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Bristol’s Hidden LGBT History to be revealed

A Bristol community group is hot on the trail of the city’s secret gay and lesbian history thanks to a grant of £20,300 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. OutStories Bristol, a not-for-profit community group, is working to track down the stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people in the city since the 1930s. Now it wants more LGBT people in the city to come forward to tell its volunteers about their lives.

Until legal restrictions were eased in the late 1960s, the great majority of LGBT Bristolians had to be very discreet and many led double-lives. OutStories Bristol is training its volunteers to gather the tales, from the mundane to the outrageous, of LGBT people across the city. The stories they collect will feature in a major exhibition at the city’s M Shed Museum in February 2013.

OutStories Bristol has already collected many fascinating stories via its volunteers and its website and Facebook group. These include:

* The story of the woman who founded Bristol Gay Switchboard in 1975 when she realised the need for an information and help service. For over three years she ran the service from her Totterdown home before an office and dedicated phone line were set up.

* The first person in Britain to complete female-to-male gender surgery.

* Tales of the Radnor Hotel, probably Bristol’s earliest gay pub.

Appealing for LGBT Bristolians of all ages to come forward with their stories, OutStories Bristol Co-Chair Andy Foyle said: “This project is important because it’s the hidden history of around ten percent of Bristol’s population.”

“It’s vital people see that we didn’t just pop out of the woodwork in the ‘permissive 1960s’. We’ve been around a long time and our history says much about the changing attitudes of society in general. “It’s vital that we collect the stories of LGBT people, especially older ones whose adult lives spanned the years before 1967.

“But we also want the everyday stories and those that bring things up to date: your friend’s civil partnership last year, the chap you worked with whom everyone accepted was gay; the lesbian couple who raised a family, and so on.”

Commenting on the grant award, HLF’s acting Head of South West, Richard Bellamy said: “Everyone has a story to tell about their life that is unique to them; that’s why we are so keen to support projects like the one that OutStories is running, which enable people who might have been hidden from history to have their voices heard. The story of the UK’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities has only begun to emerge in recent years, but it is providing a vital insight for present and future generations into the beliefs and attitudes of the past.”

Whatever your sexual orientation or gender identity, if you have a story about Bristol’s LGBT communities, OutStories want to hear from you. You can email contact@outstoriesbristol.org.uk or write to OutStories c/o LGBT Bristol, Create Centre, B Bond, Smeaton Road, Bristol BS1 6XN. Information will be treated in strict confidence.

For further information see www.outstoriesbristol.org.uk and the OutStories Bristol Facebook page