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The Wolfenden Project, Building Networks

It has been a very busy few weeks here in the Wolfenden Report Projects Office. Here are a few of the things that have been keeping us out of trouble.

Volunteers

We have a growing number of awesome volunteers and are still keen to find more. Lots of work has been done researching events for our time web. We will shortly be collating this information mapping the causal links between events. We have been moving forward with the educational packs with fantastic help from our education experts. The film equipment has been delivered, so we are now in a position to start shooting the documentary. We would still like to get in touch with anyone who would like to contribute. Contributions can be via an interview or by providing a written piece that can be included.

 Activities with Reading University

Action Lab

The team recently attended an “Action Lab” at Reading University. This was a forum to discuss and share ideas and discuss current projects. It was also a space to float ideas for new projects and find partners for them. I wont publish any spoilers here, but watch this space for exciting news. The forum included representatives from several university departments including Law, Fine Art, English, Classics, Museums and Special Collections as well as funding and administrative departments. Also representatives from Reading International, Reading Museum, The Ure Museum, The Record Office and The Heritage Lottery Fund.

As well as the new project ideas that were offered the scope of The Wolfenden Project was discussed. It was noted that the reforms that followed Lord Wolfenden’s report primarily benefitted gay men. Indeed, some of the public backlash against the reforms may have delayed rights for other sections of the queer community. Further the recommendations around prostitution effectively made the legislation harsher for female sex workers. A case was made that The Wolfenden Report was a negative event for women’s’ rights. We would be interested to hear any (polite) views on this in the comments section or directly by email. ([email protected])

Inaugural Wolfenden Lecture by Ruth Hunt

At the beginning of May the project team, along with several other Support U representatives attended a lecture by Ruth Hunt, the Chief Executive Officer of Stonewall. Ruth spoke eloquently on how, since its founding to resist Section 28 Stonewall had focused on a narrative of gay people are just like everyone else. She acknowledged that while this was an effective tool, it left many parts of the community out of the story. There is now an undertaking to move beyond this and be inclusive of the wider community. She also spoke of Stonewall making materials more readily available to smaller charities and organisations. You can watch the full lecture on  The Reading University YouTube channel.

On the same day as Ruth Hunt’s lecture the Support U team delivered a presentation covering theHidden Voices Project and Wolfenden Project which followed on from Hidden Voices.  The same event saw Dr Katherine Harloe presenting on Johann Winckelmann and Professor Peter Stoneley spoke about some of Oscar Wilde’s less well known contemporaries in jail.

Projects in Brighton

We have also made a journey to Brighton (it’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it). The Heritage Lottery Fund has recently supported two brilliant projects in Brighton and we went down to talk with the people who ran them to steal any tips and tricks from them.

http://www.marlboroughtheatre.org.uk/
The iconic Marlborough pub and Theatre.

Queer In Brighton

The Queer in Brighton project has set up an LGBT+ youth history club within the city. Brighton has a special place in queer culture and is often described as The Queer Capital. This HLF funded project has created a youth club where young people can explore and document this heritage. By engaging in this way and gaining new skills they are adding to the recorded archives and connecting with earlier queer generations. There is more information about this fantastic work on their website.

Building a Contemporary Queer Youth Archive

As part of the Queer in Brighton project there is an initiative to create a queer youth archive. We spoke to the people setting up the project to help young volunteers research and create a new repository. This will document the experiences of young LGBT+ people since the Criminal Offences Act partially decriminalised homosexual acts between men. The project had many parallels with The Wolfenden Project. Like us they were looking to engage a number of young volunteers and they also had a significant focus on using film and other visual media in their project. You can read more about this fabulous project on their website.

Pretty Stuff

Finally, we have been working on our logo and website. While these are very much in their infancy we are very excited about this work. We will be showcasing the logo in the next couple of weeks as well as building up the functionality on the website. At present it is possible to get in touch with the team. Please drop by on http://thewolfendenreport.com/ 

History Display

Celebrating Wolfenden at Reading University

At the end of last month the Wolfenden Project Team visited the “About and Out” exhibit at Reading University where we met the students who had put it together and some of the staff. The exhibit is also celebrating the anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality that followed in the wake of The Wolfenden Report. The students who compiled and are curating the exhibit decided to mark this anniversary by creating 5 displays focused on LGBTQ+ and gender. The 5 exhibits are housed at 3 locations around the Whiteknights Campus and at the Museum of English Rural Life. History and Equality is in the Archaeology Building Foyer. the Culture and Society exhibit can be seen on the ground floor of the Library. the Museum of English Rural Life is housing both the Identity and Self Expression  and the Love and Desire exhibits. Ancient Myth and Transformation is at the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology. They will be on display until April 29th and are well worth a visit. Take a look at the students’ blog to find out more.

