LETTER: Joy and sorrow at poignant exhibition
After seeing your recent feature, I visited Matlock records' office to view the excellent exhibition which explores the history of sexuality and gender identity in Derbyshire.
Entry is free until May 27. ‘Other Stories’ examines local trials and tribulations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people over the last two centuries. It includes an important milestone in the battle for gay rights — 50 years since the 1967 Sexual Offences Act which only partially decriminalised homosexual acts between men over the age of 21.
Congratulations to imaginative project leader Greg Pickup who has been awarded £86,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to organise two years of activities, displays and events across the county and beyond. I’m delighted to have been asked to give talks and record video interviews.
Helpful staff welcomed and guided me through the Matlock display. They were not allowed to show me the infamous Derbyshire Police secret list of ‘known homosexuals’, who were ‘active’.
The Freedom of Information Act makes it possible to request if your own name is on the list, but, quite rightly, you can’t see the other names.
As a naughty teenager in the early 1960s, I was certainly an ‘active’ homosexual and more than a little acquainted with a few leading lights of the day. Naturally, I wondered if any former pals had been catalogued. Perhaps it is better not to know.
Newspaper extracts and yellowing old documents revealed tragic stories of men who were convicted and punished for committing crimes labelled ‘gross indecency’ and ‘buggery’. There were old photographs and information about Derbyshire resident and Victorian gay-rights pioneer Edward Carpenter together with accounts of runaway teenagers who escaped life in Peak District villages more than 100 years ago ‘masquerading as a boy’.
There is a sad picture of a fire gutted building which once held happy memories in the 1970s for those of us who share same-sex attraction. Formally a cricket pavilion in Shardlow, it was known affectionately as ‘the handbag club’ run by a committee of gay men.
For those of us of a certain age, this nostalgic exhibition will conjure mixed memories - our joys and sorrows.