LGBT History in the Art and Design Library

Today, we had over to Nicky from the Art and Design Library team to tell us about LGBTQ+ connections found in the department’s collections.

As February draws to a close, I’d like to share my – new-ish, LGBTQ+ member of staff – exploration of our collections using LGBT History Month Scotland’s 2022 theme, ‘Blurring Borders’, of thinking beyond borders and about LGBT community and liberation around the world. Some of my discoveries can be found in this month’s Art and Design Library book display.

Framing the picture

Why does it matter that an artist or designer is or was what we’d describe today as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans (including non-binary and genderqueer), queer, intersex or asexual (LGBTQIA+)?

For some artists or designers their sexual orientation and/or gender identity have not been significant to their work. However, for many others, including those selected for the display, making visible aspects of their own life experiences, bodies, minds, feelings, identities, world views and spaces is crucial, and these lives and work often not only blur borders, but push and transgress artistic and societal, sexual or gender conventions and transcend geopolitical boundaries. Collectively, too, the act of making lives and work of LGBTQIA+ artists and designers visible can support community building, can represent shared histories and stories, desires, pain and joy that were previously ignored, censored or silenced by criminalisation and social and moral attitudes, can help counter stigma, and can enable and support activism and campaigns for liberation.

How do we know that artists and designers are or were LGBTQIA+?

Contemporary and 20th century artists and designers often explicitly acknowledge(d) or embrace(d) sexual orientations and gender identities that are or were not heterosexual or cisgender in their lives and/or as subjects of their work and so can be safely included under today’s rainbow umbrella. But, the language we currently use in English to recognise and (re-)claim the rich complexities of human sexual orientation and gender identity is relatively new, is continuously evolving and contested, and would be meaningless to like-minded folk of the past. For example, art created by LGBT+ people is often referred to as ‘Queer Art’, however, the term queer had, and for many people still has, negative and painful connotations, while for others still, myself included, ‘queer’ has been reclaimed as a positive term extending beyond sexual orientation and gender identity. Therefore, it’s important to consider the historical contexts in which artists and designers of the past lived and worked and, if they left behind any personal writing, how they described themselves or were described by their contemporaries. A film specially made by the National Galleries of Scotland for LGBT History Month 2022 addresses this topic and a resource created by Norena Shopland and Dr Daryl Leeworthy for Glamorgan Archives in 2018 explores the challenges of uncovering in historical documents the lives of people we would now describe as LGBTQIA+.

When considering artists and designers around the world it is also important to consider the cultural and geographical contexts in which they live(d) and work(ed) and the impact of imperialism and colonialism on people we’d today describe as LGBTQIA+ in those locations (more on that below). I also must recognise the position I’m viewing artists and their work from, as a white person educated in the UK with books, articles and interpretations about Western traditions and framings of art, design and architectural history. These themes have been addressed in a recent talk by Dr Churnjeet Mahn (University of Strathclyde) for the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Finally, how much does it matter that I’m a queer person exploring LGBTQIA+ artists’ and designers’ lives and work? Does that give me greater or different insights and understanding than a heterosexual person? I’m still thinking a lot about all of this!

The display

Getting to know artists and designers whose lives and work could fit with this year’s LGBT History Month theme and then finding books that were both available and fitted in the display case took quite a bit of work! I eventually settled on a display that highlights three themes: artists and identities in 1920s and 1930s Paris; HIV/AIDS advocacy and connections to cultural heritage; and everyday lives and individual and collective liberation.

1920s and 1930s Paris was the European centre of avant-garde art and literature, and along with Berlin, also of LGBTQ+ life (before it was described as such). Paris-born photographer Claude Cahun, Czech painter Toyen and Irish designer and architect Eileen Gray were all part of that world.

Claude Cahun (1894–1954; originally named Lucy Schwob) chose a new name for herself which suited her attitude to gender: in her book Disavowals, she wrote, ‘Masculine? Feminine? It depends on the situation. Neuter is the only gender that always suits me.’ Her own, changing image, her identity and performance were all a focus of her photographic and written work. Featuring in many photos was Cahun’s life partner, Marcel Moore (1909–54; originally named Suzanne Malherbe), who an artist in her own right. They, two Jewish, LGBTQ+ women, later moved to Jersey where, as members of the local resistance, courageously fought the World War Two Nazi occupation of the island and experienced its liberation in 1945.

Toyen (1902–80; originally named Marie Černova) was a painter and member of the Czech avant-garde group of artists, designers, architects and poets, Devětsil, during the 1920s and 1930s. Toyen, like Claude Cahun, chose a gender-neutral name and also used masculine pronouns. Toyen’s surreal and symbolic paintings, subject of a recent exhibition in Hamburg, have been described as composed ‘of unreal beings and strange objects’, ‘materialisations of latent psychic states’, with ‘emotive value’, ‘disturbing impact’ and ‘in many cases these enigmatic objects have a clear libidinous subtext’ (The Czech Avant-Garde of the 1920s and 30s, pp. 74–5.)

Eileen Gray (1878–1976), whose partners included women and men, renovated her own Paris apartment using modern, up-to-date forms as well as materials and accessories that recalled earlier tastes and dark colours traditionally associated with masculinity. Her design choices and style have been described as hinting at the privileged decadent, male homosexual aesthetics of the late 19th century; as a critique of the exclusively masculine world of Modern architecture and design; and of ‘creating an imaginative space’ for ‘a community of kindred spirits’ to make their emerging collective identity, as what we’d now probably describe as lesbian and bisexual women, visible. (Jasmine Rault, Eileen Gray and the Design of Sapphic Modernity, pp. 49–50.)

Beyond the Art and Design Library you can borrow books and read more about Paris’s community of wealthy, immigrant women with women sexual and domestic partners in the 1920s and 1930s in Diana Souhami’s books Wild Girls: Paris, Sappho and Art and No Modernism without Lesbians.

Rotimi Fani-Kayode’s (1955–89) 1987 photographic print with graphite and coloured pencil, Sonponnoi, brought together personal experience of HIV/AIDS, the skin lesions of AIDS-related Karposi’s Sarcoma and associated stigma at the height of the AIDS epidemic and his Yoruba heritage on his own body. In the figure of Sonponnoi, often also known as Shapona or Ṣọ̀pọ̀na, a Yoruba God of smallpox shunned by other Gods, Fani-Kayode ‘found a resonant symbol of an outcast God: one that embodies infection, carrying the threat of death, yet also offering protection.’ (Alex Pichler, A Queer Little History of Art, p. 99)

The rainbow, red-heart and denim costumes designed by Peter Minshall (b. 1941) for the ‘Sacred Heart’ band,  to ‘play’ at Trinidad Carnival 2006 are featured in the book Erotic Islands: Art and Activism in the Queer Caribbean. The band’s performance showcased creatively political messages about mending the heart of Trinidad and Tobago broken by corporate greed and corruption and tackling stigma of HIV/AIDS.

