Robert Howes – Opening the public sphere to LGBT issues in the Bristol region, 1980-2000

Robert Howes Pride MarchRobert Howes will speak to us on Sunday about LGBT issues in Bristol.

was born and brought up in Bristol.  He has been a committee member of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) Westminster group, a volunteer with London Friend and a member of Gay West since 1983.  As a historian, he has published a book on the LGBT+ history of Bristol and Bath and a number of articles on the LGBT+ press and literature of Brazil and Portugal, as well as articles on Brazilian and Portuguese history.

Robert’s talk will be based mainly on the history of the Gay West group (1982 to present) and its two predecessors, CHE Bristol (1970-1983) and Bath Gay Awareness Group (1971-1982), which form one of Britain’s longest running LGBT+ institutions.  It discusses the varying activities of the groups and their members, ranging from political campaigns to social activities and personal support for members, showing how these activities have varied over time.  It is structured around the concepts of civil society and the public sphere, arguing that the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in 1967 gave more freedom for activists to explore different ways of getting LGBT+ issues onto the agenda of public political debate.

The way in which this aided greater recognition of the human rights of LGBT+ people can be better understood by comparing the position of LGBT+ people in Britain before 1967 with the situation in authoritarian dictatorships such as Brazil in the 1970s.  By drawing parallels with the role of social movements in facilitating the transition from dictatorship to democracy, I aim to show how the varied activities of LGBT+ organisations helped promote greater acceptance of sexual diversity in the UK after 1967.

Cheryl Morgan – Chosen of the Goddess

At out main event Cheryl Morgan will talk about trans women in the ancient world. Cheryl Morgan

Media coverage of trans people often states that we are a recent invention, perhaps dating only from 1930s Germany. The reality is much more complicated. People have been living lives outside of the gender binary for all of human history. Indeed, in the past societies were often more open to different genders than they are now.

In the ancient world, living outside of the gender binary was often closely associated with religion. Certain goddesses took an interest in gender and made space for those assigned male at birth to become priestesses and live as women, or at least not as men. Sometimes this involved early forms of gender surgery.

Cheryl Morgan 2In this talk Cheryl Morgan will look at evidence for gender variance in Goddess worship from Sumer through Assyria and Babylon to Rome. The talk will include the world’s first known author, non-binary people from Sumerian mythology, a tavern owner who became a queen and perhaps a goddess, an emperor who identified as female, the earliest known trans woman in Britain, and some early examples of legal discrimination against trans people.

What role did Claudius play in trans emancipation in Rome, and why did Hadrian sabotage this? We may never know what their motivations were, but it is clear from the laws they passed that LGBT+ rights were an issue for Romans just as they are today.

Cheryl Morgan is a science fiction critic and publisher. She is a Co-Chair of OutStories Bristol and lectures regularly on both trans history and science fiction and fantasy literature. Some of her work can be found on Cheryl is a regular presenter of the Women’s Outlook show on Ujima Radio in Bristol. She is a Director of The Diversity Trust for whom she run trans awareness courses. You can find her online at or follow her on Twitter @CherylMorgan.

John Vincent (The Network) – Flicking back the pages…

John Vincent

John Vincent is one of our speakers at our day of talks on LGBTQ+ history. John has worked in the public sector since the 1960s, primarily for Hertfordshire, Lambeth and Enfield library services. In 1997, he was invited to become part of the team that produced the UK’s first review of public libraries and social exclusion (from which The Network that he currently coordinates originated).

John runs courses and lectures, writes, produces regular newsletters and ebulletins, and lobbies for greater awareness of the role that libraries, archives, museums, and the cultural & heritage sector play in contributing to social justice.

He is particularly interested in supporting the work that the cultural sector does with LGBTQ people, with young people in care, and with ‘new arrivals’ to the UK.

In September 2010, the book he co-authored with John Pateman, Public libraries and social justice, was published by Ashgate (now Routledge); and, in January 2014, he published LGBT people and the UK cultural sector … (also published by Ashgate, and now Routledge).

In February 2014, John was given a CILIP CDEG Special Diversity Award, and, in September, he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of CILIP.

John’s Talk:

“Through using my personal ‘story’, this presentation will outline how libraries can support LGBTQ people, especially in their coming out, and will emphasize their positive role in people’s lives.”

Surat-Shaan Knan (Liberal Judaism) – Twilight People: Stories of Faith and Gender Beyond the Binary – Pop Up Exhibition


On Sunday Surat-Shaan Knan will talk to us about the Twilight People projectBritain’s first and only source of trans & faith history and heritage. This hidden history explores the intersection of trans and faith identity via oral history, photography and film. The collection is now at the London Metropolitan Archives; its legacy is still growing and developing, e.g. book publication.

