Gay and Lesbian Humanist

Summer 1999

History and Herstory

by Brett Humphreys

To put GALHA’s 20 years into perspective it’s interesting to take a look at the growing use of the Web in recording the retrieval of lesbian and gay history (or Queer History as it’s called nowadays), which is still too often systematically expunged from biographies and other texts.

A good starting point is the site created by Rictor Norton, one-time research editor of the late Gay News, whose book The Myth of the Modern Homosexual was reviewed by Antony Grey in the Summer 1998 issue of G&LH. The major part of his site consists of Essays on Gay History and Literature, including sections on The Queer Canon (gay literature), The Homosexual Pastoral Tradition, and The Great Queens of History – starting with Queen James and his companions. Among these pages is a fine edited anthology of writings by John Addington Symonds (1840-1893), who was the subject of a talk given in January 1984 by Stephen Coote to the Gay Humanist Group, the first in a series of four talks entitled Notable Gay Humanists. From Symonds’s own memoirs, published that same year in an edition by Phyllis Grosskurth, it seems that – although he came to reject Christian dogma – his later outlook would be better described as pantheist rather than humanist. However, that need not detract from his interest as what Norton calls “the first modern historian of (male) homosexuality, and the first advocate of gay liberation in Britain”. Overall this site is very well presented, despite more typographical errors than one might expect from someone who counts proofreading as one of his professional skills, and it contains some fascinating material, written in a clear and readable style.

Aspiring Mastermind contenders looking for a specialist subject might like to look at Andrew Wikholm’s new site called The Modern Homosexual (1700-1973). He favours the theory, challenged by Rictor Norton, that homosexual identity is a relatively modern phenomenon, which he regards as originating in Europe around 1700. The site features a graphical timeline running from 1700 to 1973 with links to a series of articles on significant events between those dates. Presumably since 1973 we have all been postmodern! There is a glossary to explain the historical usage of various terms and a classified bibliography of some 350 items. The Modern Homosexual was still clearly under construction at the time of my visit, and it had a few design problems such as visited and unvisited links appearing uniformly red, but it looks set to be worth another visit when completed.

Anyone seriously interested in lesbian and gay history should not miss People with a History: An Online Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans* History, one of a number of online ‘History Sourcebooks’ produced by Paul Halsall at Fordham University, New York. A series of sizable index pages provide an extensive set of links to texts both on and off site. This site incorporates what is claimed to be “the most up-to-date and complete bibliography of LGBT history available”. That seems quite plausible, given that this single web page would run to over 100 pages if printed, but the bibliography is still by no means comprehensive, as evidenced by the omission of the book by Rictor Norton mentioned above. There is an even larger bibliography (thankfully not all on one page this time) on Homosexuality and Catholicism, a topic in which Halsall takes a keen interest as a Roman Catholic who thinks his church is “tragically dysfunctional, but worthwhile in any case”.

For a site specialising in lesbian history, try the Lesbian History Project maintained at the University of Southern California by Yolanda Retter, who also manages the Lesbian Legacy Collection, part of the Los Angeles International Gay and Lesbian Archives. The structure of this site is less evident than that of People with a History, but in a similar way though on a smaller scale it provides a good number of mixed links to materials held both on and off site.

Returning to the UK, the ‘Rowse History Centre’ is just one of many resource centres at the virtual academy called The Knitting Circle, site of the Lesbian and Gay Staff Association at South Bank University, London. Others named in similar vein include the ‘Keynes Economics Unit’ and the ‘Turing Machine Room’ for example. This large and well-indexed site provides a wide range of information in support of British lesbian and gay studies, liberally illustrated with quotations from newspapers and magazines, including some from Diesel Balaam’s writing in Gay and Lesbian Humanist. There are biographical pages on many lesbians and gay men past and present, and even one devoted to Tinky Winky, the Teletubby so bizarrely ‘outed’ by the American evangelist Jerry Falwell earlier this year. A consistent style and effective use of hypertext throughout this site amply justify the name Knitting Circle, even though they are not the ostensible reason for it.

All of the above and more can be found via the Queer History category of the specialist directory Rainbow Query, a rich source of pointers to information on everything LGBT and Q.

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Created : Saturday, 1999-07-10 / Last updated : Friday, 2009-12-04
Brett Humphreys :