Frida Kahlo’s (1907–54) powerful body of work, most famously her self-portraits, share many details from her life including her family and her Mestiza and European heritage; her revolutionary, left-wing politics; her marriage with painter Diego Rivera; and expressing the pain and vulnerability associated with her physical disabilities and miscarriages. Kahlo was known to have had relationships with men and women outside her marriage, including with Mexican actress Dolores del Rio, but few of her paintings seem to address this. One painting which has been interpreted in this way is Two Nudes in a Forest (1938): one of the women could be Kahlo herself with her lover. Other, different interpretations for this painting also exist.

The paintings of Bhupen Khakhar (1934–2003) celebrated everyday life in India and also provided a space for the artist to explore his own sexuality. His 1981 work ‘You Can’t Please All’ is considered his coming-out painting. It features a self-portrait and the re-enactment of a fable which is believed to reflect Khakhar’s desire to accept his sexuality.

In his book From Here to Eternity, Sunil Gupta (b. 1953) documents his everyday life as a gay man, with friends and family, his HIV+ status and his involvement in LGBTQ+ activism in Canada, the UK and India. He includes a photograph of a poster announcing a 2013 demonstration against the Indian Penal Code Section 377. This legislation was introduced by the British colonial government in 1860 and criminalised ‘unnatural offences’ such as ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature’. The penalty for these offences was imprisonment for life. Activism in and beyond India and a case at the Indian Supreme Court finally achieved a repeal of the Penal Code in 2018. For LGBT History Month 2022, the Human Dignity Trust has created a timeline showing the history of LGBT criminalisation around the world. In many countries including India, 19th century colonial legislation, such as the Indian Penal Code, imported moral standards that outlawed locally understood and accepted diversity in gender and sexuality. The repercussions of this aspect of colonialism continue to be felt today.

Find out more

In the Art and Design Library, you can find many more books on the lives and work of artists and designers under LGBTQIA+ umbrella and on wider themes:

A Queer Little History of Art (a very useful introduction!)

Jean-Michel Basquiat

Lubaina Himid

Tove Jansson (did you know that Moomin’s friends Thingummy and Bob represent Jansson’s relationship with Vivica Bandler and Too-ticky her long-time partner Tuulikki Pietilä?)

Zanele Muholi

Raqib Shaw

Amrita Sher-Gil

The Two Roberts: Robert Colquhoun and Robert MacBryde

Art and Queer Culture

Decolonising the Camera

Sunil Gupta’s work as a curator in Disrupted Borders

Passions: Discourses on Black Women’s Creativity

A Queer History of Fashion

Radical Women: Latin American Art 1960–85

Trans Exploits: Trans of Color Cultures and Technologies in Movement

Beyond the Art and Design Library and links in the text above, I used the following resources to inform this blog post:

Art UK LGBTQ+ resources

Tate Queer Lives and Art online guide

Association for Art History resource portal on anti-racism and decolonial approaches to art history and visual culture

Disability Arts Online

Queer Migration and Intersectional Activism, London Borough of Newham LGBT History Month 2021 panel featuring artists including Sunil Gupta

Queering Black Britain, University College London

Carissa Chew, Inclusive Terminology: Guide and Glossary for the Cultural Heritage Sector, National Library of Scotland, May 2021

Churnjeet Mahn and Rohit K. Dasgupta, ‘Cross-border queers: how we’re digging up lost histories of LGBTQI+ South Asian migrants in Britain’, gal-dem, 24 February 2021

Arya Karijo, ‘Stop imposing your imperialist Western transphobia on my people’, openDemocracy, 31 March 2021

Kerstin Olsson, ‘Layers of (In)visibility: Remembering Eileen Gray’, Master of Architecture and Planning thesis, Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, 2021

Many conversations with LGBTQ+ friends, former colleagues, and project contacts at West of Scotland Regional Equality Council, Edinburgh Caribbean Association, Thistles and Dandelions project and Next Step Initiative – thank you!

Ni de aquí, ni de allá. LGBT History Month: Blurring borders with Andrés N Ordorica.

Last night we enjoyed a wonderful poetry performance and Q&A session on Facebook with Andrés N Ordorica.

The full performance and Q&A is now available to watch back on Edinburgh Libraries’ YouTube channel.

At least this I know by Andrés N Ordorica

‘One of my big aims in dealing either with queerness, or immigration, or racial identity was not to stay within the trauma. It was ultimately about reaching joy [..] Saying I understand now this facet of myself, and this is what I know about it, and this is what I choose to share with you.’

To celebrate LGBT history month, Roshni from the Library Resource Management team sat down with the Edinburgh based, queer, Latinx poet Andrés N Ordorica, where he performed and discussed work from his collection ‘At least this I know’. His performance was tender and celebratory – rich with colour, characters, and sometimes flowing into Spanish. There is a sense of honouring those who have come before us. From Chihuahua to Bennachie – the collection journeys through childhood to adulthood. Exploring what it means to find belonging both as an immigrant and within queer communities. Here’s a glimpse into their conversation –

The theme of LGBT history month is ‘blurring borders’. How does your work blur borders?

I think for me what really fascinates me about this idea is it really does feel intrinsic to my understanding of the self. I was born in the US, I’m a second generation American so all four of my grandparents came to the US in the early 1960s from Mexico. So this idea of borders and being fixed in any one place – it just is not true of my own existence.

My identity has never been one that could clearly sort of sit with any one place. To have an American passport, to be American, but then not always be ‘allowed’ to be American. To be questioned you know where are you really from? Oh, your family is from Mexico so you’re Mexican. It’s like well, no, I don’t have a Mexican passport and my Spanish isn’t that great. So, you know the place that I am from doesn’t always allow me to lay claim to it.

How do the themes of vulnerability and celebration coexist in your work?

A lot of these poems are dealing with loss and loss of homeland, loss of youth, and then loss of people. There are a lot of poems that are written in a very eulogy-like way. My hope then is that it allows readers the opportunity to process their own loss and then actively kind of work towards joy and celebration.

