Before Stonewall Oral History Project

In 2003 I was an oral history worker for a project called Before Stonewall.

Older LGBT people’s accounts of life in the UK during criminalisation and before the gay liberation movement were being lost.

I was part of a small team, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and administrated by Gay and Lesbian Arts and Media in Brighton. We travelled across the UK, gathering oral histories of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people aged 55 and over. We trained a cohort of community oral historians. Between us we recorded over 100 interviews on video.

These video tapes can be accessed via the British Library in London.

What people talked about:

60s counterculture, abortion, academia, acceptance of sexuality, acting, activism, AIDS, alcoholism, alternative relationships, army life, Australia, the baby boom, Bears, becoming a rabbi, being a married lesbian, being a refugee, being a tomboy, being an immigrant, bisexuality, blackmail, Brighton, butch identity, butch/femme, Campaign for Homosexual Equality, childhood abuse, class, the closet, coded sexuality, The Coleherne, coming out, coming out later in life, cottaging, criminalisation, criminality, cruising scene, depression, developing lesbian trans identity, diaries, early gay media, early relationships, early sexual experiences, the European scene, falling in love, family, fear of exposure, feminism, gay publishing, gay relatives, gay rights, gay subcultures, Gay Sweatshop, gender identity, generational differences, girlfriends, The Gay Liberation Front, hidden relationships, high society, gay parents, The Gateways, illegality, internalised hatred, Joe Orton, The Labour Party, law change, lesbian feminism, lesbian life in the military, maintaining a secret relationship, Manchester, marriage, medical experiments, medicalisation of homosexuality, meeting partners, mental health, mental illness, military life, the Montague case, Nazism, New York, non-monogamous relationships, Norwich, Notting Hill, nursing, older gay men, Oxford, parenthood, partnership rights, party scene, The Peace movement, police harassment, political life, pornography, private education, psychology, public life, queerbashing, relationships, religion, Zimbabwe/Rhodesia, secrecy, self-esteem, sex, sex codes, sex work, showbiz, SM, Spare Rib, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, struggling with identity, suicide, Tanzania, teaching, theatre, trade unions, travel, using contact advertisements, The US in the 1950s, US/UK culture , venereal disease, Victim, violence, Wales, wartime, the women’s liberation movement, women’s status, work.

Other projects

Before Stonewall was life-changing. I am forever indebted to the people who consented to an interview, and who enabled me to recognise myself as part of a long genealogy of queer people.

In 2013 I launched a small project based on a friendship with someone I met during Before Stonewall. Stewart’s Paintings is concerned with intergenerational queer kinship and inheritance through art.