Manchester Pride explores the hidden history of a rainbow city

 

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An interactive project called OUT! will use crowdsourced recollections to celebrate Manchester’s LGBT community

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A 1988 Gay Unity parade. Photograph: Manchester Libraries

From the notorious police raid on the Hulme fancy dress ball in 1880, to the pioneering North Western Committee for Homosexual Law Reform set up in 1964, Manchester’s LGBT community has a long and notable past. Now Manchester Pride is celebrating the city’s stories in an interactive project – and you can be part of it.

Launching online next month and called OUT!, the project will draw together documents, data and crowdsourced recollections to create a digital archive, interactive timeline and an evolving map of Manchester tagged with stories and footage.

“The objective is to allow people to explore the hidden archives and hidden histories that Manchester holds regarding Pride and regarding LGBT as a community,” explains Jake Welsh, managing director of e3creative, the design company developing the site.

Building on a heritage trail initiative from 2003, marked by 19 rainbow tiles at historically significant locations around the city, the interactive map allows users to digitally construct their own walking tours based on the geo-tagged stories. What’s more, the project encourages individuals to add their own memories to the map, from text to photographs, audio to video.

“By dropping pins, they can put their own story forward – so it might be their first coffee where they first held hands with their partner,” explains Daniel Jessop, project manager at Manchester Pride. Contributions can be made anonymously and kept private or shared with all.

The project will also see volunteers actively seeking out contributions from the LGBT community – including at Manchester Pride’s Big Weekend next month. “LGBT history in Manchester has often been recorded as a series of events and I think it’s important to record the culture, as well, that surrounds those events,” says Paul Wheatley, one of the project’s “pride pioneers” who will be helping to gather new media and oral histories, as well as collating material from a multitude of organisations and institutions. “Some of my friends have brilliant stories to tell and are real raconteurs about their experiences and their relationship with the history,” he says. “I think that I will be able to capture those experiences in stories whereas if they were approached by other people they might be more reluctant to give that up.” Creating an accurate and thorough record is also a priority, he adds.

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Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the project will be open for contributions until next summer. But it isn’t only positive stories that will be recorded – as Wheatley explains: “Manchester’s LGBT community has been uniquely persecuted,” he says.

“In the late 70s, an obscure law was enforced resulting in police in gay bars holding a wooden rod between men who were dancing, to make sure they were far enough apart. Some years later, the police persecuted same-sex couples holding hands on Canal Street resulting in gay men and women lying down on the road to block their police vans.” Raising awareness of such events, he says, is crucial. “Those struggles are poorly documented and I hope this project will address that.”

Ultimately, Jessop hopes OUT! will not only showcase how far civil rights have come, but also challenge perceptions. “It’s Manchester Pride’s mission, but shared with the LGBT community, to make sure respect continues to be given and also respect for the past,” he says. “People are always aware of 1967 and decriminalisation, that is seen as the one date – but there is so much more to tell.”

 

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