In the section that deals with queerness there are some poems in there that are revisiting the difficulty that I had in coming out. Navigation this new world and what it means to be part of this community. Then that section is followed by a section that’s dedicated to my husband and they’re love poems. It’s mapping out someone’s journey of contending with these things – because it’s a great thing to be celebrating LGBT history month but I think it would be negligible to not also acknowledge that for lots of people the journey towards coming out can be very difficult. One of my big aims in dealing either with queerness, or immigration, or racial identity, or racism was not to stay within the trauma. It was ultimately about reaching joy and confidently taking a seat at the table. Saying I understand now this facet of myself, and this is what I know about it, and this is what I choose to share with you.

I love how Spanish bleeds into your work, often people speak to you in Spanish – when and why do you use Spanish in your collection?

I think in choosing to write about especially my grandparents I felt like the most authentic or honourable way to have them as a presence is in their mother tongue. You know my grandparents were not the most confident English speakers – they were able to kind of carve a life for themselves with other Mexican immigrants and therefore were able to sort of get by. I often talk about how my mother growing up often had to be the translator. So you know at age eight, she would be going to the bank with her parents and speaking to these sort of scary older men talking about big sums of money and trying to get a mortgage or this or that –  and so for me to really have them there I wanted them there in Spanish because that’s how I grew up with my grandparents. I wanted that authenticity of my very specific experience of being part of the Latinx diaspora to exist in that way within the poems.

Which poets have inspired you and this collection? Can you recommend any queer or LGBT poets ?

This collection very specifically was inspired by the work of Edwin Morgan. Danez Smith is an amazing queer American poet – how they write about desire and race and racism is just profound. Natalie Diaz and her collection ‘Postcolonial Love Poem’ really was something that resonated with me. And then Nadine Aisha Jassat who’s ‘Let Me Tell You This’ (also published by 404 ink). I like to think that our collections are speaking to each other. Nina Mingya Powles is an amazing, amazing poet. How Nina writes of memory and family and growing up between cultures – how much more robust could our relationships with our grandparents be if we were fluent in our mother tongue?

Queer poets in general that I would recommend – Harry Josephine Giles, her collection Tonguit is beautiful. And Joelle Taylor‘s collection is beautiful and it’s very much about honouring her very specific community – you know a butch lesbian during the 80s and 90s and a history that you know has been done away with through gentrification. There are so many beautiful queer writers both in the UK and around the world who are just doing stunning things.

Enjoy Andrés poetry readings and his full conversation with Roshni on YouTube.

At least this I know by Andrés N Ordorica is available to reserve from Edinburgh Libraries.

The lives and works of Iona McGregor, Edinburgh lesbian novelist by Sigrid Nielsen

It’s evening in Edinburgh on 17 November 1860. As darkness falls, events are taking place all over the foggy, smoky, crowded city.

In the Royal Mile, former Police Inspector James McLevy, is walking his dog, Jenny, named for one of the city’s most notorious thieves. He’s wondering whether life will be dull in his retirement.

Up the hill at Waverley Station, a huge crowd has gathered. Eugenie, Empress of the French, is about to arrive – it’s the first time a French ruler has visited Scotland in centuries. Heavily veiled, the Empress alights from her carriage and acknowledges her admirers. But she barely escapes from a demonstration to seek refuge in her hotel in St Andrew Square.

The Empress is planning to visit a new girls’ school, the Scottish Institute for the Education of Daughters of Gentlefolk in Moray Place. Its scheming headmistress, Lady Superintendent Margaret Napier, is making entries in her Black Book. On the upper floors, student Christabel MacKenzie is writing a sonnet about the woman she loves – her teacher, Eleanor.

This is the opening sequence of Iona McGregor’s 1989 novel, Death Wore A Diadem. It was published by The Women’s Press and launched at West & Wilde, Edinburgh’s lesbian and gay community bookshop – in Dundas Street, not far from the locations where most of the novel takes place.

This photo of Iona in 2005 was taken by Phil Ewe and appeared in Rainbow City, published by Lighthouse. 

Death Wore A Diadem was described at the time as a lesbian mystery (Iona herself referred to it as a lesbian novel). And yes, there’s a theft and a mysterious death. The Empress lends the school her fabulous paste diadem – but it goes missing, a servant is found dead, scandal threatens and Christabel and Eleanor’s romance develops as they work to solve the mystery.

But there’s more to the story. It has a huge cast suggesting a light opera – from the Empress to the real-life detective and crime writer McLevy to a Rose Street landlady who lets rooms by the hour. Detailed Edinburgh history and lesbian history collide.

Death Wore A Diadem was also something else as well – the fulfilment of Iona’s longterm dream. Perhaps it was something she had hoped to do for most of her life.

Born in 1929 in Aldershot, Iona always said she would have been born in Scotland except for the fact that her birth was premature. She described her childhood in 1993 in Bob Cant’s Footsteps and Witnesses: Lesbian and Gay Lifestories from Scotland. The daughter of a teacher in a military school, she had a rough and physically active childhood with his male pupils for friends. A great reader, she had a difficult time at her convent school when she argued with the nuns about evolution, but won a scholarship to a school in Monmouth where she discovered the classics. She spent the summers with her grandmother in St Andrews, a place she loved.

When she began to write in the mid-60s, St Andrews figured in her first young adult historical novel, The Popinjay, the story of a teenage boy marooned in the city during the Wars of Religion. ‘A notable story…the living sense of the time is brought home with intense reality,’ said one reviewer.

The Popinjay was followed in 1968 by An Edinburgh Reel, a more complex work set in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden in 1745. Christine, the heroine, is 15 when the story opens. Her father, a veteran of Culloden who fought on the losing side and has spent years in exile, returns to Edinburgh a changed man – destitute and suffering from what would today be called post-traumatic stress.

Christine herself is still living with the effects of civil war and the early death of her mother. She and her father find lodgings in a Lawnmarket stair, called Davidson’s Land in the story. Despite more difficulties they are gradually healed – through Christine’s growing strength and the support of a collection of neighbours and strangers.

An Edinburgh Reel received a glowing review in the Times Literary Supplement – ‘a wholly delightful creation,’ their reviewer said. A friend of Iona’s who was worked in children’s publishing a few years later says Iona was well thought of and read at book fairs and children’s events. Later, in 1986, Canongate Books republished it in their Kelpies series.

Iona published another novel set in Fife ten years after An Edinburgh Reel, The Burning Hill. It was substantially based, not on secondary sources, but on memoirs of the time.

In 1972 she published The Tree of Liberty, a young adult novel about Edinburgh at the time of the French Revolution. Her hero, Sandy Lindsay, becomes drawn into radicalism through his friendship with Geordie, a politically active odd-job man who works for his father. He takes part in a riot and is imprisoned, but unrepentant.

