Refuge Exhibition … The Invisibles

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The UK AIDS Memorial Quilt Exhibition

We dined at Pizza Express before walking to the Refuge Bar at the Kimpton Clocktower Hotel.

They were hosting an exclusive exhibition displaying digital prints of the UK AIDS Memorial Quilts in memory of the lives lost during the AIDS pandemic. The UK AIDS Memorial Quilt is a precious artefact and a unique document of social history. Each of the panels commemorates lives lost to the AIDS pandemic during the 80s and 90s. It is a public naming of loved ones lost, and also a memorial for the many who died and went unnamed.

It is part of an international movement that sought to raise awareness of the impact of the AIDS pandemic and ensure that these lives would never be forgotten. This exhibition is a call to action to challenge HIV stigma and support those who are living with HIV today.

The stories told, the lives lost and the commitment to remembrance are poignant and important. As we take a moment to reflect, it’s also vital that we look forward with hope because HIV has changed since the time the quilts were made.

Today, with early diagnosis and treatment, people living with HIV can expect to live a normal life span. People living with HIV who are on effective treatment cannot pass the virus on during sex. Undetectable equals Untransmissable or U=U.

We need to work to ensure that everyone knows their HIV history and equally importantly, that HIV is a manageable illness now and how they can play their role in knowing the facts and tackling stigma.

This panel is dedicated to all women lost to AIDS or who act as carers and whose lives and love has yet to be named. It also honours a friend’s mother who died with AIDS in 1985. She nurtured him and brought him up. They were both proud of him being gay. When she discovered that she was HIV positive and developed AIDS he in turn gave her the support she needed as she negotiated a series of AIDS-related illnesses. It drew them closer together.

More photos can be seen here.

The Invisibles: Moving Vintage Photos of LGBT Couples in the Early 20th Century

Any form of excess can usually be traced to the seed of a basic human longing. Before photography turned into excessive “aesthetic consumerism,” long prior to the narcissistic golden age of the selfie, it was a miraculous medium that granted one simple, fundamental human wish — the desire to be seen and, in the act of seeing, to be understood.

Perhaps that is why photography, in its dawning decades, had a particularly poignant role for individuals and groups who were largely invisible to society. It was the role photography played for the LGBT community between the time of the medium’s invention and the first-ever Pride parades as it came to document, and validate by making visible, the love of LGBT+ couples — love reserved not only for such famous lovers as Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict, Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, Oscar Wilde and Sir Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, and Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas, but also experienced by a great many ordinary men and women alike.

That’s precisely what French screenwriter and director Sébastien Lifshitz explores in The Invisibles: Vintage Portraits of Love and Pride, a remarkable collection of archival photographs — sometimes poignant, sometimes playful, invariably tender — of gay and lesbian couples privately celebrating their love in the early twentieth century.

Each couple gets to redefine love, and these are some humble and humbling, beautifully human, immeasurably yet quietly courageous redefinitions.


For Lifshitz, the project began somewhat serendipitously: As a long time collector of vintage amateur photos, he chanced upon a photo album that belonged to two elderly women, “very bourgeois, very ‘old France.’” It didn’t take him long to realise that they were in a lifelong lesbian relationship. He found himself fascinated by such family albums by openly gay couples and was surprised by the freedom and happiness they exhibited in those photos, despite living in eras of extreme social intolerance toward LGBT+ people.

Looking back over the first half of the twentieth century, Lifshitz set out to interview gay women and men born between the two World Wars, seeking to understand what life was like for them.

The Story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe … Rare footage of Fire Island gay wedding

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Do you love learning about LGBT+ history? We do, and we love sharing news about the pioneers who have played a role in gay liberation.

The Story of Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a gospel-singing Black woman who astounded audiences in the 1940s and 50s with her guitar pyrotechnics and powerful soprano.

Tharpe was considered by many to be “The Godmother of Rock ‘n’ Roll”, who influenced rock legends such as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Keith Richards, Elvis Presley and Little Richard.

Tharpe had a rumoured romantic relationship with singer Marie Knight, among other women, and might have been bisexual or lesbian.

Tharpe’s amazing talents were recognised when she was posthumously inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

“America’s first gospel rock star, Sister Rosetta Tharpe paved the way for rock & roll to grip new audiences,” the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame said about the pioneering musician.

Mick Csaky’s documentary “Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The Godmother of Rock & Roll,” aired in 2013.

“Despite not being a household name today, Sister Rosetta Tharpe is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century,” the documentary said.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s “flamboyance, skill, and showmanship on the newly electrified guitar played a vital role in the conception of Rock & Roll as a genre of music,” the documentary said.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Born in 1915 in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, Tharpe, was christened Rosetta Nubin. She picked up a guitar at 4 and then, two years later, started singing at church with her mom.

