Marking Lesbian Visibility Week 2023
25 April 2023
Happy Lesbian Visibility Week to our lesbian staff, students, and alumni at UCL. This article, which includes forewords from Dr Rebecca Jennings and Sandra Springer, highlights some of the lesbian research being conducted at UCL, plus staff profiles and more.
A foreword from Dr Rebecca Jennings, Associate Professor in the Department of History and Vice-Dean (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion):
“A few years ago, I listened to an oral history interview in which an older lesbian remembered the London lesbian scene in the 1960s as a ‘great big shining ball’. Manchester in the 1990s was that for me. Although I had been aware of my sexuality for several years, it was only when I went to university in Manchester in 1995 that I met other people like me. It was an incredible experience which defined the way I have thought about being a lesbian ever since. At that time, Manchester was one of the biggest and liveliest gay scenes in the country. The ‘gay village’ on Canal Street was a mix of so many different and interesting people.
Alongside a small number of students, there were people doing all sorts of jobs and others not in paid employment; there were people who had grown up in Manchester and others, like me, who had been drawn to the city; there were drag queens in feather boas, gay men in designer clothes and lesbians with shaved heads and army trousers and every form of gender and sexual expression you could imagine. Trans activist, Stephen Whittle, gave talks across the road from my university and a friend of mine was one of the founders of black and Asian queer club night, Homoerotica. It wasn’t a utopia and it could be pretty unsafe out on the streets if you looked different, but when we were on the dance floor or standing chatting on Canal Street on a summer’s evening, I just remember this amazing feeling that no matter what, we were all in it together. That, for me, is what it means to be a lesbian"
A foreword from Sandra Springer, Assistant, UCL Science Library:
“I say the words “I’m a Lesbian” frequently because I want to make people aware that for me, this part of my identity is not an abomination, an insult, or a joke – I’m proud of it. I know that not every lesbian can do this for a variety of reasons, and as I took over three decades to come out, I’m not casting judgement.
As a visible lesbian I strive to be honest and vocal about my lived reality. I use my voice as much as I can, not without fear, but despite it. The more I do this, the less fear I feel. The more I do this, the more empowered I feel.
My visibility is not about ‘broadcasting’ my business to the world – it's about honouring myself, the younger self who really needed to see and hear from an openly lesbian woman, as well as my present self who is that woman.
It nourishes my soul to revel in the fullness of who I am. My confidence has increased, and I’ve become more social. I easily connect with other like-minded women, building communities where we respect and support each other.
This nourishment has enabled me to establish a community group specifically for Black Lesbians – The Black Lesbian Discussion Group. We meet at the iconic Gay’s The Word bookshop on Marchmont Street, on the second Tuesday of every month. All Black queer women are welcome.
As a visible lesbian I can, as Dr Maya Angelou said, “…be a rainbow in somebody’s cloud.” I’m out here living my best life, and I love that for me.
Happy Lesbian Visibility week!”
This week, 24–30 April, is Lesbian Visibility Week, an important opportunity to celebrate lesbians and show solidarity with all LGBTQI woman and non binary people.
Our round-up of lesbian research and projects – as well as profiles and more – bring together people, stories and resources from across UCL. Read on to discover them.
Lesbian research at UCL
- Read up on Mie Jensen’s research on lesbian, bi and queer Jewish women’s experiences:
- An Intersectional History of Lesbian Space in London from the 1970s-1990s: PhD student Beth Charlton is conducting an exciting oral history project to explore the social lives of LGBTQ+ women and non-binary people in London from 1970–2000. If you socialised in London’s lesbian/dyke/queer communities at any point during this period and wish to be interviewed for this project, please contact Beth. For more information about the project, take a look at the participant information sheet:
- The (in)visible father: lesbian motherhood and artificial insemination in Britain from the seventies to late eighties: PhD student Samuel Vermote’s doctoral research project seeks to interrogate the attitudes, practicalities, and paradoxes concerning lesbian artificial insemination in Britain throughout the 1970s and 1980s. He concentrates specifically on the exchanges between lesbian women and sperm donors. To learn more about Samuel’s research, read this Manchester Histories article, where he shares fascinating insights into the concepts of family, community, and bodily autonomy.
Visibility, validation, and belonging
- Read Dr Rebecca Jennings’ staff journey as she reflects on her career as a specialist in lesbian history and the power of research in validating and empowering marginalised groups. Rebecca’s new book – Lesbian Intimacies and Family Life: Desire, domesticity and kinship in Britain and Australia, 1945–2000 – will be out this December.
Hear more from lesbian members of the UCL community
- Read Katy Le Lion, Sandra Springer and Valerie Hazan’s profiles on the Out@UCL spotlight page.
- Find out more about lesbian alumni from the Queer Tapestry: see here for profiles on Dora Carrington and Savitri Hensman.
- Read Mie Jensen's Seven Questions interview.
- Read Sandra Springer's Staff Spotlight.
Events and more
- Find out more about Lesbian Visibility Week.
Hosting a UCL event for Lesbian Visibility Week? We'd like to hear from you! Get in touch with us here.