Lancashire's LGBT history mapped out on interactive website

Lancashire's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) history has been mapped out on an interactive website. The Lancaster and Morecambe Town Trail highlights a number of places that played a significant role, both nationally and locally, in the gay rights movement.

Morecambe Central Pier

Image caption Local historian Peter Wade takes in the sea air and remembers the largely forgotten role Morecambe Central Pier played in LGBT history

"It was a hugely impressive structure, which was meant to look like a ship being moored off the promenade," said local historian Peter Wade as he gestures out over the Irish Sea.

We're standing on Morecambe seafront, looking across the bay as the sun rises behind us. A quarter of a century ago, we'd have been able to walk out onto the Central Pier - famous for its all-nighters and known locally as "the home of Northern Soul".

But its lesser-known claim to fame took place in 1973, when it hosted the first national conference of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality.

After suffering sea and fire damage the pier was demolished in the early 1990s, but the part it played in the national gay rights movement hasn't been forgotten.

"The conference was the first of its kind and it came six years after the Sexual Offences Act had been passed, which decriminalised homosexuality," Peter tells me.

"The big cities had taken the new freedoms on board, but if you were in a more isolated position - if you were a gay man living in Morecambe for instance - you really were out on a limb," he adds.

Lancaster Priory and Castle

Image caption Reverend Chris Newlands explains the role Lancaster Castle has played in Lancashire's LGBT history

As I follow the trail, both sides of society's struggle for equal rights become evident. No more so than when I meet the Reverend Chris Newlands, the vicar of Lancaster.

We walk across the churchyard and perch on a wall, dwarfed on both sides by two impressive Lancaster landmarks - the Priory and the Castle.

Between 1806 and 1810, six men were executed for sodomy at Lancaster Castle.

"It was an absolutely gruesome and appalling system of punishment," said Chris. "In the early 19th Century, such crimes were considered abhorrent to society and the inhumanity of the way they were treated is simply shocking to people today."

Just a few yards away in Lancaster Priory, he made LGBT history by changing the Church of England's attitude towards its transgender members.

"Someone came to me who was initially introduced to God as a young girl but wanted to be reintroduced in his new male identity and so we created a service to reaffirm who he was and welcome him into the church.

"This is something we want to see much more of in a church which is really inclusive to the trans community."

West Road, Lancaster

Image caption Anthony Peppiatt looks at the house on West Road, Lancaster which was a hub for campaigning for lesbian and gay rights

Anthony Peppiatt, a lifelong Lancaster resident who worked in the arts, asked me to meet him on West Road where we stood looking at what appears to be a typically Lancastrian terrace.

"This house," he tells me "was very important in Lancaster's LGBT history because it was a hub for organising and campaigning for lesbian and gay rights."

In 1971, Anthony lived here with another gay man and two lesbians. As housemates, they practised a lifestyle of total equality between men and women.

"Instead of there being an old-fashioned gender divide of behaviour and jobs in our house, everything was a matter of equal share between the genders.

"I learned to cook, having never cooked before in my life, because when I was growing up it was deemed inappropriate for a young man to be taught to cook."

By the early 1980s, Lancaster had established a number of gay social meeting places including several gay nights at local bars, the first of which was Kizzy's Bar on Castle Hill.

Lancaster University

Image caption A support group at Lancaster University ensures issues facing LGBT students are brought to the attention of the university

Nowadays, the local gay scene has evolved rapidly and there are many gay and lesbian bars in this part of Lancashire.

Lancaster University was known in the 1970s as the "Queer University" after hundreds of students came out.

They protested homophobia and prejudice and started positive awareness campaigns.

Students from the University's LGBTQ+ Association aim to support LGBT students and make sure issues they're facing are brought to the attention of the university.

"I think trans issues are being talked about more and more in society and it's great to see famous people coming out," said the group's Trans Officer, Monty.

"You can't really know who you are if you don't know it's a possibility."

The students believe society still has some way to go to achieve total equality for the LGBT community.

Women's Officer Anna said: "It's a great idea and I think looking at your local history is so important so you can know what came before you and build on it."

The trail has been produced as part of Documenting Dissent, a community digital history project documenting the history of religious and political dissent in Lancaster.

This work was part of a wider project to map all of England's LGBTQ heritage.

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