The Twilight People pop-up exhibition will be on display (free) at Exeter Central Library, Castle Street, EX4 3PQ on:

Saturday 11th February, 09.00 – 17.00

Sunday 12th February, 12.00 – 16.00

The Multi-faith initiative Twilight People was supported by the Lottery Heritage Fund from 2014 to 2016 and proudly hosted by Liberal Judaism. For more, please go to:

Find out more about Surat-Shaan Knan’s new project, Rainbow Pilgrims: The Rites and Passages of LGBTQI Migrants in Britain.

Surat-Shaan Knan works for the Liberal Jewish movement UK and is a campaigner for faith related LGBTQI+ issues. Shaan is the founder and manager of the landmark Heritage Lottery Fund supported projects Rainbow Jews , Twilight People and most recently Rainbow Pilgrims. Shaan is a proud member of the Stonewall Trans Advisory Group, and actively involved in the Global Interfaith Network GIN SSOGIEs. Shaan is a non-binary trans activist from a mixed heritage. He blogs on LGBTQI+ and faith issues for Jewish News UK.

Caroline Paige – Trailblazing Transgender Service in the Military



Caroline will present at our full day of talks about LGBT
 on True Colours: Trailblazing Transgender Service in the Military.”

Caroline Paige is a transgender woman who retired from the RAF in November 2014, after a 35-year flying career that took her to wars and conflicts in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. In 1999 she became the first Officer in the British Armed Forces to transition gender, a year before the bar on LGB service was lifted.

For the next sixteen years, she trailblazed transgender military service, earning awards for exceptional work in Iraq and Afghanistan, and securing the precedent for transgender people to serve on the frontline. She also helped to shape and evolve Armed Forces Policy, regarding the retention and recruitment of transgender personnel, and worked as a mentor, trainer and adviser, helping to make today’s military the open and supportive organisation it has become for LGBT personnel.

Caroline now has her own business, helping teach battlefield skills to European military helicopter aircrews. She also volunteers as a Stonewall School Role Model, talks publicly to raise awareness of transgender lives, and her autobiography True Colours is being released on 23rd Feb 2017 (Visit the Biteback Publishing website for more information.)

Caroline’s talk

In the latter half of the 20th Century the British military barred LGBT service, on the grounds of ‘inappropriate behaviour’, ‘morale’and ‘susceptibility to blackmail.’ In 1999, Caroline Paige became the first officer in the British Armed Forces to transition gender whilst still serving, a year before the bar on LGB personnel was repealed. For the first time, LGBT personnel could serve their country openly, without the fear of harassment or dismissal.

True Colours is Caroline’s first-hand account of being transgender in the British Armed Forces throughout this remarkable period of LGBT History, in peacetime and in war. During her talk, Caroline reveals many of the consequences of being LGBT in the military before permissive service was granted, but the years following her transition weren’t easy. Opinions within and outside the military were divided, but the negative outshouted the positive. It presented complicated challenges, and a need to prove that being transgender wasn’t reason to be withheld from frontline operations.

Years later, in Iraq and then Afghanistan, the legacy of a hostile past still revealed itself. But change always takes time, and using her success to inspire acceptance and support, to educate and advise, Caroline was at the heart of change; helping trailblaze a pathway to the open and inclusive service enjoyed by today’s LGBT personnel. True Colours is a unique account that spans the dark days of LGBT military history in the 20th Century, and the enlightened and permissive environment of today.

Jack Sargent – Oscar Wilde’s Grindr Profile

Jack will present at our full day of talks about LGBT JackHistory on “Oscar Wilde’s Grindr Profile: What Can Digital Dating Offer a Nineteenth-century Decadent?”.

Jack Sargent is currently researching for a PhD in English, based on the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus. His thesis considers the emotional and stylistic relationship between time and emotion in late-Victorian and twentieth century homosexual literature. Jack considers how who people who were attracted to the same sex in a period when homosexuality was illegal, illicit and considered as a momentary transgression, expressed their emotions as an aesthetic of enduring feeling, shaping their memories of past relationships and dreams of future connections.


Image: Charis Martin

If he had been able to, would Oscar Wilde have downloaded the digital gay “hook-up”/”dating” app Grindr? Most probably. Wilde desired and enjoyed talking to beautiful men. Until his trial and conviction for “gross indecency” with other men in 1895, he was a ready and even reckless participant in late-Victorian homoerotic parties and clubs. His novels and plays also eulogised the importance of sensual connection and experience between individuals. However, would Wilde have liked Grindr? Grindr is becoming known as a space that is often void of emotional connection. Digital dating apps, arguably, encourage a twenty-first-century “no-strings-attached” culture in which individuals are, ironically, increasingly isolated in front of unresponsive screens.

