‘It shouldn’t be a month of queer history, it should be taught all year round’

Friday, 4th February — By Charlotte Chambers

Danielle Harte_Dani the Historian

Dani the Historian, aka Danielle Harte

“I ALWAYS try and put some queer history in to all tours,” said Dani the Historian, aka Danielle Harte, whether the tour is about queer history or not.

The tour guide is due to lead two walking tours of the borough later this month as part of Islington’s LGBT+ History Month – and she is very passionate about making sure anyone who comes on one of her tours leaves knowing a lot about the important role Islington played in LGBT+ history.

Ms Harte will start her tour in Highbury Fields. The place is significant as it was where the first gay rights march was held in 1970, when members of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) fought back against police harassment.

Homosexuality had been legalised three years earlier but men were regularly still arrested just for smiling at each other: an act of “importuning”.

The GLF were fed up with men being arrested. When they heard that a young Islington boy had been arrested in a police sting operation – he insisted he had only been asking for a light rather than inviting sex – they mobilised.

Bob Crossman. Photo: @islingtonspride

“The rally was to have all of them hold hands openly and stop halfway and kiss each other before moving on,” said Ms Harte. “The police didn’t arrest them, and that’s what sparked them the following year having an annual pride march.”

Ms Harte is a blue badge tour guide, which takes two years and 11 exams as well as coursework and field trips to complete. “It’s like The Knowledge,” she said, in terms of length and breadth of learning. She can tell you about most parts of London as well as specific parts of the country.

Explaining why Islington had played such an important role in queer history, she said: “Because Upper Street specifically had always been a hotbed for left wing activists… and there are so many wonderful characters who have changed the course of politics, art and the rights of LGBT+ community, Islington is very, very important.”

These include Bob Crossman who became the first openly gay mayor in the country when he was elected in Islington in 1986.

Chris Smith

Ms Harte said he was “slandered” in the newspapers for being open about living with his partner at a time when many gay couples would still publicly hide their relationship. Islington is also the place where the first openly gay MP served, after the now Lord Chris Smith came out during a rally in 1984.

Another person who played an important role in queer history was Yvonne Sinclair, who hosted weekly support and socialising groups at 274 Upper Street for transvestite and transgender people in the 1970s and 80s. She died in 2013.

“She was a huge prominent figure in the transvestite and transsexual community,” said Ms Harte. Ms Sinclair’s website stated that: “She taught people that transvestism needn’t be a problem but could be a pleasure and something to enjoy – and we did enjoy it, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday of every week in every year from 1972 until 274 Upper Street closed in 1986.”

Last year’s GLF march at Highbury Fields

While Ms Harte enjoys walking trips around Islington and plans to launch a Camden one imminently, her favourite part of London is the City of London – so much so that she became a “freeman” of the city. Now, under ancient law, she is allowed to drive sheep across London Bridge or be given a silk rope rather than the usual rough kind should she be hanged.

While an active member of the queer community now, with a large lesbian following online and a cabaret show coming up at Zodiac bar near Euston, she only came out when she was 27 and described “growing up in a very straight world” as challenging. Section 28 – the law brought in by Margaret Thatcher’s Conserva­tive government to prevent the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools – was only revoked in 2003 after 15 years of radio silence about queer culture in schools.

Speaking about people who were arrested and charged with “cottaging” – the act of soliciting for sex in a public place – she recounted when John Gielgud was arrested in a public toilet in Chelsea and fined £10 but not sent to prison by the magistrate, unlike Oscar Wilde, who was incarcerated at Holloway prison in the late 1800s for being gay.

She rejects calls for them to pardoned: “They shouldn’t be pardoned – they should be apologised to. It should never have been law to throw someone in prison for loving someone else and it needs to be talked about.

“It shouldn’t just be a month of [queer] history, it should be taught all year round.”

Ms Harte will lead an LGBT+ History walking tour of Islington on February 20 and 27, but wants to offer it all year round.

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