The combination of the words "mapping" and the acronym LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) sparked my interest in Historic England's Pride of Place project, an initiative to identify and celebrate England's LGBTQ heritage. For me, the emphasis was on "T" and "Q" with further interest in opportunities to explore non-binary lives and experiences of migration.
Since completing an MA in Gender, Sexuality and Culture at Birkbeck, University of London, I have become increasingly interested in LGBTQ+ histories both as a researcher and as a member of queer non-binary trans and, through my friends, a bigger LGBTQ+ community. I am especially interested in how our histories are written and who by. I also want to know when and where, contextually and topographically, they have taken place.
'Pride of Place: England's LGBTQ Heritage' includes an interactive crowd-sourced online map, and aims to show that LGBTQ+ heritage is everywhere. It is a fundamental part of everyone's heritage and we need to improve knowledge of, and access to, this shared history. They seek to represent and celebrate the widest possible spectrum of LGBTQ+ identities.
Anyone is welcome to pin any LGBTQ+ location on the Pride of Place map of England, and add descriptions of those locations to share more about what happened there. This can include anything from historical details they've read somewhere, to their own experiences and memories of these places: Where did they meet friends? Where did they fall in love? Where did they have fun? Where did they build a community? Where did they experience or resist oppression? These and many other locations are all welcome on the map.
All submissions to the map go to the Pride of Place team, scholars who research LGBTQ+ histories. Participants from different communities, however, including non-academics, activists and artists have helped frame the project and to think about how information is verified, how communities' voices are valued, and how personal stories and memories are honoured. When I asked Professor Alison Oram to clarify who is involved in the project, she relayed that,
Between us [the project team] we represent quite a wide range of sexualities and gender identities. The Steering Group at Historic England that oversees the project includes a wider range of queer diversities.
This project, I believe, could be a great collective experience of knowledge exchange and development for LGBTQ+ communities and those with a genuine interest in LGBTQ+ histories and queer heritage. By this I mean those who see the preservation and recording of LGBTQ+ histories and heritage locations as a means of survival and activism. And not only survival, but also the improvement of lives: It can also be a tool of resistance against cisgender and hetero normalisation of LGBTQ+ identified people. It could help reduce isolation amongst people in LGBTQ+ communities.
The project relies on community involvement through crowd-sourcing, and as participants we are asked to share our knowledge. But it's not about unpaid academic labour. We will ourselves be creating the map of our LGBTQ+ histories available to others worldwide to access freely.
I feel like this project's sourcing of stories and their locations can offer us a much fuller picture of queer histories than we've ever seen. It has the potential to create an LGBTQ+ historical narrative, which is different from the cis-hetero-media constructed one that privileges only limited and stereotypical parts of LGBTQ+ lives and experiences. What our community puts on the map can help promote better communication of shared experiences and histories within LGBTQ+ communities and also the wider public, contributing to a queer alternative.
Maps are political. They can be used strategically in aid of trans- and homophobic priorities and the forced normalisation of vulnerable communities. They can be used to silence non-normative histories. So there is a danger of giving away something. LGBTQ+ histories and experiences, created at such a high cost in queer lives and with such effort from our communities, must be protected. In other words, we need to ask: who am I sharing the knowledge with and for what purpose? But just as maps can be used to silence, they can also amplify voices of marginalised groups including sexual and gender minorities.
For me, what speaks powerfully in favour of this project is that Historic England (previously known as English Heritage), the national body with responsibility for England's historic environment, is promoting a project not based on property value but on the social value of community histories. This project can, in a way, put political and social activism on the map. It also seeks to bring greater visibility to questions of gender, sexuality, race, class, age, disability, medicalisation and the policing of bodies and identities, and, therefore, can also expose the historical mechanisms of the oppression of vulnerable minority groups.
So could LGBTQ+ communities' participation in a mapping project by sharing their knowledge and memories be seen as a form of activism? Perhaps we can discuss this at one of the Pinning Parties that the Pride of Place team is organising.
I personally want especially to encourage transfeminine identified participants to map locations important to them. Here is a space to explain how transfeminine people, in the words of my close transfeminine friends, are minoritised in queer spaces on account of our feminine expressions. Further I would like to extend a special invitation to non-binary identified participants, younger and older LGBTQ+ identified people, and to members of Black and Asian LGBTQ+ communities as well as LGBTQ+ people with disabilities and other health challenges. All of our stories need to be recorded.
I am a trans/queer-identified person from Belarus, the last remaining dictatorship in Europe and a country with a total disregard for human rights. Naturally, then, I am an activist who is constantly looking for new opportunities for queer resistance. A queer map of Belarus is one of my many dreams. But this will take a very long time to achieve. In the meantime, I will practice on the queer map of England!
Happy Queer Pinning!
Sasha Padziarei is a trans youth worker and volunteers coordinator with Gendered Intelligence and a trans outreach worker and trans group facilitator for Spectrum. They are a non-binary trans person, who immigrated to the UK from Belarus.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) histories and heritage are everywhere. Pride of Place is a Historic England initiative to identify the locations and landscapes associated with England's LGBTQ heritage. To learn more about LGBTQ history and heritage in your area, visit the interactive online map.