Welcome to CamQueerHistory! We're a group of undergrads, grads and staff at the University of Cambridge putting on a series of events for LGBTQ+ History Month 2020. We'd like to thank CUSU, CUSU LGBT+, Selwyn College MCR, Newnham College MCR and LGBTQ+@cam for their support in funding our events. See our event calendar below for what is organised so far :)

Our events are all free to attend, and everyone is welcome - you don't have to be in any way associated with the University of Cambridge!

Queer activism and the rise of the rightFebruary Saturday 1st 330pm
Beatriz Santos-Barreto, Olenka Dmytryk, Ceylan Begüm Yıldız and Hakan Sandal (chair)The Bateman Auditorium, Gonville & Caius College
The rise of the right is a global phenomenon of the last few years, with far-right groups increasing their political influence and even gaining control of governments around the world. Increasingly authoritarian states include many regional and world powers whose spheres of cultural influence extend well beyond their borders. What are the experiences of queer activists in this worsening atmosphere? How can and should pro LGBTQ+ rights movements respond and adapt? Our speakers this afternoon will each give a short talk exploring a particular national perspective. Following this, we will invite questions from the audience and widen the discussion to queer activism under the rise of the right around the world—including in the UK.


Queer Brazilians are no stranger to antagonistic governments. From colonial times to the late 1980s’ redemocratization process, state efforts to build a cohesive national social body have led to medical abuse, police brutality, arrests, torture and general violence. Alongside that, a striving queer subculture was able to create safe spaces for socialization, and later political mobilization, that would find its way to the mainstream during the HIV/AIDS crisis. The rise of the Pink Tide in the 2000s brought promises of a new era of equality and social justice. Civil rights gains were in fact achieved during the period (e.g. marriage equality), however many criticized the constant compromises made by the mainstream LGBTQ movement in the process of working within the government and their failure to expose and challenge underlying intersectional structures of discrimination and oppression. This debate gains new layers as queer people are still subject to violence and intolerance in Brazilian society, and a growing political opposition culminated in the 2018 election of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. Activists, academics, journalists and anyone deemed leftists, ‘marxists’, ‘gender ideologist’ or any kind of opposition are now constantly attacked by the President and his supporters, resembling the times of military dictatorship (1964- 1985). As marginalized people find themselves in an increasingly insecure political environment, resistance seeks ways to keep their rights and advance an agenda of social justice and democracy. In this talk, I argue that the way forward should be grounded in queer transformative and subversive approaches and intersectional solidarity between political minorities.


Gaining independence in 1991, Ukrainian society adopted the Soviet baggage of treating non-normativity as criminal, pathological or immoral. The Ukrainian state went through the turbulent changes of revolutions, governmental ‘swings’, and is still going through a war. Legislative changes decriminalized homosexuality and somewhat changed gender recognition procedures. Yet it is not a story of ‘it gets better’. Ukrainian politics and society continue to be influenced not just by local ‘undercurrents’, but by international political and historical ‘tides’. It is reflected both in Ukraine’s constant movement towards ‘Europeanization’ with its rhetoric of ‘human rights’ and ‘liberal values’, and by the simultaneous growth of the far-right and anti-gender movements with their rhetoric of ‘traditional values’. In the midst of these shifts coalitional grassroots anti-fascist activism does not have enough resources and receive attention in comparison with the ‘LGBT activism’ that developed as NGO activism, influenced by the ‘Western’ liberal models of politics and often not taking into account the local context or the actual struggles of marginalized people. How to talk about ‘fascism’ and ‘anti-fascism’ in the midst of the information wars and fake news, when Ukraine is portrayed by the Russian media as a ‘fascist state’? And what is it like to have a highly guarded Pride once a year as a confirmation of ‘tolerance’ and celebration of ‘visibility’, and attacks on Roma communities, feminist, queer, transgender, leftist or anti-fascist events all the year round? These questions form just a tip of the (slowly melting) iceberg – and what is underneath concerns all of us.


As a queer activist from Turkey, Ceylan Begüm Yıldız will provide a retrospective on Turkey’s LGBTI+/queer movements. From being the region’s most anticipated Pride Week to its banning, what are the changing dynamics, challenges and tactics of queer Turkey? How have queer lives been affected by almost two decades of conservative AKP rule and its policies? By providing brief (personal) insights on queer migration to and from Turkey, the talk will touch upon how it feels to be a queer migrant during the global rise of right wing anti-migrantion sentiments whilst inquiring into: the limits and possibilities of diaspora communities, crossroads and intersections with the British LGBTI/queer scene and the dubious prospects of ‘a new home’ in Brexit UK.