This talk will consider how Wilde writes about meetings between men, asking whether these meetings are comparable with the twenty-first century experience of digital hook-up apps. Asking this question will help understand the differences between Wilde’s moment in time and our own. Jack will consider whether twenty-first century dating-app users feel the exciting, sensuous connections so important to Wilde. Is Grindr a gateway to exciting, sensuous opportunities, or does it disconnect us from the people around us?. Would Oscar Wilde has liked Grindr, or would he have despised it?

Peter Scott Presland – Punting with Pride

Peter will speak at our full day of talks about LGBT History on “(The Campaign for Homosexual Equality) – Punting with Pride”. 

PeterPeter Scott Presland has been a gay journalist, playwright, cabaret performer and songwriter since 1971.  As a writer he has won a double Fringe First and been twice nominated for Best Musical, once in Britain and once in Canada.  His plays include ‘Latecomer’, ‘Leather’, and ‘Teatrolley – or a Midsummer Night’s Scream’.  His short stories have appeared in several anthologies, and he was a regular columnist for ‘Capital Gay’ and ‘Axiom’ magazine. Since 2010 he has been working on the ‘official’ history of the doyen of LGBT campaigning organisations, the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, and its times.  Conceived as a trilogy, ‘Amiable Warriors’ is encyclopaedic in its scope but no hagiography.  The first volume, A Space to Breathe, was published in 2015 and covers the period of 1954 – 1973; it draws heavily on the CHE Archives at the LSE, and on interviews with over 20 people who were around at the time. “History should be living, inspirational, partisan, gossipy and scurrilous,” he says.  “And to hell with Queer Studies!”

Peter will  tell the untold story of the Oxford Gay Action Group (1972-74), which straddled CHE and GLF, Town and Gown, and was pioneering in producing gay theatre and founding the first gay switchboard in the country.  Colourful characters and lots of good stories from one who was there!

Darienne Flemington and Mark Kelly – Out and Proud in Trade Unions

Darienne Flemington and Mark Kelly (UNISON)

Darienne and Mark (both of UNISON) will speak at our full day of talks about LGBT History on “Out and Proud in Trade Unions”. 


Inspired by her personal experiences of border agencies, alien courts and deportation, Darienne Flemington has worked as an international activist for LGBT rights for over 25 years and was recently elected to sit on the ILGA Europe’s executive board. As a committed trade unionist she is also the Co-Chair of UNISON’s National LGBT Committee, and hasrepresented LGBT workers interests on UNISON’s National Women’s Committee. She works in local government where she is committed to fighting discrimination in all of its forms, as well as negotiating and organising for equality at work.

Mark Kelly runs a company which provides specialist support for University students who experience mental health issues. Previously he worked for 10 years at a Further Education College where he managed innovative and groundbreaking projects which engaged with socially excluded groups of young people and adults and won national praise from the Learning & Skills Council and NIACE. Mark’s role in the college also involved him managing a curriculum area, developing and delivering specialist staff training and facilitating an LGBT youth support group. Mark has been an active trade unionist with UNISON for over 20 years and works at a local, regional and national level. He is a previous co-chair of UNISON’s National LGBT Committee and is a senior activist in UNISON’s South West Region. Mark also works with Devon & Cornwall Police as an independent LGBT / Diversity advisor and is a trained Critical Incident Advisor.

Their talk with discuss the way in which Trade Unions have been at the forefront of campaigns to change equality law, contractual rights and workplace practices on  LGBT equality – a role that is not always acknowledged, with the media quick to portray unions as concerned with narrow self-interest. Following the Brexit vote and other political upheavals, many feel as though we are in uncharted waters, with  prejudice and hate crime on the increase.  This presentation will consider the lessons we can learn from the past to guide us through the next months and years. UNISON is clear about the importance of maintaining a strong value base and  how we can continue to play a significant  role in promoting LGBT equality at work, in the community and in public services in the future.

UNISON is also sponsoring the Festival at a national level.

Dominic Janes – Cartooning queers

Dominic will be speaking to us as part of our full day of talks about LGBT History on “Cartooning queers from the Georgian dandies to Oscar Wilde”. 

KeeleJanespicbig-200x228 (1)Dominic Janes is Professor of Modern History at Keele University. Dominic is a cultural historian who studies texts and visual images relating to Britain in its local and international contexts since the eighteenth century. Within this sphere he focuses on the histories of gender, sexuality and religion. His most recent books are Picturing the Closet (Oxford University Press),Visions of Queer Martyrdom (University of Chicago Press) and Oscar Wilde Prefigured (University of Chicago Press).