Tales From The City – Making LGBT history in Liverpool

A photo from our civil partnership on the slideshow at the launch of the #TalesFromTheCity exhibition

THIS WEEK is your last chance to see a trailblazing exhibition of stories, objects and memories from Liverpool’s LGBT+ community at the Museum of Liverpool.

Tales from the city was launched on 12th October 2017, the day after National Coming Out Day, to mark the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act with stories from Liverpool’s LGBT+ community over the past five decades.

The exhibition reflects how the lives and experiences of Liverpool’s LGBT+ community have changed from 1967 to 2017. Individual stories are told through a mixture of objects, costume, art, photography, film and oral history interviews. The exhibition also explores the impact of national events such as Section 28, civil partnerships, marriage, age of consent equality, and equal adoption rights.

The experiences of Liverpool’s LGBT+ community reveal devastating cases of discrimination and prejudice but also examples of self-determination, resilience and creativity. 50 years on from the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, the exhibition offers a reflection on the significant advances that have been made, while also remembering there is still work to be done for full equality.

This powerful exhibition was due to finish in April 2018 and then further extended to October 2018, then finally to the end of March 2019.
In total it was extended for a full year due to its overwhelming popularity.

My husband Warren and I were delighted to be at the launch of the #TalesFromTheCity exhibition to see the artefacts we donated on display, including:

We recorded this brief interview at the launch (1 min 16 secs):

If you’re reading this after Sunday 31st March, sadly you’ve missed the exhibition, but here are some highlights which stood out for me.

A copy of the Wolfenden Report on Homosexual Offences & Prostitution (1957) which led to the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales in 1967. The jar of Huntley & Palmer biscuits represents the euphemism for homosexuals and prostitutes used by the Wolfenden Committee who were ‘Worried for the sensibilities of female secretaries‘ recording the committee’s deliberations.
The youth group I ran gets a special mention for the year of its foundation in 1976.

In 2006, I joined the committee of the Quest Northwest group based in Liverpool, which met monthly across the region. The exhibition includes my Quest t-shirt, and a photo of us walking in Manchester Pride in August 2007, alongside the story of how the month before, the Archbishop of Liverpool prevented the group from meeting at the University of Liverpool Catholic Chaplaincy for a Mass, intended to help LGBT+ Catholics discuss their experiences and pray for understanding of the issues they face reconciling faith and sexuality. I contributed this quote to the label giving context to the t-shirt on display:

‘Those of us who have grown up with the Catholic faith often struggle with conflicts between our personal experience and what the Church teaches. For many, this can be a painful experience which leads them to abandon the Church, and often their faith too… Quest does not encourage people to defy the Church, but it does empower them to develop informed consciences, reflect on their own experience and live with integrity.’

My Quest t-shirt on display in the exhibition (right)
Across one wall of the museum is a timeline of significant events in LGBT+ history, with national events below the line and local events above the line.

The years 2008-2010 were challenging but hugely significant for the city. In 2008, Liverpool teenager Michael Causer died following a brutal attack which police investigated as a homophobic hate crime. The judge rejected any homophobic motive and Michael’s assailants received minimal sentences, which would have been greater if recognised as a hate crime. I was one of the founding trustees of the foundation Michael’s parents set up in his memory to help LGBT+ young people at risk.

In 2009, trainee police officer James Parkes was beaten in a homophobic attack outside a gay bar in the city centre. The community feared another untimely death, but James recovered well and completed his training. 1500 people joined a march against homophobia through the city centre in protest against the murder of Michael Causer and the attack on James Parkes.

At the time, I was part of a group of LGBT+ Christians which met with the former Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones. He and other church leaders had begun to discuss how to respond to the murder of Michael Causer but their talks were inconclusive. Galvanised by the attack on James Parkes, the Presidents of Churches Together in the Merseyside Region (the heads of the six main Christian denominations) produced a statement opposing homophobic hate crime, which I obtained permission to publish in the City of Liverpool Anti-Homophobic Bullying Policy in May 2010 [page 5].

In August 2010, Liverpool held its first official Pride celebration – the date was chosen to be the nearest weekend to the anniversary of Michael Causer’s death. On the tenth anniversary of the first official Liverpool Pride in August 2018, I spoke at a Post-Pride evening service at Liverpool Cathedral about the legacy of Michael Causer’s death as the city’s ‘Stonewall moment’, which you can read on my blog here.

The order of service from our civil partnership alongside a script for the Christmas 2012 episode of Channel 4’s tea-time TV soap opera Hollyoaks, which included a same-sex marriage filmed in the same church as our ceremony.

In 2011 the UK Government announced a consultation on whether to allow places of worship to register civil partnerships. It was one of the largest and most controversial consultations it has ever conducted. It implemented section 202 of the Equality Act 2010, which, enabled regulations to be made setting out the arrangements for religious premises to be approved by the local authority and clarified that there is no obligation on faith groups to have civil partnership registrations on their premises. This came into force on December 2011.

We had planned to register our civil partnership in the city’s register officer on the first Saturday in May 2012, followed by a service of celebration and blessing at Ullet Road Unitarian Church on the Sunday. When we learned that the law had changed, the church agreed to register to host civil partnerships, and we hoped the approval from the City Council would come through in time for us to cancel the register office and combine the two ceremonies. As couples must give at least 29 days notice before registering a civil partnership, we had to make a decision the month before, but the church had not received its licence, so we had to take a leap of faith and hope for the best. We cancelled the register office service in the hope that the licence would be issued in time. If it wasn’t we’d planned to go on honeymoon following the blessing service and sort out the legal bit when we got back. It was, but with just a few days to spare! So we were able to register our civil partnership in the church during the blessing service, just like many heterosexual couples sign the register during a church wedding.

The exhibition display giving the context for our civil partnership booklet
The exhibition display giving the context for the Hollyoaks script for the same-sex wedding filmed in the same church as our civil partnership.

The final day of the exhibition is next Sunday, 31st March 2019, which is also Trans Day of Visibility, for which the museum is hosting special events.

Read more about Tales From The City.

Thanks to the Museum of Liverpool for making this exhibition so visible as a feature of a mainstream museum, not a separate tucked-away display – visibility for the LGBT+ community is so important, and Tales From The City shows how often over the years Liverpool has been at the forefront of social change.

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