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  • Leeds LGBT+ Literature Festival

Book28 Library - Why we made a Queer Library

Content Warnings: References to the AIDS crisis and Section 28.

Section 28 has cast a long shadow in the way local councils handle LGBTIQ+ issues, and libraries are a part of this. Book28 are working to create a relaxed community space that decreases library anxiety for our users.

By Book28

Book28 is a small LGBTIQ+ library based inside London's LGBTIQ+ community centre and homeless shelter, The Outside Project. We take our name from a piece of legislation passed by Margaret Thatcher’s Tory government in May 1988. Capitalising off the growing HIV/AIDS crisis, and moral panic that children were being taught (in Thatcher’s own words) that they had “an inalienable right to be gay”, section 28 of the Local Government Act forbade councils from “intentionally promoting homosexuality”.

This legislation was met with nationwide protests from LGBTIQ+ people and allies. In London, lesbian activists abseiled off the houses of Parliament and broke into a BBC newsroom mid-broadcast. “Leeds Women against the Clause” organised a demonstration in which over 2,000 people marched.

However at a time when 75% of the British public believed that homosexuality was “always or mostly wrong” (British Social Attitudes), these protests were not enough to stop the law being passed.

Section 28 has cast a long shadow in the way local councils handle LGBTIQ+ issues, and libraries are a part of this. For 15 years it was essentially illegal for public libraries in the UK to stock LGBTIQ+ literature, and even long after the repeal of the Act (2000 in Scotland, 2003 in England and Wales) many librarians are cautious when it comes to stocking positive LGBTIQ+ material which could be seen as “promoting” homosexuality.

No wonder then that many LGBTIQ+ people feel that their reading and information needs will not be met by their local libraries. An added pressure is the prevalence of cuts to library services. Even libraries that do not completely shut down may end up outsourcing work to volunteers who have not been given equalities training. Some councils have trialled combining library and policing services, for example placing police inquiry desks in public libraries. This results in public libraries becoming unsafe for LGBTIQ+ readers who have historically faced violence from the police, especially those who fall under the umbrella of sex workers, homeless people, migrants, and/or People of Colour.

Even when public libraries do meet the mark of providing for LGBTIQ+ users, for those who are not regular users, preconceptions of libraries as strict and stuffy places can make them intimidating to some.

With Book28 we are working to create a relaxed community space that decreases library anxiety for our users. In our library you can read on a sofa, a beanbag, or a fabulous pink bed (by the time of reading we will have moved to a new location with The Outside Project, so follow us to see how we decorate our new space!).

At the same time we organise with public libraries facing closure. After all, there is no LGBTQ section in a closed library.

COVID-19 forced us to go virtual, but we’ve been able to engage with so many people by holding online workshops, talks, and participatory storytimes. When we do reopen, readers will not only have access to traditional printed books (including types of LGBTIQ+ literature often neglected by public library collections), but also zines, and information on local LGBTIQ+ resources and services.

If you were interested in the topics of this blog, you may want to check out some of these sources:

The official wording of Section 28

The Leeds march against Section 28

LGBTIQ+ people across the UK recall their experiences of protesting Section 28

A general look at the problem of police presence in UK libraries

A specific example of this in Angus, Scotland

The research dissertation that started Book 28 and explores in more depth the needs of LGBTIQ+ library users

Book 28 is a small queer library, currently housed at the Outside Project in Clerkenwell, London.

We also advocate for the rights of LGBTIQ+ public library users across the UK.

Twitter: @book28library

Instagram: @book28.library

Facebook: @book28queerlibrary

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