Tharpe eventually moved to Chicago and experimented with different musical styles. She married gospel with Delta blues and New Orleans jazz with her howling electric guitar to create her signature sound. That musical creation also helped her appeal to a larger audience.

Tharpe was catapulted into the music mainstream with her 1938 record “Rock Me.”

Seven years later, her 1945 track “Strange Things Happening Every Day” is acknowledged as the first gospel song to cross over to the “race” charts, which later was renamed the R&B charts. The song reached No 2 and was a huge influence for rock ‘n’ roll.

Tharpe’s incendiary guitar playing was revolutionary and pioneering, decades before other male guitarists. Nobody – not Chuck Berry, not Scotty Moore (Elvis Presley’s famed guitarist), not James Burton, not Keith Richards – played wilder or more primal rock ’n’ roll guitar than this woman who gave her life to God. With a Gibson SG in her hands, Sister Rosetta could raise the dead, and that was before she started to sing.

Marie Knight

Tharpe’s musical relationships also raised a few eyebrows. In 1946, Tharpe met singer Marie Knight, and after they recorded “Up Above My Head,” the two women teamed up and went on tour. The women worked together until 1950.

Rumours circulated for years that the women had a romantic relationship. Tharpe also had been married previously twice to men. She married a third time in 1951.

In 2007, Gayle Wald wrote a biography about the trailblazing musician, “Shout, Sister, Shout!” Tharpe died in 1973 and didn’t leave any archives or written record about her life, Wald said.

When Wald asked Knight about the rumours of an intimate relationship with Tharpe, Knight told her they were untrue.

Sexuality and identity

Wald also interviewed other sources who spoke about Tharpe’s attractions to men and women, but none of them would go on the record, Wald said.

“Do I think Sister Rosetta Tharpe had attractions to and sexual relations with women? Yes,” Wald said. “But I don’t know if she used any words to identify herself.”

Wald said she wasn’t surprised that people didn’t go on the record about Tharpe’s sexuality.

“In the gospel world, it was understood that people protected each other’s privacy. You didn’t want to ruin anyone’s career or life,” Wald said. “That way, people lived their lives as openly as they could.”

“Sister Rosetta Tharpe lived with a certain amount of openness,” Wald said. “It was typical for people to be out, but there was no attempt to be public or for their private life to be a part of their public identity.”

Health problems, Blues Hall of Fame

Tharpe continued to have success through the 1950s, but by the time the 1960s rolled around, she began to lose fans to a new musical revolution. Tharpe then moved to England and performed her signature music for young blues fans of London and Liverpool.

Tharpe performed less live gigs after having a stroke in 1970. Three years later, 9 October 1973, on the eve of a recording session in Philadelphia, Tharpe suffered another stroke and died.

On 15 July 1998, the United States Postal Service issued a 32-cent commemorative stamp to honour Tharpe.

In 2007, Tharpe was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. A Pennsylvania historical marker was placed at her former residence in Yorktown, a Philadelphia neighbourhood. Later, 11 January was designated Sister Rosetta Tharpe Day in Pennsylvania.

Rare footage of Fire Island gay wedding offers a peek at pre-Stonewall era LGBT life

Home movie enthusiasts, take note: those old videos could be worth some big money one day!

Rare footage of a mock gay wedding on Fire Island recently sold for a whopping $980 on eBay. The footage, taken sometime in the 1960s, shows two men – one in a wedding dress – undergoing a marriage rite before a group of joyful onlookers.

The same reel also shows two men in speedos wrestling, men in swimsuits hanging out by a pool, and another scene of men engaging in some kind of … bondage play?

Before you get too excited, the eBay listing specifies that the film contains no footage of sexually explicit acts. It also states that the origins of the footage is unknown, though the Fire Island locations are clearly identifiable.

“While you do see some women and children, the bulk of the 3in 8mm home movie features gay men at the beach,” the listing reads. “There is no nudity no sexual acts this is a HOME MOVIE.”

The footage in question offers a rare look into the pre-Stonewall era of LGBT life. At the time, LGBT people could only live openly in a handful of pockets around the country, as gay sex was outlawed. Even the insinuation that someone could be gay could destroy a career.

Fire Island became one of those havens for LGBT people thanks to its isolated location and beach scenery. It remains very popular with LGBT vacationers today.

Given the danger in filming LGBT people living openly – and the danger in the recording said activity – the historical value of the footage in question is very high. Here’s hoping somebody who paid for it gets it digitised and released to the public.

Footage of a gay pool party in 1945 has surfaced online and it’s pretty incredible

Footage of a gay pool party in 1945 surfaced online and it’s pretty incredible.

The lost home videos were discovered by Geoff Story, a filmmaker from St Louis. He tells Nancy Fowler at St Louis Public Radio that he stumbled upon them 20-some years ago at an estate sale of the now-deceased Buddy Walton.

