18 September 2018 by Laura
Liverpool University media student, Hannah, reviews our exhibition, ‘Tales from the city’:
One of my favourite childhood memories was when my dad would switch on his old record player and we would boogie around to the 1980s sounds of his youth. Among my favourites of his eclectic collection was Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Of course, the single’s notoriously raunchy lyrics and cover artwork went straight over my innocent little head. To me it was just a catchy song. But following my recent visit to the ‘Tales from the city‘ exhibition, I learned that tracks like Relax, and others played within the exhibition, were about much more than that. They were crucial chapters in the story of the struggle for LGBT+ equality.
As a ‘90s baby, in some ways I have been lucky to be part of a more liberal generation than those gone by. Growing up, LGBT+ personalities such as Ellen DeGeneres and Graham Norton graced our TV screens (and still do). Shows about drag queens and lesbian prison inmates are today among Netflix’s ‘top recommended’, and gender fluid clothing lines are being launched. While the countless achievements of the LGBT+ community are undoubtedly a cause for celebration, the journey has not been an easy one, as ‘Tales from the city’ so importantly showed me…
There were so many things about gay history I had never known about. Something I found fascinating was listening to George O’Reilly talking about ‘Polari’, a coded language used by gay men in the 60s so that they could converse openly in front of unknowing straight people. The language was quirky and a little bit like cockney slang – click here for a taster. While it’s sad to think that there was once a need for this level of concealment, I loved the defiance and ingenuity it showed.
Who’d have known that Queen Square was once Liverpool’s unofficial gay quarter? Where there’s now a bus station, there once was a cluster of gay-friendly pubs, including the Magic Clock. From these stories you could tell that Queen Square had a fond place in the hearts of many. I also loved the story about the ‘Wheel of Fortune’, the public toilets in Williamson Square and the colourful characters you’d find in there.
But being gay wasn’t all pub-crawls and Polari. It was harrowing to read about the scapegoating of gay people during the AIDS crisis, and the fear that permeated the gay community at that time.
Another thing that struck me was the individuals who went against the grain, supporting the struggle for homosexual equality, regardless of their own sexual orientation. Take Rose Robertson who started Parents Enquiry for parents whose children had come out as gay. Or Bob Silcock, one of the first volunteers for the HIV helpline who still mans the phones at Sahir House to this day (in his 80s!).
Lord Alfred Douglas once described homosexuality as “The Love That Dare Not Speak It’s Name”. Today, LGBT+ rights are increasingly celebrated. However many people are still persecuted because of their sexuality or gender, and homosexuality remains illegal in many countries. The solidarity shown by the LGBT+ community in their fight to love freely is truly incredible – Frankie Goes To Hollywood clearly had it right about “The Power of Love”.
Tales from the city continues until 31 March 2019.
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