The future is a commonly discussed concept in LGBT discourse; we are ever hopeful of the next big milestone on the long road toward full equality. That said, a peek into the history of the community provided by the Nottinghamshire Rainbow Heritage exhibition at the View from the Top, as part of Nottingham’s LGBT history month initiative, provided a welcome addition to the Nottingham visual arts scene, offering as it did a “through the looking glass” experience for both the LGBT and ‘what does LGBT stand for?’ camps alike.
With the help of lottery funding, the project has sought to develop an archival-style collection of visual ephemera from the gay community as a means of exploring experiences and identity. The result was an exhaustive but nonetheless enthralling romp through an important subject often left out of the history books. Archive material of interest included a vast range of local and national journalistic pieces, often the only outlet for locals who were as of relatively recently unable to enjoy a sexually-understanding society. As well as offering a Nottingham-slant on the gay rights movement, the exhibit explored LGBT history on a larger scale, including a definitive ‘who’s-who’ of the rainbow-tinted great and good, a wide selection of gay literature, and of particular interest, a celebration of Polari, an elaborately developed LGBT sociolect, which gave us commonly used (and OED-boffin approved) terms “camp”, butch” and even “naff”.The exhibit would have perhaps been enriched by the inclusion of artistic contributions from the local LGBT community to add a new dimension to the wealth of factual pieces displayed. That said, the exhibition was successful in walking the tightrope between being informative and enthralling, and exuded a welcome sense of inclusiveness and optimism.
On a darker note, the piece informed us of the significant amount of work that still has to be done; it highlighted the issue of the worryingly rife nature of homophobic bullying in schools, and the jaw-dropping nature of penalties still doled out across large swathes of the world just because of sexual orientation – the dialogue and awareness that the exhibition encouraged are therefore vital. But for dialogue to continue, the project needs much, much more to talk about. It continues to ask for the LGBT community to dig around their closets [pun sort of intended] for those little tit-bits of its secret history as it marches ever onward into a brighter, pinker future.