Walton was often referred to as St Louis’ “hairdresser to the stars” and did hair for everyone from Eleanor Roosevelt to Ethel Merman whenever they passed through town. He was known for throwing lavish pool parties at his property.

“These men are still in their 20s in the sun, swimming, like they always will,” Story says. “There’s a real sweet pain, and when you watch it, there’s a happiness but you can’t believe it’s so long ago and you can’t touch it – it’s gone.”

Finding the footage sparked an idea for a documentary. Story set out to find gay men who were alive in the 1940s and talk to them about their lives and experiences.

His new film Gay Home Movie, which he’s currently working on, offers a rare peek into a largely invisible world when LGBT people were forced to live and love in the shadows.

Story has high hopes for the documentary, which has already captured the interest of gay Hollywood executive Brian Graden, best known for his role in developing South Park.

“It speaks to a wide array of people on a very deep level,” Graden tells Fowler. “What are the chances someone would go to an estate sale and pick up these canisters of old footage? It’s almost like these men are trying to talk to us from beyond the grave.”

Oldham Art Gallery … LGBT Extra Care Scheme Public Consultation

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National Gallery Masterpiece Tour in Oldham

Our visit this week was to the Art Gallery in Oldham. As part of the National Gallery Masterpiece Tour, Degas’s Hélène Rouart in her Father’s Study was on display. 

The title suggests that it is a portrait of a young woman. When you look more closely, however, the stories the painting tells are all about Hélène’s father, Henri Rouart. The exhibition asks: Is this really a portrait of Hélène, or of her father?

This is the starting point for an exploration of the ways in which women are represented within art collections. Oldham Gallery holds many portraits in which the woman is not named. Sometimes she is described as “wife” or “daughter”, sometimes the title completely ignores the fact there is a woman in the portrait at all. The National Gallery partnership is a starting point to try to uncover the identities of some of these sitters, and to find out more about those who we know little.

The exhibition brings together many of the paintings featuring women. Historically, there were generally limited roles for women in art. Paintings were mostly made by men, bought by men for their own or the town’s collection and displayed by men for much of the first part of their history. There are exceptions to this at various points in time, of course.

Men are shown in limited roles as well – very often as businessmen, town leaders or as head of the family. There are no paintings of men sleeping, helping children or carrying out domestic tasks.

Other current exhibitions were the Legacy of Biafra and Oldham Stories.

The latter included Annie Kenney, who was an English working-class suffragette and socialist feminist who became a leading figure in the Women’s Social and Political Union. In 1905 Annie and her sisters Jessie and Jane went to a meeting in Oldham where Christabel Pankhurst spoke about voting rights for women. Annie was so inspired that she was soon organising and speaking at meetings.

She and Christabel attended a Liberal rally at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall in October 1905. There they stood up and asked Winston Churchill ‘If you are elected, will you do your best to make women’s suffrage a government measure?’  When they received no reply, they unfurled a banner with the slogan ‘Votes for women’ – and were thrown out of the meeting. In the ensuing struggle, a policeman claimed the women had kicked and spat at him. They were arrested and charged with assault.

This was the first of thirteen times Annie Kenney was sent to prison. There she wrote: ‘The law may be stronger than I am, but if I may not change the wicked law that holds in bondage the smitten womanhood of this country, I will at least die in the attempt to change it’. A statue was unveiled in Oldham town centre in 2018.

More photos can be seen here.

LGBT Extra Care Scheme Public Consultation

The Scheme is holding two public consultation events to start preparing a planning application.

The exhibition at Whalley Range Methodist Church (2.00pm – 8.00pm Wednesday, 12 January 2022) will give us a chance to explain why we are developing the scheme ahead of more detailed plans that will be presented at a second event in February 2022.

But do not worry if you cannot make this event as the consultation will also go online from Wednesday 12 January 2022 to Wednesday 19 January 2022.

Christmas Party … Happy New Year! … LGBTQ Timeline … Embrace of Capital … Help needed in the Philippines

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The Out In The City Christmas Party was held on 16 December 2021 at the Village Brassiere at Velvet on Canal Street in the heart of Manchester’s Gay Village. More photos can be seen here.

LGBTQ Timeline

As part of the “100” series, the BBC have created a timeline of LGBTQ+ stories and events within the context of the BBC broadcasts. It’s a long read, but very interesting and can be accessed here or via the Timeline drop down menu on the main page.

The Embrace of Capital

A member of Out In The City, Don Milligan, has written a thought provoking and provocative analysis of communism, from the point of view of a communist.

Don writes: “The “spectre of communism” which Karl Marx confidently evoked in 1848 is now nothing more than a ghostly and ghastly nightmare, without form or substance. This is because working people have developed a love-hate relationship with capitalism. They hate insecurity, inequality, and greed, and love civic and political freedom. They love mass consumption, and accept the logic of commerce.