Some of the story may reflect changes in Iona’s life as the 1970s progressed. She had begun to work as a volunteer at the Edinburgh Gay Centre in Broughton Street and in Glasgow, organising meeting places and offering support to other LGBT people. Though this sounds like ordinary voluntary work today, it was extremely risky at the time. LGBT people’s jobs and family relationships were at serious risk if they came out and many lived double lives divided by high barriers.

Iona told Bob Cant in her interview in Footsteps and Witnesses that she knew as early as age eight that she was ‘different’. She was strongly attracted to some of her fellow students at her girls’ school – and one of the best things about the classics, she added elsewhere, was ‘Sappho et cetera’, almost the only mention of queer people she could find. 

When she started her working life in the 1950s she found that LGBT people were extremely isolated in Edinburgh, and so she went to London, found a teaching job, and met the woman she called her ‘true love’. They moved to Edinburgh together, but both were teachers and the stress of keeping their relationship absolutely secret became unbearable for Iona’s partner, who left her after 12 years.

Iona’s new career as a lesbian activist may have been the result of her breakup and the secret life she was forced to lead. But it was even more of a threat to her job than her relationship had been. At first she used an assumed name,  but as time went on she welcomed visitors to the gay centre, using her own name, week after week. Another friend remembered her taking part in demonstrations.

Asked if there were any LGBT characters in her young adult novels, she said that the publisher had made it clear that even hints of LGBT feelings were out of the question. Did she ever break the rule? Perhaps, just perhaps, with Sandy and Geordie, she thought.

But she was already have been hoping to write openly and honestly about the lives she imagined for Edinburgh queer folk. And by the beginning of the 1980s, publishing had changed – and there were companies which would give her book a home, not grudgingly, but proudly.

Iona found a sympathetic editor at The Women’s Press, a feminist publisher which welcomed lesbian manuscripts. (The growth of LGBT and feminist presses also made it possible to open Edinburgh’s lesbian and gay bookshop, Lavender Menace, which later became West & Wilde.)

Rosy Mack, PhD student from the University of Texas, recently researched Iona’s correspondence with her Women’s Press editor, Jan Green. Ironically, Iona was more forthcoming about her lesbian identity than about her writing – it was a very private matter for her. Her letters offer some of the only insights we have into her approach to writing, research, and lesbian characters.

In her conversations with Jen Green, Iona meticulously mapped the movements of her characters in the fictional Scottish Institute. She also considered their lives as lesbians carefully – she argued that she did not want to write a novel about fear and inner angst – she felt that Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness had set an unfortunate tone for grim lesbian ‘problem’ fiction. Christabel and Eleanor, no matter what other problems they might have, belonged to an earlier, less dangerous era when even Queen Victoria believed that lesbians did not exist.

The novel may have been the first story of lesbian characters set in Edinburgh. It seems clearly aimed at a sequel, or a series. Christabel and Eleanor are young and their relationship is just beginning: a new theme comes up when Eleanor is accepted for training in the US as one of the first women doctors, while Christabel wants to entice her to Paris.

But the sequel was never written – possibly an opportunity for lovers of lesbian and Edinburgh stories of the future.

Iona continued to live her many lives as a writer, a traveller, a learner, a teacher (she taught for University of the Third Age), a cat lover and a friend. She lived to be 92 and died, sadly missed by her friends and readers, in March last year.

Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive want to celebrate her life for LGBT History Month and highlight her role in the history of Edinburgh.
Come to our live illustrated talk and workshop at Currie Library at 7pm on 18 February.
Book your free ticket via Eventbrite

Or join us online at our Conversations with Writers event, hosted by LGBT Health and Wellbeing, at 7pm on 25 February.
Book for this free event via Eventbrite

As a teacher, an activist, and a writer who made the past lives of Scottish and LGBT people real, Iona surely ranks as one of Edinburgh’s notable women and I will be nominating her at the International Women’s Day Panel at Central Library on 8 March. (More details about this exciting event to come soon).

Many thanks to Sigrid Nielsen for contributing today’s article. Sigrid, together with Bob Orr, set up Lavender Menace, Scotland’s first lesbian and gay bookshop in Forth Street in 1982 and which would become the West & Wilde bookshop.

LGBT+ History Month 2022 with Edinburgh Libraries

Blurring Borders: A reading and Q&A with Andrés N Ordorica 
On 21 February at 7pm on the Edinburgh Libraries’ Facebook page, poet Andrés N Ordorica will perform work from his debut collection ‘At Least This I Know’. His collection touches on themes of ancestry, racism, nationhood, activism and queerness. This will be followed by a Q & A with the poet. This event is pre-recorded and will be available to watch back on Edinburgh Libraries’ YouTube channel.

Blackhall Library
Blackhall Library have created an LGBTQ+ information pack aimed at young people that will be readily available to anyone who would like it. They have a display in the library and keep an eye out for their activity on social media. From 14 Feb they will also run a themed quiz in the library.

Currie Library events
During February, Currie Library will be celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month. Throughout the month, in partnership with OurStory Scotland the library will display the Love Out of Bounds exhibition and will collect stories from library users about their experiences of love denied by society and prepare these stories for archive.

Currie Library will also be hosting a number of exciting events:
On 11 February 2022 from 7.30 – 9pm, artist Nick Askew will help participants to create a collaborative art piece for display in the library on the theme of ‘Coming back to our Communities’. Library Supervisor Hannah McCooke will discuss with Nick their working relationship as artists and poets within the Queer community, but participants may define their own communities.
Book your free place via Eventbrite

On 18 February 2022 from 7 – 9pm, Sigrid Nielsen and Bob Orr, founders of Scotland’s first LGBT bookshop ‘Lavender Menace’ will lead a presentation and talk on Iona McGregor, Edinburgh Author and Lesbian activist, and schoolteacher under Section 28.
Book your free place via Eventbrite

On 25 February 2022 from 7 – 9pm, Currie Library will host the Edinburgh Zine Library who will lead a hands-on workshop in the art of zine making.
Book your free place via Eventbrite

Portobello Library
Portobello Library will be hosting an OurStoryScotland display to collect ‘episodes’ (stories) from the LGBTQ+ community. We will provide a posting box for stories to be collected in. These will be collected at the end of the month, to be archived by OurStoryScotland and for Libraries’ Edinburgh Collected online community archive.

Stockbridge Library
Film screening of ‘Carol’ on Saturday 26 Feb at 2pm with discussion and refreshments at the end. The film is based on a book by Patricia Highsmith. It stars Cate Blanchett and is a 1950s set tale of forbidden love.
Book your free place via Eventbrite

Wester Hailes Library events
Wester Hailes will host a ‘Love Out of Bounds’ exhibition, partnered with OurStoryScotland, from 7 – 28 February.

