Rainbow Plaques for York
‘Blue Plaques’ can be seen across the city of York. Nearly 70 of them are dotted around the city commemorating significant places, events, or people. We want to ensure LGBT heritage and histories are represented in the story of York through permanent LGBT Rainbow Plaques! We hope that the first of these Plaques will mark Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York, where Anne Lister and Ann Walker solemnized their commitment to each other in 1834 - an event that could be called York’s first lesbian wedding.
(Note: LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bi and trans, but we take it to include all non-normative/marginalized gender, romantic and sexual identities and intersex).
In 2015, York LGBT History Month (http://yorklgbthistory.org.uk/) held an event inviting people to create their own DIY cardboard Rainbow Plaques. They were a way to celebrate the places that they felt were important to York’s LGBT history. Responses varied from those with national significance to the LGBT community in the UK, to the deeply personal, the playful, and painful. The cardboard plaques were then physically put up on York’s buildings and sites using safe removable tape. They rarely lasted more than 24 hours, but it was a powerful to see LGBT history made briefly visible. The DIY Rainbow Plaque making event has continued annually, gaining momentum and support. Now, with support from the local community, York LGBT History Month, York Civic Trust (https://yorkcivictrust.co.uk/), York LGBT Forum (https://yorklgbtforum.org.uk/), the Churches Conservation Trust (https://www.visitchurches.org.uk/) we are working toward making a permanent LGBT Rainbow Plaque a reality - but we need your help!
Why does this matter?
It is important to have permanent Rainbow Plaques across the city of York for several reasons. LGBT stories, and the LGBT community have been marginalized, excluded and ‘othered.’ Criminalization of homosexuality and Section 28 acted to demonize and ostracize LGBT people until the early 2000’s, but prejudice continues to this day. Queer histories remained largely strories passed along to each other, rather than being written down. This contributes to the process of erasure of LGBT identities, as we have less documentation of this important history. We believe that Rainbow Plaques will educate and spread awareness about the existence, and achievements of, LGBT folks throughout history. We hope this can help eradicate prejudices. We also believe in the power of these plaques to provide a sense of community through time, affirm identities, and to hopefully help LGBT youth feel less isolated and alone.
Why Anne Lister and Ann Walker
Each year at the plaque making events, Anne Lister (1791-1840), and her union with Ann Walker (1803-1854), continually came come up. There was a collective sense that this event was significant both to York and national LGBT history, and deserved commemoration. We also benefit from a rich archive of materials on Anne Lister, including her extensive diaries, written partially in code. Her diaries described her daily life, business endeavors, financial concerns and commentary on current events. They also include intimate details about her numerous sexual and romantic relationships with women. In her diary she wrote: “I love, & only love, the fairer sex &thus beloved by them in turn, my heart revolts from any other love than theirs” (29 January, 1821). Her self-awareness, attitude and actions have led to Lister often being called the ‘first modern lesbian.’ Lister dressed in all black ‘masculine-appearing’ clothing and was known as “Gentleman Jack” in Halifax.
In 1832, Anne Lister began a relationship with Ann Walker, a local heiress. In 1834 they conducted several marriage rituals including exchanging rings and attending Holy Communion together on Easter at Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate in York. These actions were seen to solemnize their union in an equivalent of holy matrimony. It is this location we hope to mark with a permanent LGBT Rainbow Plaque. There are many other sites that were important to the couple’s history, including her beloved estate of Shibden Hall where they lived together until Lister’s death in 1840. Beyond her sexuality, Lister was an impressive figure of 19th century Northern England: a landowner, shrewd entrepreneur, and traveler. She managed the estate to both maximize income and improve it for her own enjoyment and for the future heirs. Her wealth and status afforded her the ability to live her life in such a manner that was not available to those without such economic means and class privilege.
Help York show its Pride
The design of the plaque was important and the subject of much discussion, with a vote taking place on social media to select the design. The Rainbow Plaque takes the original blue roundel and encircles it in a rainbow - a symbol of the LGBT community. This design benefits from the immediate associations with the ‘legitimacy’ of the existing blue plaque scheme while also visually signaling the story’s queerness. The enamel plaque will be handmade and - especially because of this new rainbow design - may be more expensive to produce than existing blue plaques.
Working with York Civic Trust we have arrived at a cost of £800 and are looking to the community to help raise those funds! This will cover the cost of fabrication of the plaque by a small firm of craftspeople, who produce a mould and cast it in aluminium before carefully hand-painting it in enamel. It also includes fees for installation permission, and the professional fixing of the plaque to the wall. We'd also like to throw a small event to celebrate the unveiling and produce professional photographs of this historic moment! In the unlikely event there is a surplus, funds will be directed towards the general objectives of York LGBT History Month and York LGBT Forum.
We believe in crowdfunding as a way for the project - which started in true DIY and community fashion - to continue this way!
Share your support and join the conservation on social media using #RainbowPlaques