New city trail launches highlighting 600 years of Oxford’s LGBTQ+ past

Monday, 10 September 2018

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An Oxford Brookes University student has developed a new city trail highlighting the history of LGBTQ+ in Oxford.

Ross Brooks, who is studying a PhD in History, has developed the Queer Oxford trail with Richard Bruce Parkinson, Professor of Egyptology at the University of Oxford and author of A Little Gay History.

The trail will share stories, voices, research and collections about Oxford’s diverse but perhaps little-known LGBTQ+ history as Ross explained: “The trail highlights a few of the most significant aspects of Oxford’s 600+ years of queer history.

“It ventures beyond the city’s museums to encompass Oxford town and gown as a hub of LGBTQ+ life and culture, past and present. It showcases some notable people who have helped make Oxford one of the world’s great queer localities, but also shows how LGBTQ+ history is embodied in a place in many forms, often in ways that are not always obvious.

“The Queer Oxford trail is designed for the city’s students, academics, visitors, residents and anyone with an interest in LGBTQ+ history and heritage.”

It showcases some notable people who have helped make Oxford one of the world’s great queer localities, but also shows how LGBTQ+ history is embodied in a place in many forms, often in ways that are not always obvious.

Ross Brooks, PhD student in History, Oxford Brookes University

The trail is part of the University of Oxford’s new web-app Oxford Alternative Stories, developed by The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities (TORCH). By creating a platform that celebrates the diverse and often untold stories of Oxford, TORCH supports research into these areas of study.

Oxford Brookes University has also played a role in making Oxford's queer history. For example, George Passmore— of Gilbert & George—studied at Oxford School of Art, one of Oxford Brookes’ predecessor institutions. More recently, National Student Pride was born at Oxford Brookes. Tom Guy, who is now President of the organisation, was a second-year Interior Architecture student at the time and the first National Student Pride event was held at the University in May 2005.

Ross has been researching Oxford’s LGBTQ+ history since 2006. While studying his undergraduate degree at Oxford Brookes, he self-published the Queer Oxford hand-held city guide.

“My favourite story concerns The Shooting Stars, one of Oxford’s first intercollegiate drama societies, active in the 1860s,” Ross continues.

“This was a time before women were admitted as students into the university and so the male undergraduates had to play all the parts, some revelling in playing female roles both on and off stage.

“In 1870, a former student of Oriel College and a leading member of the Stars, Martin Luther Cumming, became embroiled in a great London scandal – the infamous Fanny and Stella affair. Drama at Oxford was declared to be “a cloke for vice” and consequently, all theatrical productions were banned for a decade.

“Stories like this are integral to the history of Oxford and both its universities. The full depth of queer experiences in the city that Oscar Wilde called the capital of romance is only now being appreciated.”

The Queer Oxford city trail web-app is inspired by the pioneering work of Richard Bruce Parkinson and will coincide with an upcoming British Museum touring exhibition at the Ashmolean – No Offence: Exploring LGBTQ+ Histories.

The exhibition will explore how same-sex desires, love and gender diversity have been expressed culturally throughout history.

Richard has been integral in foregrounding queer heritage in Britain’s museums and academia. He said: “Ross’ trail is a revelation, and a timely reminder that LGBTQ history is all around us at a local level if we know where to look. Fully equal rights are not quite with us yet, and this trail will help bring them closer by increasing public awareness of the sheer diversity of human desire that this city has seen across the centuries."

Ross tweets from @Queer_Oxford and more information about Oxford’s LGBTQ+ history can be found at queeroxford.info

The city trail app can be viewed on any smartphone or tablet device via oxfordstories.ox.ac.uk/torch. A paper version of the new city trail will also be available before Christmas.