This exhibition shows some of the ‘episodes’ (life stories) collected by OurStory Scotland and invites participants to reflect on their experiences of having a love that was not accepted by the people around them.

A story box is provided for visitors to the library to tell their stories and submit them to be archived.  And we’ll have accompanying book displays to browse and borrow from, celebrating LGBT+ authors, history and stories for all ages.

Love Out of Bounds is an innovative project that crosses the boundaries between communities and brings us together to share stories of loves untold. The project was supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland, and was developed by OurStory Scotland and Rachel Smillie with the Village Storytelling Centre. Love Out of Bounds brings together a diverse range of participants, including people from minority ethnic groups, irrespective of gender and sexuality. Participants may be LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer), straight, intersex, pansexual, curious, or undefined. Love Out of Bounds encourages people to tell their stories of love ignored or rejected by their family, community or culture. There are so many of us who have experiences of being told that the love we have is somehow wrong or misdirected. We are finding common ground between straight and LGBTQ+ people, and people from majority and minority ethnic communities. 

OurStory Scotland is a registered Scottish charity dedicated to collecting, archiving and presenting the life stories of the LGBTQ+ community in Scotland.

On Monday 21 February, 5.30- 7pm, Wester Hailes Library will also host a zine making workshop with our Youth Group on the theme ‘Love Out of Bounds’.

The Youth Group meets weekly on Mondays (during term time) for young people aged 12- 16.  Come along to chat and make friendships, join in with games, special outings and creative activities.
For more information and to register for the group contact us at Wester Hailes Library: or 0131 529 5667

Edinburgh Reads
February’s featured “no wait” ebook title is ‘Queer: LGBT Writings from Ancient Times to Yesterday by Frank Wynne. Celebrate LGBT+ History Month with stories and poems from the world over.
Borrow your copy via Libby

Rainbow Collections
Edinburgh Libraries’ Digital Team have collaborated with colleagues from Museums to highlight a selection of items from the collections of Museums & Galleries Edinburgh which chronicle the LGBTQ+ story in Edinburgh. View the Rainbow Collections online exhibition on Capital Collections.

Community Libraries across the city will be hosting book displays highlighting our LGBTQ+ titles, some Bookbug sessions will be LGBTQ+ themed and there will be activities across our school libraries.

Rainbow Collections – LGBTQ+ material from Museums and Galleries Edinburgh

For LGBT History Month Scotland this February we’ve collaborated with colleagues from Museums to highlight a selection of items from the collections of Museums & Galleries Edinburgh which chronicle the LGBTQ+ story in Edinburgh.

A new exhibition on Capital Collections brings together a sample of the different type of items held by the city’s Museums and Galleries which record LGBTQ+ history. Our sample selection of archive material represents significant local, national and international moments and movements in LGBTQ+ history.

Cake topper made for a same sex wedding
Photo: Geoff Gardner

Although many people from the LGBTQIA+ communities may 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.

Booklet, International Gay Rights Congress 1974
Photo: Russell Clegg

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 also a flyer from a 2008 Loud and Proud Choir festive concert.

T-shirt fragment, “Love is not a crime”
Photo: Suzy Murray

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.

View the full Rainbow Collections – LGBTQ+ material from Museums & Galleries Edinburgh exhibition on Capital Collections.

We recommend 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.

If you have any queries or comments about the LGBTQ+ material at Museums & Galleries Edinburgh please contact:

Once and future LGBT history: celebrating life stories with Bob Cant’s ‘Footsteps and Witnesses’

In 1957, in the Meffan Institute Library in Forfar, 12-year-old Bob Cant learned a new word.

He enjoyed reading and learning, but he had probably never expected to read anything like this. There in the Dundee Courier was a story about the Wolfenden Report on homosexual law reform, as it was called in those days. He had never seen the word homosexual before.

Wolfenden Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution

In 1957, sex between men was a crime. Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing were among thousands who had suffered severe penalties under the law. Many others escaped prison, but lost their jobs or were publicly disgraced.

The government was discussing changes which, years later, led to decriminalisation – for some. Bob Cant didn’t know any of this history, but he sensed the word had something to do with feelings of his own which he had not been able to name before.

He also knew that he could not mention what he had read to anyone.                                      

Today, he says he’s glad he made his discovery in a library – a place where he could read uninterrupted and unobserved. ‘[The story] contains a message about the power of public libraries,’ he says – which ‘circulate ideas which might not otherwise have seen the light of day.’ And the chance discovery of the headline during his school lunch break helped lead him to a life as a gay writer and trade unionist, who fought to secure the right for LGBT people to live open lives at work.

Bob Cant became fascinated with other LGBT people’s stories. How had they survived? How did they ‘make sense’ of lives and feelings which were supposed to be kept dark? He began to collect stories – at first, from friends and co-workers. 35 years after he read the headline in the Forfar library, he published Footsteps and Witnesses: Lesbian and Gay Lifestories from Scotland, based on 22 interviews from all over the country.

Footsteps & Witnesses book cover, edited by Bob Cant

‘Lesbians and gay men are, for the most part, invisible in Scotland,’ he wrote in the 1993 preface. ‘…This book is part of a process which began in the late 1960s, to end that invisibility. …This book, by bringing together diverse life stories, is a kind of coming out.’

The title came from a poem by Glasgow writer Edwin Morgan, who told his story in the book’s first interview. Iona McGregor, an Edinburgh young people’s writer and teacher, also told her story – closeted at her school, she spent evenings helping the Scottish Minorities Group organise Glasgow discos. ‘There are nurses, poets, youth workers and teachers,’ Bob Cant wrote of the other interviewees. ‘There is a bowling alley manager, a farmer and a taxi driver’. There were four unemployed people, Catholics and Protestants, incomers and native-born Scots, people from rural areas as well as Scotland’s cities. Several were unable to use their own names.

It was not always easy to find interviewees, and only one review of the book, by Sarah Nelson of The Scotsman, was ever published. But Polygon put the book into print and it was launched in Edinburgh by West & Wilde, successor to Scotland’s first lesbian and gay community bookshop, Lavender Menace. The launch took place at the Linden Hotel, a well-known gay venue in the New Town.