Reading University are also holding two free public events around the Wolfenden anniversary on Thursday May the 4th. The day will start with a series of talks between 4 and 6:30pm titled “Before and After Wolfenden: LGBT+ History and Reading” held at the Henley Business School Building on the Whiteknights Campus. Including one by Lorna, our very own co-founder and COO. Lorna will be talking about the Hidden Voices Project that Support U delivered for The Heritage Lottery Fund in 2015 and the current history project on The Wolfenden Report. Places are limited so if you would like to attend please register your interest on The Reading University events website. The evening will then continue at the Van Emden Theatre at 7pm with The Inaugural Wolfenden Lecture delivered by Ruth Hunt, the CEO of Stonewall. Again booking is essential, if you are interested in coming along please register here.

The project team have also been busy recruiting volunteers, Kath had to learn to produce a PowerPoint presentation for the young people’s volunteer introduction. We now have several awesome people volunteering with us, including several from the Affinity Youth group which Kath has been attending to gather support. Ian has also been busy and has planned the format of the documentary which some of our young volunteers are keen on getting their teeth into. One of our young volunteers has been looking into John Wolfenden’s family tree and we have some exciting discoveries already. We are also making inroads into the training pack with the help of Clara and Alex who have a wealth of knowledge and experience in education. Keep an eye open too for our leaflets that have been popping up around and about and also for our debut on Instagram!

We would still love to hear from people who can contribute information and recollections and also from anyone who would like to volunteer. Please get in touch with Ian or Kath at [email protected] or on 0118 321 9111

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Celebrating the Wolfenden Report

60 years ago the Wolfenden report (more formally known as the Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution) was published. This started a cascade of events that 10 years later, led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK.

Ian and Kath are leading an exciting project here at Support U in which they aim to explore the stories and information that surrounded this momentous event in LGBT+, Reading and national history. Working with Reading University, Reading Museum and various national institutions, they will be exploring events that surrounded the commissioning and publication of this report and collating individual accounts from those affected by it. They will also be looking at the social and legal changes that have taken place since its publication.

This exciting project will be producing a documentary and a training package to be delivered to schools and colleges throughout the Thames Valley and beyond. The team will be looking to uncover new insights into the events that led to the commissioning of the Wolfenden Report and will also be examining what was happening in the LGBT communities and wider population before, during and after the introduction of the Sexual Offences Act of 1967 which decriminalized homosexuality. They would love to hear from anyone who has personal recollections of these events or was affected by the changes, also anyone who may have family diaries or letters from which they might be willing to share extracts.

There are opportunities to become involved in this landmark project. Ian and Kath are actively looking for volunteers to join the team and help them with the research and archiving of the materials – training for this is available. They are also looking for people who would like to be involved in the production of the documentary and in developing the training package.

If you would like to be involved please contact Kath or Ian on 0118 321 9111 or via email [email protected]
Screenshot 2019-11-08 at 15.20.29

Walking:Holding

So I’ll set some context for this blog first, in case you read it at some other point.  The Orlando massacre was a few weeks back.  Turkey had a mass shooting.  Brexit happened and half the country is wandering around chanting that ‘we’ve won and the immigrants can go home’ (or similar racist twaddle) and the other half is chanting for peace, unity and is wearing safety pins following the online campaign (I’m distinctly in the latter half, just to be clear on that).  In the middle of this weekend another attack happens in Istanbul.

So pretty much there were displays of hatred everywhere, distinct uncertainty about the political and economic future of the UK and a total lack of firm leadership from any political party.  Hardly an ideal time for any kind of project around connecting you’d think.

Then along comes the Walking:Holding project.  I read about the project after being introduced to it by the CEO of Support U.  They were looking for people who were either from different sexualities or gender non-conforming (I pretty much tick both of those boxes).  So I got in contact with the organisers and signed up.

The concept is pretty simple – the audience is actually out in the town centre, wandering around holding hands with each person for around 5 minutes whilst you wander around and either have a bit of a chat or just walk in silence.  The audience experiences not only a snippet of your life (as you are pretty much talking about yourself, not really discussing the weather), but also how other people react to you as people holding hands.

