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Virtual Museum of Gay History

John Simkin

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Curators, librarians and archivists across Britain are being asked to scour their collectionsa in search of documents and items relating to the lives of gay people, with a view to establishing a “virtual museum” of lesbian and gay history.

It has been claimed that lesbians played an important role in the suffrage movement. A few years ago I was given access to the letters of two sisters who lived in Sussex and played a leading role in the campaign for the vote. I was shocked when I first read these letters. Most of them were to other women involved in the suffrage campaign. If they had been written in the 21st century you would have thought they were love letters written by lesbians. The point was that the letters were written in the early years of the 20th century.

The two women concerned both went on to get married and had children (it was their children who had given me access to the letters). The same point has been made by historians who have studied the letters of Abraham Lincoln. Some homosexuals have claimed that these letters to other men indicate that Lincoln was gay but historians of the period claim that they just reflect 19th century attitudes.

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