Bob Orr, co-owner of West & Wilde, still has a copy of Footsteps signed by Bob Cant and of some of the interviewees on the night. When Bob Orr and Sigrid Nielsen came together to collect and preserve LGBT books for Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive two years ago, they thought of Bob Cant’s anthology and decided to approach him for a film interview during Book Week Scotland – part of their Conversations with Writers series. Working with Edinburgh Libraries, they asked him to tell the story of the book’s creation, made short film clips of some of the interviewees today, and searched out illustrations of places, books and people in the story.

Conversations with Writers: Bob Cant

In the film interview, Bob Cant talks about Footsteps and Witnesses and the moments in his life which led up its creation. ‘This book hopes to let the world know that [our] communities have histories,’ he wrote in the 1993 introduction. ‘This book is only a beginning.’

And it was. 15 years later, the book took on a new life: by 2008 it had gone out of print, but customers at Word Power Bookshop in Edinburgh were still asking for it so often that the bookshop offered to publish a new version. There were 11 new interviews along with 11 of the original ones. At the end was a section called ‘Next Steps’ which included books and films about LGBT people and history – including new projects such as OurStory Scotland, which records LGBT people’s oral history, and LGBT History Month, dedicated to celebrating the past with a look toward the future.

Edinburgh Libraries and Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive will be presenting the film, followed by a panel discussion about the future of queer oral history in Scotland. At the end of his interview, Bob talks about his ideas of the future of telling our stories in a world where openness is more possible, but challenges and silencing are still with us. The panel, Jaime Valentine of OurStory Scotland, Ann Marriott of LGBT Youth Scotland, and Rowan Rush-Morgan, an archivist now conducting oral history interviews, will continue the conversation with each other, and the online audience.

You can see Bob Cant’s interview and the panel discussion online at 6.30pm on Thursday 18 November – please register through Eventbrite for this free event.

Like Footsteps and Witnesses, libraries and archives aren’t only records, they are beginnings.

For LGBT History Month, a guest blog post from Abi and Lili from the Edinburgh Zine Library

We’re Abi and Lili, a queer couple who live in Fife. In 2017, whilst living in Edinburgh, we came up with the idea of the Edinburgh Zine Library. It emerged from our desire for enduring zine spaces in the city beyond zine fairs. We wanted to create a welcoming introduction to zine communities, and frankly we were running out of shelf space at home. We were aware of other zine libraries and collections, like the one at the Wellcome Library in London, and we wanted to see if this was something we could make happen in Edinburgh. We turned up at the Central Library for a meeting with Bronwen Brown, who is currently the Library Development Leader for the Music and Art & Design Collections, clutching a folder full of zines and a proposal written the night before. We got lucky, because Bronwen was really supportive, and that afternoon there was a filing cabinet waiting for us in the Art and Design Library! 

The Edinburgh Zine Library in situ in the Art and Design Library

The Edinburgh Zine Library is one of the very few independent DIY zine libraries in the world that is hosted by a public library. It’s been really great for us, and it feels very special to have a space at the Central Library for zines, which so often share voices and experiences that wouldn’t be heard otherwise. We’re proud to bring something different to the library, to be a resource for our community and to help people feel an ownership of their library. We think we have a really good reciprocal relationship with the Art and Design Library that’s really consistent with zine culture generally. We are also very much DIY. We didn’t come to the zine library with any experience of libraries, and we’ve been super grateful to the generosity of other zine librarians, and the work of our members, in figuring out how to build and organise the collection. We’ve done loads of cool stuff as EZL: running workshops at the first Trans Pride Scotland and at the V&A in Dundee, installing a wee temporary zine library at The Welcoming Edinburgh, celebrating our birthdays in the Art and Design Library, and tabling at different events across Edinburgh and beyond. We’ve built a group of members who work together at all the different elements of the library. Most of us are part of the LGBTQ+ community, and it’s always been a core part of who we are and what we do. Several of us are also disabled and/or neurodiverse, so one of the things we work really hard at is finding a way to collectively organise that is flexible and doesn’t put too much pressure on any one person. We’re not perfect, and are still very much a work in progress!

Our first Birthday Party when we took over the Art and Design Library for doughnuts and zine making

With the temporary closure of the Central Library due to the COVID-19 lockdown, the zine library has been doing very different stuff. We’ve been chatting and planning for the future, have run some digital zine clubs and workshops, ran a zine-in-a-day event, participated in the first International Zine Librarian unConference, and made some collaborative zines. But mostly we’ve focused on staying connected and looking after each other in these difficult times. We’ve held powerpoint nights, sent letters, done watch parties, played games, hung out on zoom and exchanged memes on whatsapp. We’re super grateful for the little family we have, and the bigger community we are a part of. This is one of the things that’s so amazing and important about zines, the way they build connections and community. There is a feeling of closeness and intimacy you can get reading a zine: a feeling of being seen or of not being alone in an emotion or an experience. Most of our favourite people are zinesters or people we’ve met through zines. 

Book cover of Gears for Queers

On a personal level, we’ve also been pretty busy during lockdown because our first book, Gears for Queers, was published in June 2020. The book actually came about through zines in a strange way. When we came back from our first long cycle tour in 2016 we started making zines with vegan campstove recipes and stories from our trip. These made their way into the hands of our soon-to-be editor Kay via the Radical Bookfair in Edinburgh and two years later we had a fully formed book. It was a totally different experience from zine making, and a really steep learning curve, but overall it’s been great to get to talk about cycling and cycle touring from a different perspective. We don’t think of writing a book as a graduation from zines though, and in lots of ways we were really grateful to return to zine making. Some of the biggest supporters of the book have been the zine community though, and we are so grateful for them! We also feel really proud that the ebook version is now available to borrow from the library’s Overdrive platform (or via the Libby app).

One of the ongoing projects at the Edinburgh Zine Library is building our online catalogue. This, we hope, will make it easier for folks to explore the over 300 zines we now have in our collection. You can check it out here at and use the search bar to look for zines using tags. We have already added some of our many LGBTQ+ zines. We have zines made by individual zine makers like Me and Bruce, Queers on the Edge of Town by Holly Casio which is a queer look at Holly’s obsession with Bruce Springsteen, The Man Called Uncle Tim zine series, which is a really nice example of how zines can be used to record oral, personal and social histories – something which is especially important when our lives and relationships often aren’t recorded, or All in my head? Mental Health, a zine by Jacq Applebee about how their mental health intersects with being Black and bisexual through a mixture of personal stories and poetry. We also have zines which are made collaboratively or collectively, like Radical Transfeminism, a zine featuring writing about transmisogyny, justice and desire or The Outsider’s Handbook, a zine for queer, trans or questioning teenagers to help them survive a heteronormative world. One of the things we’re most excited about when we can get back to the physical library is growing the collection with all the amazing zines we’ve come across during the past year.

