Golden Mummies of Egypt Exhibition … Groundbreaking moments in Lesbian Herstory


Golden Mummies Exhibition

A group of us met at Piccadilly Gardens Bus Station and travelled to the University Green, a vibrant area within the Oxford Road Corridor neighbourhood of Manchester. There we met a few others. After burgers and fries at Five Guys, we walked the short distance to the Manchester Museum.

The current exhibition Golden Mummies of Egypt explores expectations of a life after death during the relatively little-known ‘Graeco-Roman’ Period of Egyptian history – when Egypt was ruled first by a Greek royal family, ending with Queen Cleopatra VII, then by Roman emperors. Wealthy members of this multicultural society made elaborate preparations for the afterlife, combining Egyptian, Greek, and Roman ideals of eternal beauty.

The funeral was an important opportunity to display wealth and status. Coffins, masks and mummy decorations were bright and eye-catching, involving costly materials for the wealthy. These show the deceased as alive and awake, at the moment of rebirth – magically assuring that this would be the case. People are depicted as perfect versions of themselves; even those who died as children appear as if they had grown up, so they could enjoy the afterlife to the full.

It was an interesting exhibition, and more photos can be seen here.

Groundbreaking moments in lesbian herstory

Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene 1864 Photo: Simeon Solomon – Tate Britain

This week is Lesbian Visibility Week, which raises awareness about the issues facing lesbians and celebrates their achievements. 

Knowing your LGBT+ history is not only important, but it can provide great comfort and reassurance for members of the community. What’s more, it opens our eyes to the fact that, yes, we have always been here!

In honour of Lesbian Visibility Week, here are some key moments in lesbian herstory, from the first arrest for lesbian activity to the first televised kiss between two women.

The first conviction for lesbian activity

In March 1649, there was the first known conviction for lesbian activity in North America.

Sarah White Norman and Mary Vincent Hammon were charged with “lewd behaviour with each other upon a bed” in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Hammon was under 16 and not prosecuted.

The first lesbian marriage

Anne Lister plaque in York

Same-sex marriage wasn’t legalised in the UK until 2014, but that doesn’t mean lesbian weddings only started happening then.

In fact, the very first marriage between two women actually happened in the 1800s.

Anne Lister was dubbed “the first modern lesbian,” and she married Ann Walker at Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York in 1834.

Of course, their union was without legal recognition. However, they took communion together on Easter Sunday and thereafter considered themselves married.

In years since, the church has been described as “an icon for what is interpreted as the site of the first lesbian marriage to be held in Britain,” and the building now hosts a commemorative blue plaque in their honour.

The word “lesbian” is used

The word “lesbian” is part of many people’s everyday vocabulary now, but do you know when it was first used?

Well, the word “lesbianism” to describe erotic relationships between women had been documented way back in 1732.

The term was first used by William King in his book, The Toast, published in England, which meant women who loved women.

The book has become notable for providing proof that the term “lesbians” was used in a sexual sense as early as the 1700s, in exactly the same way that it is used today. 

Before this, the word lesbian meant “of Lesbos”, such as “Lesbian wine” or “Lesbian culture.”

The term “lesbian” is used in a medical dictionary

Then, in 1890, the term lesbian was used in a medical dictionary as an adjective to describe tribadism (as “lesbian love”).

The terms lesbian, invert, and homosexual were then interchangeable with sapphist and sapphism around the turn of the 20th century.

Arrest for lesbian partying

Ma Rainey

Singer Ma Rainey – the so-called Mother of the Blues – was arrested in her house in Harlem for having a lesbian party in 1925.

Her protégé, Bessie Smith, bailed her out of jail the following morning.

Both Rainey and Smith were part of an extensive circle of lesbian and bisexual African‐American women in Harlem, and the Blues scene of the Harlem Renaissance provided Black women with a space to explore their sexuality and gender. It gave them the freedom to be themselves without the white supremacist gaze, which sexualised and criminalised Black women. 

Rainey wrote about speculation regarding her sexuality three years later in the song “Prove it On Me Blues,” with lyrics including: “Ain’t nobody caught me, you sure got to prove it on me.”

Publication of a groundbreaking lesbian novel

In 1928, author Radclyffe Hall published what many consider today a groundbreaking lesbian novel, The Well of Loneliness. It follows the life of Stephen Gordon, a woman from an upper-class family whose “sexual inversion” is apparent from an early age.

The book’s release caused the topic of homosexuality to be a topic of public conversation in both England and the United States.

The formation of the first known lesbian rights organisation

In September 1955, the first known lesbian rights organisation in the United States was formed in San Francisco.

Daughters of Bilitis (DOB) hosted private social functions until it was dissolved in 1995. It was conceived as a social alternative to lesbian bars and clubs, which were subject to raids and police harassment, as well as general discrimination.

Throughout its 40 years, Daughters of Bilitis became an educational resource for lesbians, gay men, researchers, and mental health professionals.

LA Law aired the first televised lesbian kiss

While representation is well on its way now, there was a time when TV shows didn’t want to touch lesbianism with a bargepole, making the first on-screen kiss between two women all the more monumental.

Although it might surprise you to learn that it wasn’t until the nineties that two women first locked lips on TV.

The kiss in question aired in a 1990 episode of 21 Jump Street, but the camera cut off their actual lips, meaning the actual kiss wasn’t really shown at all.

So, unofficially, the first lesbian kiss on TV is often attributed to a 1991 episode of legal drama LA Law, in which bisexual lawyer C J briefly kissed her female colleague Abby Perkins on the lips.

Sadly, romance never blossomed between the two characters, as Abby left the show and C J ended up with a boyfriend, not to mention the network received major backlash for the scene.

Still, we’ve come a long way.

Audre Lorde is named State Poet of New York

A sign with an Audre Lorde quote at the 2017 Women’s March in Toronto

In 1991, self-described “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde became the State Poet of New York. She dedicated both her life and her creative talent to confronting and addressing various injustices, whether it be classism, homophobia, racism or sexism.

The critically acclaimed novelist, poet, and essayist was also a co-founder of The Kitchen Table Women of Color Press, and an editor of the lesbian journal Chrysalis.

Ellen DeGeneres comes out

In April 1997, comedian Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian on the cover of Time magazine, stating: “Yep, I’m Gay.”

The cover coincided with the broadcast of “The Puppy Episode,” a two-part episode of the American situation comedy series Ellen.

The episode details lead character Ellen Morgan’s realisation that she is a lesbian and her coming out, with the title initially used as a code name for Ellen’s coming out so as to keep the episode under wraps.

To say the moment was groundbreaking for lesbian history would probably be an understatement, as not only did it win multiple awards, Ellen became a cultural icon. DeGeneres’s career, though, suffered as the network stopped promoting her sitcom until it was ultimately cancelled.

Lesbian herstory is still in the making

Looking back at these groundbreaking moments, we can see how far the LGBT+ community has come in the fight for equality and acceptance.

There is still much work to be done in terms of combating discrimination and bigotry and ensuring that all members of the community are treated with dignity and respect. Let us honour the brave pioneers who paved the way for us and continue to fight for a better future for all members of the LGBT+ community.

One thought on “Golden Mummies of Egypt Exhibition … Groundbreaking moments in Lesbian Herstory

  1. As we’re in Lesbian Visibility Week, I’m proud to remember my Great Grandmother Olive Guthrie whose relationship with writer Angela du Maurier, over 20 years her junior, scandalised Post-Edwardian society! Sadly she died 17 years before I was born but I’d love to have met her. My dad was devoted to ‘GranOl’ and used to tell me what an amazing character she was!


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