBT+ was formed in 1983 and has supported thousands of LGBT people over more than 30 years since its founding.

The display cabinet at the Public Record Office in Matlock.

The display cabinet at the Public Record Office in Matlock.

As well as recording the history of the charity, the project will also show how opinions towards it have changed.

When it received its first public funding there was an outcry, with one local news headline exclaiming that this amounted to ‘Gays on the rates!’.

Attitudes have changed since then and the charity enjoys support from local media and politicians, but the need for its services is as great as ever.

The charity says many people still come through the doors of its centre in Derby needing support, advice or simply a safe space where they are free to be themselves.

The project contains a wealth of moving stories, ranging from Derbyshire resident and Victorian gay-rights pioneer Edwards Carpenter, to stories of runaway teenagers who escaped life in Peak District villages more than 100 years ago by ‘masquerading as a boy’.

To bring more of these stories to light, archive and oral history research training will be provided to 20 volunteers who will produce exhibitions, events and displays.

The 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which was a key milestone in the battle for gay rights.

The 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which was a key milestone in the battle for gay rights.

Explaining the importance of the Lottery support, the head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in the East Midlands, Jonathan Platt said: “HLF is proud to support the UK’s heritage in all of its diversity.

“The funding will allow this local charity to tell stories that are not just important for the LGBT community but for all of us.

“They tell us about how far we have all come in terms of equal rights and attitudes on an important anniversary.

“We look forward to hearing some of the stories that the project uncovers and are delighted that National Lottery player’s money is able to make this project happen.”

The project is currently seeking volunteers to get involved.

Anyone interested in finding our more about this or about the project itself can visit the blog at www.otherstorieslgbt.wordpress.com.

The display can be seen at Derbyshire County Council’s Record Office in Matlock until April.