One of the things we value most about queerness is the ways that it allows for and celebrates difference. We’re a community with an infinite diversity of experiences and identities. Zines are a space where you don’t just have to write about one part of yourself or present yourself as a finished product. They are also spaces which allow you to work through, or just sit with, the messy fact of being.

To finish off this blog for LGBTQ+ History Month, we’re going to share some zine recommendations from us and other EZL members:

El (she/they)

One of my favourite LGBTQIA+ zines in the library is High Precision Ghosts by Ren Wednesday. In Ren’s words, “High Precision Ghosts (a zine about Graham Chapman that’s actually about me) is a ‘gentle and angry’ reflection on growing up queer and searching for role models. In text, illustration and collage, I talk about Graham Chapman’s obstinate queerness in the 1970s, and how I drew strength from that as a teenager growing up under the notorious Section 28 law.” Graham Chapman was one of the members of Monty Python. Born in 1941, he was open about his homosexuality and supported gay rights for much of his life. 

There are a few reasons this zine resonates with me. Though I didn’t grow up under Section 28, queerness and LGBTQIA+ lives weren’t something that was ever spoken about at home or at school. Because of this I didn’t know I was queer for a long time, or have a way to speak about it. My experience of growing up was coloured by an unconscious search for queer role models. This is something I’ve heard called “nascent queerness,” the idea of being drawn to someone because they speak to something in you that you don’t have the language to articulate yet. I was always obsessed with cross-dressing narratives – Some Like It Hot, Tootsie, Nuns on the Run, and Twelfth Night. I realise now this was because these were some of the few examples of gender variance available to me. Ren beautifully frames this search, and the tenderness you feel towards the people and narratives you find that fulfil it. 

I also chose this zine because it reminds me of the queer community I’ve been so lucky to find myself in at the zine library. I first read it because it was recommended to me by Lili, and it always makes me think of the connections I’ve built through Edinburgh Zine Library – to people from history who I will never meet but who have in some way impacted my identity and my activism, and to the incredible support network of my EZL friends and colleagues in the present. So much of queer zine culture is contained in these little recommendations and passing-ons, and it is through these networks that we discover new ways of articulating and becoming ourselves. 
Find High Precision Ghosts in the EZL catalogue

Lilith (they/them)

FML was one of the first zines that got added to the library – Natasha actually showed up at our flat not realising it was just our postal address, and I think we were all temporarily very confused! Natasha’s comics are tender and very very funny and they really speak to what I wrote about earlier about zines not needing to present a finished person or idea. Her comics make space for thoughts and processing and change, and I love hearing her inner monologue.
Find out more about Natasha’s work.

Jas (she/her)

One of my favourite LGBTQ zines was created by our very own co-founders, Abi and Lili. When I first met them in January 2020, we were on our way to Leeds to attend Weirdo Zine Fest in what turned out to be a bright brief moment of real joy in what would become a very difficult and isolating year. While sitting on the floor underneath our table in a room in Leeds Central Library, I leafed through Why Marry At All? A Queer Feminist Wedding Zine. The zine is a sort of a meditation on the experience of getting married (or in this case, joining in a civil partnership) when you are a queer couple. 

The last time many of us were together in person, on a trip to Weirdo Zine Fest in Leeds funded by Creative Scotland’s Go See Share Fund.

I cried under the table in Leeds at wedding pictures of these people I had just met. I was at that time facing up to the fact that despite years of adolescent protestation that marriage was unnecessary that I did, in fact, want to marry my girlfriend, and she wanted to marry me too. I hadn’t ever really before heard other LGBT couples discuss their experience of marriage, of what it mean to them as an ostensibly heteropatriarchal institution, of how it feels to parade your love in front of family members who probably don’t entirely understand it. I had felt very alone and afraid in all of those very large feelings that it felt no one else in the world had ever had. This little zine reminded me of the power and strength of the LGBT community to assure you that you are not alone, and you don’t have to be afraid, that you are in the company of all the others who have gone before you, and will go after. 

I gave the zine to my girlfriend as a Valentines gift that February. She cried too. We are engaged now and I’ve returned to the zine more than once for guidance. 
Find Why Marry At All? in the EZL catalogue.

Abi (she/they)

One of my favourite zines of all time is Dick Tucker: Drag Detective by Scottish artist Ryan Hamill. It’s a beautifully drawn and risoprinted comic about Dick Tucker, a film noir style drag detective. It’s very funny and offers the sort of silliness and joy that you don’t often see in media about LGBTQ experience but is plentiful. I don’t want to spoil the twist at the end, but if you’re a fan of daytime tv murder mysteries, you’ll enjoy it a lot. As a wee aesthetic bonus, each issue is printed in a different colour, so if displayed in order you end up with a mini rainbow flag.
Find Dick Tucker: Drag Detective in the EZL catalogue.

If you’re curious about finding out more about the Edinburgh Zine Library, or want to get involved, find us at, or @edinburghzinelibrary on instagram, or @edzinelibrary on twitter!

If you want to find out more about LGBTQ zines, as well as checking out those in our collection, we recommend checking out the amazing Queer Zine Library and the Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP).

Edinburgh Libraries are marking LGBT History Month

We’re marking LGBT History Month with a series of activities and events.

Wednesday 17 February at 1pm – BookCafe online
Central Library’s women-only reading group is marking LGBT History Month by celebrating some incredible queer writing.
Sign up via Eventbrite and join them for an hour together online, away from Lockdown limitations.

Wednesday 17 February at 2pm – Drag Queen, King and Super Queen Storytime
As part of our celebration of LGBT+ History Month, join with us for a special edition of Drag Queen story hour featuring Drag Queen Ada HD – Super Clare Deloon and Drag King cyro.
The session will last 30 mins and can be found on the day on the Children and Young People’s Facebook page.

Thursday 18 February – Unsung: Queer books that tell our story
Bob Orr and Sigrid Nielsen, the founders of Lavender Menace Book Shop, release a pre-recorded talk about their recently set up Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive. As part of this year’s LGBT History Month, they will highlight some of the titles from the archive by authors who remain ‘Unsung’ to today’s readership.
Watch the short film, Unsung: The queer books that tell our story.

Wednesday 24 February at 6.30pm – Live Q&A with Lavender Menace
The Lavender Menace recording will be perfect and required viewing ahead of a live Q&A session with Bob and Sigrid on 24 February at 6.30pm.
Register online for a free ticket to join the Q&A with Bob and Sigrid.

