An exhibition of oral histories, as told by fifty-one remarkable lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans East Enders, is being unveiled throughout February for LGBT History Month 2011.
With funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) the East End-based cultural organisation River Cultures has filmed a series of interviews for a new online resource entitled ‘Walking Proud in East London’ (WPEL). To promote this project River Cultures is touring an exhibition around East London throughout February 2011. Starting in Waltham Forest the exhibition is visiting Havering, Hackney, Newham, Barking & Dagenham, and culminating in Tower Hamlets.
At first glance, the oral histories in this collection might appear to be united only by their diversity, and it is no surprise that the stories told reflect the many strands of East London’s rich history. But this archive can also be understood as a story of connections, between individuals and to something bigger.
Celebrating LGBT history means honouring the institutions the LGBT community has built and needed at different times and places, through football clubs, politics, dance classes and youth groups to bars, bath houses, book clubs or churches. Each of these spaces represents a significant part of a shared cultural history and have all, at some point, provided LGBT people with the tools to forge connections and carve a place for themselves within a dominant culture that has not always been welcoming.
The first regional launch event, held at the Vestry House Museum in Walthamstow E17 on 4 February, attracted a capacity crowd of VIPs, as well as members of the local LGBT community and their friends. They heard a blessing from Borough Dean, Fr Steven Saxby, and speeches of welcome from the Mayor of Waltham Forest and the Portfolio Holder for Community Safety and Cohesion. The Chair of HLF London, broadcaster and journalist, Wesley Kerr, spoke of his pleasure at supporting the project and his impressions of how far the LGB&T community has come over the years. London Assembly Member, Jennette Arnold OBE, also spoke.
The launch event in Hackney on 10 February at the local history museum on Reading Lane E8 focused on LGBT sporting achievement, the focus of LGBT History Months in 2011 and 2012. Guests at the event heard gay football referee, Dave Raval, speak of his experiences of the game. Playwright and filmmaker Rikki Beadle-Blair introduced extracts from his new film, ‘Fit’, based on his award-winning Drill Hall play of the same name about a gay football team.
The final launch event will take place at the local history and archives library at 277 Bancroft Road E1, 6-8pm on Monday 21 February. All are welcome.
River Cultures’ artistic director, Hi Ching, says of the project, ”Walking Proud in East London has recorded a wide range of memories and experiences of fifty-one LGBT community members in East London. They reveal that, despite the progress that has been achieved in LGBT rights over the last few decades, it is still a matter of grave concern that LGBT people are compelled to hide their identities in various UK communities and walks of life. We are grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund who have given us the opportunity to make possible this collection which is available online at www.rivercultures.co.uk.”
Talking about the future of WPEL as a ‘live’ resource, project co-ordinator, Tim Bennett-Goodman, says, “As the archive grows, so will our understanding of the many ways in which people often dismissed as marginal have played a fundamental part in creating the East End we know today.”
After the launch tour River Cultures hopes to mount extended exhibitions in collaboration with various East London venues later in the year.