I wanted to get involved as I’m all about raising trans awareness.  I’ve really discovered that simply sitting down with someone and letting them have a chat with someone who is transgender is single best way to raise awareness of what it means for transgender people.  And it’s pretty hard to direct hatred at any kind of minority group when you are sitting down with them.  Turns out it’s even harder when you are holding their hands, but I’m jumping ahead.

So my motivation for getting involved was decidedly altruistic, however I was promoting *my* cause (i.e. being trans/LGBT) and not really thinking about anything else.  Turns out I was in for a bit of a shock in that respect!

The one thing I hadn’t overly considered was that everyone else involved in the project would be unique in their own special way.  We had a definite collection of people from all walks of life and backgrounds involved in the project and what surprised me the most was simply how much each of us was in need of some positivity at this point.  It didn’t matter what our ethnic origin was, what our sexuality was, what disabilities we had, how we defined our gender or what our life story was about.  Every single one of us had something that set us apart from the ‘norm’ in some way, but every single one of us still needed that most basic of human connections with someone else.  Equally we were all empathic, compassionate and open to forming new connections and understanding about other people.

The concept of holding hands seems so simple – but that intimate touch and connection forms a bond that almost indescribable.  I held hands with pretty much every person involved with the project (and all the audience members – I’ll get to them later!) at one point or another and each time there was a different connection formed.  It really surprised me how much quicker a bond of friendship formed and how what would normally be a small-talk or almost banal conversation deepened.  I was also quite startled by how easy it was to share often quite personal things with an almost total stranger (and vice versa).

We had a workshop one evening discussing the project where we met most of the people involved (you know who you are, I’m not mentioning names or anything for this blog!).  We jelled really well and found that most of us had mutual connections within the local area of some form.  At the end of the workshop, when we all discussed how we felt about the workshop there were more than a few tears rolling around the room.  In fact there are still a few in my eyes as I type up this blog.

A few nights later we moved on to a rehearsal where we met everyone else involved in the project (including a couple of awesome small people) and planned out the route around Reading.  We did a dry run with one of the organising team and it all seemed like a fairly simple idea.  All I had to do was hold hands with someone and walk up towards the Oracle, go through the middle of it for a bit and hand over to someone else on Broad Street.

I was the only person doing the entire project over the weekend (I’d booked the weekend out for the project in advance as I was so interested in it), and we had 24 audience members across the two days walking alongside each of us and holding hands.  Each audience member got to experience 5 or 6 different people, all connected with Reading in some way (or with the project).

Some of the highlights of those people include:

  • A bride and bridesmaid doing the experience as part of their hen do
  • A few groups of friends being involved in the project
  • Parents and children or husbands and wives being audience members
  • Some conversations not even mentioning the fact that I was trans
  • People I could see secondary connections with through Reading
  • People who have direct experience of other people who are trans already
  • People who I was the first trans person that they had met (that they knew of…)

Overall the things I took away from the audience members was a feeling of care and protection – holding hands with someone does form a sympathetic bond despite the fact that we were total strangers. Almost every single person expressed that in some way or another (as did I in some cases), either directly (i.e. have you experienced hate crime) or in some other way (verbally or non-verbally).  Equally I felt that there wasn’t enough time to get to know each person and I wanted to know more!  I wrote notes on every single person I met and the one word that I distinctly overused was ‘lovely’ – either describing the conversation, how their grasp felt or how I felt the overall interaction was.

A few times whilst wandering back to the start point I still felt the warmth of the connection lingering in my hands and giving me something physical to dwell on.

Initially I thought that the day was going to be full of cisgender people asking all the usual awkward questions about trans people that you hear about (‘have you always known’, ‘are you going all the way’, or even worse ‘are you getting the op’) – turns out a lot of people surprised me with their concern, discretion and I was even asked my pronouns at one point.  Whether this is indicative of the people involved, the connection formed by holding hands or simply better awareness of trans people in general I can’t ascertain.  In fact there was only one person who asked anything even remotely inappropriate, and even that was brushed off with a simple response.

From the project as a whole I was distinctly humbled by meeting every other person and experiencing a bit of their life, their challenges and the things that they face in the future.  It helped to put my issues into perspective in many ways and whilst I do face issues and challenges both now and in the future for my transition I’m not the only person facing challenges, and some people face issues that are far more complex and equally outside their control.

I feel like I’ve definitely expanded my horizons as a result of this project, and formed some new friendships with people that I would never normally mix with as a result of it, and I look forward to seeing where they lead in the future!

As a final thought I’d like to offer massive thanks to everyone involved in setting up and supporting the project, including the artist (Rosana Cade) that created it!

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