The room is on the ground floor and is wheelchair accessible. If you have any specific accessibility needs, or any questions, please contact camqueerhistory@gmail.com

Queer Clothes: Sartorial Non-Conformity and Gender ExpressionFebruary Tuesday 4th 5pm
Meg Roberts, Sasha Rasmussen, Zoe Nunn, Desmond HuthwaiteSidgwick Hall, Newnham College
Panel, 5 - 6.30pm
To celebrate LGBT History Month 2020, this panel will explore queer lives and experiences through items of clothing. The top hat, for example, viewed as a signifier of the effeminate “dandy” before being appropriated by British imperial and industrial masculinity, has also adorned the heads of queer women such as the Ladies of Llangollen, Marlene Dietrich and Hetty King. This panel will use sartorial items as entry points to understand queer expression and identities.

Clothes swap, 6.30 - 7.30pm
Stay after the panel, or drop in from 6.30pm, for a clothes swap! Drop off your unwanted, good-quality clothes at our designated drop-off points, or bring them along on 4th February between 6.30pm and 7.30pm. Don't worry if you have nothing to swap - everyone is welcome to come and pick up some new clothes!

Drop-off points: CUSU Lounge, Sociology Dept, Newnham MCR

Sidgwick Hall is on the ground floor of the Sidgwick building, with level access. Ask for directions at the Porters’ Lodge, or follow the signs to Sidgwick Hall / Sidgwick Dining Hall.

If you have any specific accessibility needs, or any questions, please contact camqueerhistory@gmail.com

What Does a Lesbian Look Like? 40 years of Steadfast FriendshipFebruary Thursday 6th 530pm
Jane TraiesThe Diamond, Selwyn
The recent controversy over the wording of Ann Lister’s ‘rainbow plaque’ in York highlighted some of the challenges faced by contemporary LGBTQ historians who attempt to retro-fit queer identities onto historical figures. The life and loves of the distinguished academic Caroline Spurgeon and her friends, who are the subject of this paper, pose similar difficulties. Like many others of the first generation of graduate career women, Spurgeon chose female companionship over marriage; she lived with Lilian Clapham for nearly four decades and commemorated their ‘happy life together’ on Lilian’s tombstone. Further investigation, however, troubles this romantic suggestion of lifelong lesbian monogamy, and puts Sturgeon at the centre of a transatlantic tangle of same-sex relationships among some of the most distinguished women of the early twentieth century. Can we claim Sturgeon and her circle as our lesbian kin? And what lessons can we learn from them about interpreting queer lives in the past?

Dr Jane Traies is a Research Associate at the Centre for Cultural Studies at the University of Sussex. She is the author of Now You See Me: Lesbian Life Stories (2018) and The Lives of Older Lesbians: Sexuality, Identity and the Life Course (2016).


The Diamond is accessible via ramp or lift. If you have any specific accessibility needs, or any questions, please contact camqueerhistory@gmail.com

Essentialist Epistemology and the Exclusion of Bisexuality from Islamic Theology of Same-Sex Desires and ActsFebruary Wednesday 12th 530pm
Mehrdad AlipourBateman Room, Gonville & Caius College
Mehrdad Alipour will be talking about the inclusion of bisexuality in Islamic theology.

Although reformist Muslim scholars and activists have developed a tolerant approach to homosexuality over the last few decades, they have avoided including the issue of bisexuality in their debates. Following an essentialist epistemology, they believe that the methodology and the types of political and academic arguments they apply to argue for Islamic acceptance of sexual diversity, in particular homosexuality, cannot be applied to the case of bisexuality. Stablishing a Qur’ān-based argument, they claim that, based on their understanding of the Qur’ān, Allāh not only does not condemn homosexuals but “observes them as part of a diverse creation”, whereas the Qur’ān does not have “any such positive acknowledgment of bisexual people.” However, it seems that none of such arguments can sufficiently exclude bisexuality from the Islamic theological debate. Moreover, unlike these scholars, I argue that if one accepts all the premises these scholars assume for their Qur’ān-based argument, one can exploit the same argument to support the acceptance of bisexuality in Islam.


The Bateman Room is on the first floor, with no step-free access. Ask the porters at the lodge for directions within the college.

Rebel Dyke HistoriesFebruary Wednesday 19th 6pm
Karen FischBarbara White Room, Newnham College
The Rebel Dyke History Project is preserving the stories of the kick-ass young dykes of post-punk London with an extensive archive and upcoming feature-length documentary. Encompassing landmark moments in queer history like Greenham Common peace camp, histories of squatting, sex and fetish clubs, AIDS protests, abseiling into the House of Lords and Section 28, the project records an anarchic, irreverent, fierce queer world that has plenty to say about ongoing battles for freedom.