Bob and Sigrid set up Scotland’s first Queer LGBT Bookshop in Edinburgh. Lavender Menace opened in August 1982 and returned as a pop-up bookshop in 2019 to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall. They have since built up an exceptional archive of books, magazines and ephemera and Edinburgh Libraries are also working closely with Lavender Menace to see how they can assist in keeping this legacy alive.

Monday 22 February – Unsung Heroes – students takeover the Libraries’ Tales of One City twitter!
Young people from across Edinburgh’s schools will takeover Edinburgh Libraries’ @TalesOfOneCity twitter account for one day to tell us about their Unsung LGBT+ Heroes from fiction.

Look out for more activity across our social media platforms too!
Our Children and Young People’s team have partnered with Escape, Connect, Relate, our Bibliotherapy project that runs in all High Schools to support positive mental health, and will be highlighting a new LGBTQ+ book list throughout the month.

Community libraries will be featuring important LGBTQ+ historical figures on their social media.

And we have a great selection of LGBTQ+ fiction and non-fiction ebooks and audiobooks for you to discover and enjoy on Overdrive/Libby app.

Discover more LGBTQ+ writing

February is LGBT History Month and this LGBT History Month Scotland at Edinburgh Libraries we’re celebrating the huge achievement of the LGBTQ+ community in Scotland towards writing. 

Fiction and memoir writing can offer readers a window into another person’s experiences whether this be another country, another time period, or another identity and gender. We have selected just a few of the many fiction titles and personal memoirs that bear witness to the lives and stories of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Val McDermid is a hugely successful Scottish crime writer whose novels include many lesbian characters whether as the main protagonist or as supporting characters.  

Published originally in 1987 by the Women’s Press Report for Murder by Val McDermid is the first of her series of books featuring Britain’s first fictional lesbian detective Lindsay Gordon – this was unusual for 1987! Report for Murder and other titles in Val McDermid’s Lindsay Gordon series are available to borrow as ebooks or audiobooks.   

Val McDermid has continued to include lesbian characters in her crime novels. McDermid’s lesbian characters are integrated into her novels and as such are no more or less significant or interesting than other characters. Through crime fiction McDermid has opened up the stories and lives of gay women that in her books are made mainstream.  

Alan Cumming OBE is a bisexual Scottish-born theatre, film and television actor, and writer with an honorary Doctor of the Arts from the University of Abertay, Dundee. Cumming has long been a supporter of LGBTQI+ rights and campaigner both in the USA where he now lives with his husband, and in the UK where he promoted the campaign for same-sex marriage to be made legal in Scotland. He has been known to sing too, with the awards to prove it. 

After appearing on the genealogy television show, Who Do You Think You Are?, Cumming wrote his memoir, Not My Father’s Son , in which he relates a difficult childhood on the Panmure Estate in Perthshire, due to his father’s violence and his mother’s fear. It was to feed into his acting ability but took years for him to find self-acceptance despite his success. The book is a compelling blend of family history, self-discovery, and forgiveness. In places it reads like a mystery; this is tantamount to Cumming’s remarkable skill as a storyteller and compassionate narrator. An important chapter in Scotland’s contemporary queer history.  

Jackie Kay – Jeanette from Central Library writes,
“I first read Trumpet by Jackie Kay when it was published in 1998, having loved her earlier book of poetry, The Adoption Papers. In this novel, the legendary Scottish jazz trumpeter Joss Moody dies, exposing to all that he was a woman, a secret previously known to his wife but no one else, including their son who reacts with anger. The story is narrated by several characters, including those who knew Joss, the man, those who knew him as Josephine, the girl, and a tabloid journalist intent on writing a sensationalist book out of his secret. I was swept away by the beauty of ‘Trumpet’, returning to it many times over the years, and urging others to read it too. So, during this month which promotes inclusion, awareness and celebrates LGBT history, I’m glad of the opportunity to recommend it again. To quote Ali Smith from the introduction of a later reprint of the book, “this fiercely pioneering work makes the walls come tumbling down.”’  

Douglas Stuart – Shuggie Bain is the Booker prize winning novel by Douglas Stuart. Although a work of fiction, it draws on Douglas Stuart’s own life as a boy growing up in poverty in Glasgow with an alcoholic mother and discovering his own sexuality as a gay young man. 

Shuggie is the youngest of three children living with their mother Agnes. They are forced to move to a mining town close to Glasgow where the whole community is struggling with unemployment, debt and poverty. 

The novel follows Shuggie and his family through Agnes’ struggles with alcohol and the breakup of the family. Shuggie’s love for Agnes is heartbreaking. He is desperate to care for her and help her stop drinking. But he also has to deal with his own sexuality. He is recognised as ‘being  different’ and is accepted and loved by his family. But he is subject to bullying and physical and sexual assault outside his home. It is a beautifully written book and the descriptions of places and people are vivid.  

Damian Barr – Maggie & Me – Another west of Scotland setting, Maggie & Me is a  witty memoir about surviving Thatcher’s Britain, but it’s also a story about growing up gay in a straight world and coming out the other side in spite of, and maybe because of, the iron lady. Damian’s family is split along a sectarian divide, yet in spite of the violence, strikes, AIDS and Clause 28, Damian falls in love dancing to Madonna in Glasgow’s only gay club. Barr’s memoir is both shocking and funny in equal measure and is testament to his determination to survive despite the odds. 

Ali Smith – Girl Meets Boy –  is a short, lively tale loosely based on the Greek myth of Iphis and Ianthe, but as usual with Smith, there are many other threads woven into her contemporary story – sexual and social politics, ethics, work and family. But this is basically an exploration of human transformation (specifically liberation from loneliness and prejudice) through the power of love. The main two lovers happen to be same-sex and their relationship is depicted with riotous joy and perfect ecstasy. The whole book is a love story – to people, to the good in us all. Highly recommended!  

Sophie Cameron – Sophie is a Scottish author who has swapped the Highlands for sunny Barcelona, Spain, where she lives with her wife and twin boys. Her debut novel Out Of The Blue follows teenager Jaya, struggling to cope with the recent death of her mother – and when angels start falling from the sky, she can barely bring herself to care. Sophie Cameron’s books feature great representation of LGBTQ+ characters, whose lives are rich and multifaceted. Out Of The Blue is at once a brilliant example of magical realism, a love letter to Edinburgh and a thought-provoking study of loss. Although aimed at teenagers, it has something in it for both young people and adults to enjoy.  

All the above titles are available in our great collection of LGBTQ+ ebook and audiobooks fiction and non-fiction on Overdrive. Look out throughout February as we’ll be promoting more LGBTQ+ writing from or about Scotland on social media.