OUT! A contributor's story
Written by Georgie Wood, Wood Wood Culture Club.
At 11.30 am my cheeks ached and my face shined red. ‘It’s not that funny’ protested Andrew with a guffaw and a grin. It was.
One hour later a small pool of sad and happy tears glistened on my keyboard. ‘This’ I said ‘is a bloody emotional roller-coaster’.
It was June 2015 and Manchester Pride had commissioned me (and Andrew) to work on the digitalisation of the LGBT Rainbow Trail.
In case, you don’t know the Rainbow Trail is a series of mosaic tiles around Manchester City Centre that mark places of historical importance in LGBT history. Our job was to write the accompanying online story for each tile.
It conjures up a strange mix of feelings peering into your city’s past –like finding an unexpected branch on your family tree.
As a small child, an empty red-brick cotton mill with a huge grinning ‘aciiiid’ face graffitied on its doors filled the view from my bedroom window. Reflecting back today that Lowry-esque vision of Madchester represented the thousands of stories that formed me and most of my mates.
At school, we learnt all about the Peterloo Massacre and workers’ rights. I visited the home of the pioneering Pankhurst sisters, the city’s first Synagogue and a Hindu temple.
I adored the towering bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln to the north of Canal Street and everything this homage stood to represent. ‘You can be proud of this city’ my A-Level English teacher bellowed. And I was.
Being asked to work on the LGBT Rainbow Trail filled with me excitement. It went on to leave my brain buzzing with questions, hurt and hope.
I discovered during the early twentieth century, the Manchester Labour Press on Tib Street ran a risqué print run of Edward Carpenter’s book on sexuality. Queen Victoria would have thought this ‘most naughty’. The book went onto form the foundation text for the modern LGBT movement.
I wondered why this ground-breaking moment wasn’t shared in our local history lessons, especially when we were over 16 years old.
I was (naively) surprised to learn some of the World War Two soldiers returning from the horror of battle were banished to the city’s prison for engaging in homosexual acts. They risked their lives fighting one kind of fascism only to be locked up under another. Wow.
There was, of course, some funny tales too. A personal favourite being an 1880 newspaper report of a busted drag ball. The magistrate commented that ‘this was a most disgusting case’, but he was relieved to know that the majority of the men were from Sheffield, not Manchester. You have to laugh.
The bold, the brave and the persecuted left their marks all over this city so every community can thrive in peace and acceptance. I urge you to follow the trail to see how far we have come and how much further there is to go. Share the stories, make your own and never forget there’s no such thing as too many rainbow tiles.