Join us for a discussion with Karen Fisch about the project, the politics of the rebel dykes and the queer legacies of the cultural wars they fought.

Karen Fisch is part of the Rebel Dyke Project, a group of mainly lesbian outsiders from the 1980s. Fisch has been a significant member of this lived legacy since going her first Gay Pride march in 1978. She lived at Greenham Common USAF base (main gate) and for over a year and she rode with the all women biker gang The Black Widows. Fisch co-promoted the UK’s first SM dyke club Chain Reaction and for ten years ran her own London club nights.

Nearly five years ago she began performing in drag as King Frankie Sinatra and now produces and hosts Kings of Clubs at the legendary Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Frankie has graced many stages including Pride in London and Amsterdam. Fisch has finally written a one woman show called Rebel Dyke Live which encompasses all of this personal sistory in one hour of music and words.


The Barbara White Room is on the ground floor of Old Hall, with level access. Ask for directions at the Porters’ Lodge, or come through the Pfeiffer Arch on Newnham Walk and turn left into Old Hall.

If you have any specific accessibility needs, or any questions, please contact camqueerhistory@gmail.com


For more information, visit www.rebeldykes1980s.com.

Moving and Moved: Reading Kewpie's District SixFebruary Friday 21st 530pm
Ruth Ramsden-KarelseChadwick Room, Selwyn College
Ruth Ramsden-Karelse will be talking about the Kewpie archive, a unique collection of photographs that document the lives of queer and trans people in Cape Town's District Six in the middle of the 20th century.

In 1998, the recently established Gay and Lesbian Archives of South Africa acquired about 600 photographs depicting a group of individuals assigned male at birth, who presented and expressed themselves according to conventions of femininity. The girls, as they called themselves, were classified as “Coloured” under apartheid and lived in District Six, Cape Town, when it was declared “Whites Only” in 1966, after which approximately 60,000 residents were forcibly removed as the area was almost completely bulldozed. This collection of photographs has become somewhat embedded in descriptions of the District as home to a way of life or culture, variously described as “gay” or “queer,” generally accepted if not celebrated by its wider community. Drawing on audio recordings featuring their collector, Kewpie, and remaining attentive to the differing and at times contradictory ways Kewpie presents herself, the girls, and District Six more broadly, Ruth Ramsden-Karelse offers an alternative reading of the Kewpie Photographic Collection, as it is now known. Privileging the creative as opposed to the documentary function of photography and oral testimony, this talk will propose that Kewpie uses both to make and remake the world around her, as part of a larger collaborative project of queer world-making.


Ruth Ramsden-Karelse is founder and co-convener of the Oxford Queer Studies Network and the inaugural Stuart Hall Doctoral Scholar at the University of Oxford. Ruth has an MA in Culture and Thought After 1945 and a BA in English and Related Literature, as well as a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education, and she served on the panel of judges for Miss Gay Western Cape 2018.


The room is wheelchair accessible. If you have any specific accessibility needs, or any questions, please contact camqueerhistory@gmail.com.

Queer parenthoodFebruary Tuesday 25th 6pm
Marcin Smietana, Linda Layne, Susie Bower-Brown, and Robert PralatBuckingham House, Murray Edwards College
This panel will consider queer parenthood, exploring how the experiences and situation of queer parents differs across countries and contexts, as well as some of the history of queer of parenthood. We are lucky to welcome four panellists to this event: Dr Marcin Smietana, Dr Linda Layne, Susie Bower-Brown, and Dr Robert Pralat.

Dr Marcin Smietana is a research associate at ReproSoc (Reproductive Sociology Research Group) in Cambridge. His research has involved working on adoptive and surrogacy gay fathers in Spain, on American and European gay men doing surrogacy in the US, and is now starting fieldwork with British gay men doing altruistic surrogacy in the UK.

Dr Linda Layne is a visiting fellow at ReproSoc. She is currently conducting a comparative of single mothers by choice, two-mum families, two-dad families, and families that have suffered a pregnancy loss.

Susie Bower-Brown is a PhD student in the Centre for Family Research, focusing on trans parents and the experiences of children and parents in these families.

Dr Robert Pralat is Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow in the Department of Sociology and a member of ReproSoc. He studies how people who, historically, have not been expected to have children – for example, LGBTQ people or people living with HIV – respond to cultural changes and advances in medicine that enable them to become parents.


The event will be wheelchair accessible. IF you have any specific queries, please contact us on camqueerhistory@gmail.com