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Rainbow Collections – LGBTQ+ material from Museums & Galleries Edinburgh

Rainbow Collections – LGBTQ+ material from Museums & Galleries Edinburgh
Rainbow Collections – LGBTQ+ material from Museums & Galleries Edinburgh
This exhibition brings together a sample of the different type of items held by the city’s Museums and Galleries which chronicle the LGBTQ+ story in Edinburgh. Our sample selection of archive material represents significant local, national and international moments and movements in LGBTQ+ history.

Although many people from the LGBTQIA+ communities continue to face routine discrimination, harassment or persecution, their sexuality is no longer illegal in the UK. It may be hard for younger people to appreciate the relatively recent changes to legislation which have occurred to allow LGBTQIA+ people to live their private lives equally to heterosexual people.

Laws had been in place as far back as the reign of Henry VIII which criminalised homosexual acts between men and under the law, convictions were punishable by death until 1861.

It was in 1957 that the Wolfenden Report recommended changes to (English) law on male homosexuality. (Female homosexuality was never explicitly targeted by any legal legislation).

And it was only in 1967 that the Sexual Offences Act brought about the decriminalisation of homosexual acts between two men, both over the age of 21, in private. It was not until 1980 that Scottish law was brought into line with England and Wales by the Criminal Justice bill decriminalising homosexual acts.
You can read about the background and instigation for the Wolfenden Report via the British Library.

Our exhibition focuses on more recent times, starting in 1974 and the programme for the first International Gay Rights Congress held in Edinburgh. The conference aimed to facilitate a sharing of international experience, enabling delegates to learn about the social, political and legal situation for men and women in other countries. 1974 also saw the launch of the Lothian Gay and Lesbian Switchboard which was established to offer assistance and information to anyone who had experienced difficulties as a result of their own homosexuality or someone they knew.

We include a “Gay is Good” badge from the Scottish Homosexual Rights Group (which was a later iteration of the Scottish Minorities Group) recognising the important role that campaigning and activism played in the fight for equality in the second half of the 20th century. There is a badge from Pride 1994, declaring “twenty years out and proud” referencing the first Pride march in New York in July 1970 held in commemoration of the Stonewall Uprising. Pride is now an annual event and a global movement to celebrate LGBTQ+ communities.

The exhibition includes material relating to the promotion of sexual health, the necessity to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS and a ‘Coming out’ guide for young men.

The local gay social scene in Edinburgh is recorded through the Edinburgh Gay Scene Guide booklet, 1999 edition which listed bars, cafes and clubs which no longer exist in Edinburgh but were stalwarts of the gay scene in the 1980s and 1990s including The New Town Bar, The Claremont Bar, The Blue Moon Café, many which were centred around Broughton Street and the Greenside area east of the city’s centre. The iconic original shop sign from renowned lesbian and gay community bookshop, Lavender Menace situated at nearby Forth Street and a postcard invitation to their first birthday party, promising "readings, music, wine and quiche (if you'll eat it)" is included. So too, a poster from Edinburgh University Lesbian & Gay Society, or LAGS, which at some point around 1991 or 1992 became ‘BLOGS’, Edinburgh University Bisexual, Lesbian and Gay Society and a flyer from a 2008 Loud and Proud Choir festive concert.

Campaigning for equality continued into the 21st century and our exhibition includes the remains of a campaign t-shirt from the NUS Scotland Lesbian and Gay Campaign with the slogan, “Love is not a crime”.

In a joint initiative, Museums & Galleries Edinburgh and the Living Memory Association, undertook the Remember When project, an oral and community history project which documented the lives of Edinburgh's LGBT people, past and present, whose contributions and achievements had previously tended to be overlooked or ignored. The project resulted in the Rainbow City exhibition held at Edinburgh’s City Art Centre in 2006.

This century has seen improvements for LGBTQ+ communities in gaining equal rights. Notably, the controversial ‘Section 28’ introduced in 1988 which forbade local authorities from “intentionally promoting homosexuality” was repealed by the Scottish Parliament in 2000.

Other legislations included prevention of discrimination in the workplace; to give trans people legal recognition for changes of gender; to prevent discrimination on the grounds of gender reassignment; allowing same-sex couples to adopt; protection against discrimination when accessing fertility treatment.
Perhaps, most prominent of all the campaigns and gains in equal rights was the campaign for equal marriage. The Civil Partnership Act allowing same-sex couples the right to register civil partnerships came into law in 2004 but it was ten years later in Scotland when same-sex partners were permitted to marry. In February 2014, the Scottish Parliament passed the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill, with 105 votes in favour and 18 votes against and the bill came into effect on 16 December 2014. Our exhibition includes postcards produced by the Equality Network for the campaign for equal marriage and a wedding cake topper of two brides in celebration.

We recommend exploring the digital version of Museum and Galleries’ exhibition ‘Proud City’, a celebration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and asexual people living and working in Edinburgh, which was updated in 2020 in collaboration with LGBT Youth and the Queensferry youth group, Polari.

Explore too, OurStory Scotland, a charity organisation who collect, archive and present the life stories and experiences of the LGBTQ+ community in Scotland.