Barreling along through wars, revolutions, epidemics, and crises of all sorts, working people in their millions have consistently dumfounded and dismayed the left, by their refusal to countenance any alternative to the capitalist mode of life. We have to ask: Is it possible to reverse this reality, and once again talk of the necessity of communism?”

There is a website to promote the book – more details can be found at www.embraceofcapital.net

Fundraiser following supertyphoon Odette

Another member of Out In The City, Bill Drayton, is organising a fundraiser for the relatives of his partner, Kim. The supertyphoon, Odette, has destroyed buildings and made many people homeless.

More details can be found here. Please consider a donation.

Happy Christmas … Queer Britain Awards … J J Belanger

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Happy Christmas to all

Queer Britain Awards

Queer Britain is a charity working to establish the UK’s first national LGBTQ+ museum, a place as exciting as the people, stories and ideas it explores and celebrates. It will be an essential place for all regardless of sexuality or gender identity, to find out about the culture they have been born into, have chosen or seek to understand. It will help complete the Nation’s family tree.

It is important because queer people have impacted every part of culture, yet all too often their lives have been written in the margins of history books. Valuable stories and artefacts are being lost. Once gone, they may never be recovered. These deserve a dedicated space to be preserved, explored and celebrated. Queer Britain will put this centre stage.

Queer Britain has teamed up with wine brand Madame F to launch The Queer Britain Madame F Award. This year’s theme is Queer Creativity.


Entrants sent in illustrations, paintings, drawings and photographs that celebrate the theme of Queer Creativity, along with a statement explaining what that means to them. There are three cash prizes:

First Prize £1500 Awarded to Sadie Lee

“My paintings are realistic renderings of real people who sit for me. Frequently drawn from Queer communities, they depict and celebrate queer otherness and focus on the fabulous, the invisible, the marginalised and those who wear their identity on their sleeve. My submission is a painting of the artist David Hoyle. Regarded by many as Queer Royalty, David’s work often highlights inequalities and can be at once uplifting, challenging, euphoric and uncomfortable. As in all my work, the painting centres the subject from their perspective and the concept was developed through discussion and mutual input. In that sense I see my paintings as collaborations with my sitters.”

Second prize £1000 awarded to Paul Harfleet

This piece is a component of Birds Can Fly, a body of work by Paul Harfleet. He studies the birds he draws and then using his own wardrobe, styling and make-up skills, ‘gently references’ the birds he studies. This body of work celebrates a life-long love of ornithology and is a queer exploration that delves into the politics of ornithology. Birds have been largely categorised by straight white European zoologists, indigenous names and knowledge lost and side-lined. Paul playfully and subtly echoes the plumage and demeanour of the birds, and celebrates the connection between the frequent flamboyance of male birds and the connection to drag.

Third prize £500 awarded to Nathan Johnson

“I have been fascinated by incorporating LGBT politics and historical archives together to create fictional narratives that influence our perception of queer identity within the public sphere. I decided to shift my attention to more personal forms of archives such as family photo albums. This resonated with me as a member of the gay community who envisioned how my families social and political views would have evolved if they had LGBT influences in their formative years. I also speculated over the influence family photo albums have on the idealisation of heteronormativity and the nuclear family. This image taken from my most current project, “Our Kodak Moment” delves into the heteronormative environment of family photography and the influence photo albums can have on our perceptions of the nuclear family through the rose-tinted lens of the past. With the incorporation of both modern queer icons and vintage photographs, LGBT representation is brought to the forefront in this reimagining of the idyllic family utopia.”

1950s gay couple

These days, most people wouldn’t think twice if they saw a gay couple showing affection for one another in public (well at least in certain areas). But that wasn’t always the case.

These pictures were taken inside a photo booth in 1953, during a time when police used to target gays and lesbians for being “sexual deviants.” Had these two young men been caught, they likely would have been arrested and thrown in jail.

The photo was once owned by J J Belanger, who is featured on the right-hand side of the picture. Belanger was born in Edmonton, Canada in 1925, and served in the Royal Canadian Air Force from 1942 to 1944.

When he was in his 20s, Belanger moved to California. In the early 1950s, he was one of the original members of the Mattachine Society, one of the first LGBT organisations in the United States.

In addition to that, Belanger was the Los Angeles coordinator of the Eulenspiegel Society, oldest and largest BDSM education and support group in the United States, in the 1970s. In the 1980s, he was involved with the San Francisco chapter of the Stonewall Gay Democratic Club, as well as Project Inform and the Quarantine Fighter’s Group.

Throughout his lifetime, Belanger was a devoted collector of historical LGBT artefacts and materials. The two photographs of him are now part of the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California Libraries, the largest repository of LGBT materials in the world, along with several of Belanger’s letters, notebooks, and audio recordings.