Queer homes and families: A history and policy debate
- Article written by: Steven Dryden
Home and the family are where many of us begin to form an impression and understanding of the world, and our place within it. Often the environment in which we are raised will shape the way that we view politics, personal relationships, desires and ourselves within society.
LGBTQ people's experience of home and the family is sometimes a challenging one. Often in adolescence, these elements are in conflict with personal feelings, becoming a wall which must be traversed in order to seek a logical, rather than biological, family and home.
In October 1970 the Gay Liberation Front UK (GLF) was founded by students at the London School of Economics. The radical politics of GLF was informed by an opposition to the nuclear family and an understanding of the oppression of LGTBQ people as a direct result.
Gay Liberation Front Manifesto
The 1971 Gay Liberation Front Manifesto proclaimed that ‘Homosexuals, who have been oppressed by physical violence and by ideological and psychological attacks at every level of social interaction, are at last becoming angry.’View images from this item (1)
It is because of the patriarchal family that reforms are not enough. Freedom for gay (LGBTQ) people will never be permanently won until everyone is freed from the sexist role-playing and the strait-jacket of sexist rules about our sexuality. And we will not be freed from these so long as each successive generation is brought up in the same old sexist way in the patriarchal family.
Gay Liberation Front Manifesto (1971), London. p.9
In 2012 the Raphael Samuel History Centre hosted Queer Homes, Queer Families at the British Library, as part of its History and Policy series. Introduced by academic and director of the Raphael Samuel History Centre Dr Matt Cook, the recording features presentations by three academics working within the field of gender and sexuality, plus a question and answer session from the audience.
The recording itself is an artifact of a different time in that it was made before equal marriage legislation was passed in England and Wales (Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act, 2013), Scotland (Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill, 2014) and Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland Executive Formation Act 2019).
Queer homes, queer families
A recording made at the British Library Knowledge Centre of the Raphael Samuel History Centre history and policy series.
In this panel discussion we asked:
- what precedents there are for apparently unconventional home and family formations
- how far recent shifts reflect broader changes in expectations and experiences of home and family
- what they might portend in terms of assimilation, radicalism and difference
- why history might matter in all this.
Professor Matt Cook is a cultural historian specialising in the history of sexuality and the history of London in the 19th and 20th centuries. Cook has a background in literary and cultural theory and cross-disciplinary work through public and community history. Cook is Birkbeck University Director of the Raphael Samuel History Centre, and editor of History Workshop Journal.
Professor Jeffery Weeks OBE was a GLF activist in the 1970s and a founder of Gay Left. Weeks’ first book Coming Out (1977), was a pioneering early study of the history of homosexual politics in Britain and radical LGBTQ politics.
Weeks gives an overview of activism, reform and social factors which have enabled queer family and identity building, and the fights still to be fought (approximately 00.10–20:25).
Dr Katherine Holden explores the relationship between marriage, feminism and the LGBTQ community.
She challenges the continued model of the nuclear family and the structures of assumed relationships which inform housing policy, economic models and continued oppression of love and relationships of all shapes and sizes (approximately 20:25–31:15).
Dr Alison Oram investigates how queer history is transmitted by historic homes and the impact of this work for heterosexual and LGBTQ visitors and families alike (approximately 31:15–41:14).