Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty at the British Library: a new exhibition marking the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967

Outrage! poster (c) Peter Tatchell

2 June – 19 September 2017

A new exhibition, Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty, opens at the British Library tomorrow.  

Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty explores gay lives through personal testimony, cultural expression and legal reform, from the 1895 trial of Oscar Wilde to the posthumous pardoning of historical homosexual offences this year. 

The free exhibition, hosted in the Library’s Entrance Hall Gallery, marks the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which enacted the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales.

Spanning a century of social and legislative change in Britain, Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty considers how gay men and women have been represented and how they have sought to describe and define themselves, from the repressive decades of the first half of the twentieth century to the on-going campaign for full equality which continues today.

From original manuscripts and rare printed items to striking campaign material and unique oral history recordings, this will be the first time these items have been on display together, showcasing the wealth and range of material in the Library’s heritage and contemporary collections.

Exhibition highlights include:

  • Original campaign material, journals and posters from groups such as the Gay Liberation Front, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners and Outrage!
  • Sarah Waters’ notebook with character notes that she used while writing Tipping the Velvet, going on public display for the first time
  • Hanif Kureishi’s annotated script for My Beautiful Laundrette (1985) and continuity polaroids from the set
  • The first edition of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando alongside a sound recording of Vita Sackville-West from 1954 talking about the inspiration for the book
  • Kenneth Williams’ diary entry from 9 August 1967, which covers the murder of his friend, playwright and author Joe Orton
  • Annotated script for A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney (1958)
  • Commissioned film by performer and artist Dickie Beau exploring the decriminalisation of homosexuality

Rachel Foss, Lead Curator of Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty at the British Library, says:

“Since the passing of the Sexual Offences Act fifty years ago, there has been a transformation in society’s attitudes towards gay love and expression.  Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty tells this story through objects and documents that are iconic, public, personal or seemingly ephemeral.  These objects and documents are the tangible evidence of a living history that is fragmented, punctuated by gaps and still evolving.  I hope that the exhibition will prompt visitors to consider not only how far we as a society have come but also, crucially, what still needs to be done to combat prejudice and realise true equality.”

The British Library will be hosting an accompanying season of events to provoke debate on past and present understandings of individual identity, reflecting on how far we have come as a society. 

Event highlights include:

  • Jon Savage: 1967 A Summer of Love?, writer, broadcaster and filmmaker Jon Savage reflects on the social, cultural, sexual and political climate of a season of change
  • The Gender Games: Juno Dawson in Conversation, author Juno Dawson provides a personal insight into society’s expectations of gender
  • David Bowie Made Me Gay, a discussion on the transformation, impact and influence of LGBTQ+ music makers featuring broadcaster Simone Fanshawe, writer Darryl Bullock, DJ Princess Julia and performer K Anderson
  • Proud Poetry, featuring Maureen Duffy, Jackie Kay, Andrew McMillan, Richard Scott and Nick Drake reading their own poetry

Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty has been curated by Rachel Foss (Head of Contemporary Archival & Manuscripts Collections), Steven Dryden (Sound and Vision Reference Specialist) and Greg Buzwell (Curator of Contemporary Literary Archives & Manuscripts) at the British Library.

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For more information:

Alice Carter
The British Library
t: +44 (0)20 7412 7110
e: alice.carter@bl.uk

Evenings and weekends:
+44 (0) 20 7412 7150

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