The Importance of the Rainbow in Library Collections

As part of LGBT History Month we wanted to highlight the importance of representation of the LGBT+ Community within our library collections.

When we read a book or watch a film, if we see ourselves or our community represented we have a sense of identity and belonging. It also helps challenge and fight prejudice and encourages education.

In the last year many LGBT+ events, such as Pride, have been cancelled and safe spaces and representation of the LGBT+ Community has been challenging for people to access. This means representation in books, media and objects have been even more important for people to turn to.

However, it hasn’t always been accessible. In Lockdown we may have been watching the brilliant ‘It’s A Sin’, showing what life was like for the LGBT+ community between 1981 -1991. Back in 1981 a show like this that would never have happened. It was only in 1989 when the first same sex kiss was shown on TV.

The representation of the LGBT+ Community in books and media has met much objection and controversy over the years. Whether it was the posthumously published novel ‘Maurice’ by E.M. Forster in 1971, Gay News Magazine being prosecuted by Mary Whitehouse for Blasphemy in 1977, or more recently in 2019 when Graziano and Johannes danced together in a routine on Strictly Come Dancing.  They continue to make headlines despite a change in attitudes in society.

Growing up in the 1980’s and early 90’s you didn’t see many positive representation of the LGBT+ Community in popular culture and certainly not in school. Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 introduced by the Conservative Government banned local authorities from ‘promoting homosexuality’ or ‘pretended family relationships’, and prohibited councils from funding educational materials and projects that could ‘promote homosexuality’. Many public and school libraries withdrew works that were seen to ‘promote homosexuality’. In some cases LGBT+ materials were even reclassified under ‘mental illness’ and moved to ‘adult or restricted collections. It wasn’t until 2003 when Section 28 was repealed.

Thankfully we have moved on, and now libraries actively encourage representation of the LGBT+ community as well as other groups within their collections and are safe spaces for all in the community.

There are no restrictions on accessing LGBT+ materials in our collections. You can find the rainbow in all aspects of the library at Durham University whether it’s the books on the shelves or staff showing support through rainbow lanyards or pin badges

Durham University Pin Badges and Lanyards

Durham LGBT+ Network asked some of its members for books and popular culture events that had an impact on them.

(Professional Services – Staff) – “Growing up in the 80’s and early 90’s where representation of the LGBT community just didn’t happen. So when Queer As Folk first broadcast in 1999 it was a real game changer.”

(Faculty of Science – Staff) – “I discovered the Jay Taverner series over the summer, starting with Rebellion (the first in the series). The book is set in the 1700s during the Jacobite rebellion and was the only thing I’d come across which depicts lesbian experiences in a historical setting of this time period.”

(Faculty of Social Sciences and Health – Staff) “It has to be Beth Jordache in Brookside in 1994 with the first same-sex kiss on TV between two women before the 9pm watershed”

Durham University Library and Collections continue to support the collection development of resources that represent all groups within society. To support this there is the Liberate My Library service. All staff and students can request items though this service that represent the LGBT+ Community as well as BAME, Disability and Gender and Identity.

If you want to read books that have been recommended through this service you can visit a growing list of resources on Talis .

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