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Blue Plaques on properties in UK honour those who previously lived there, a scheme that started in 1866. The Rainbow Plaques programme is a similar new concept, focussing exclusively on LGBTQ+ histories. Read on to discover where you can find them.
A note on Blue Plaques with LGBTQ stories
The Blue Plaque scheme, now run by English Heritage honours notable people who have lived in properties across London, with nearly 1,000 plaques having been erected to date. Some of these existing Blue Plaques honour people who lived radical private lives outside the sexual norm of the time – some persecuted for their actions, some who challenged public perception on gender and sexuality. English Heritage has identified 20 of these Blue Plaques across the capital with LGBTQ+ stories, including Oscar Wilde, Siegfried Sassoon, Virginia Woolf, Alan Turing, and Kenneth Williams.
The Rainbow Plaques programme was established in 2018 by York Civic Trust and the York LGBT Forum to honour lesbian diarist Anne Lister (1791–1840). Rainbow Plaques is an ongoing national scheme highlighting the importance of intersectional LGBTQIA+ visibility in our streets and public spaces. Going beyond English Heritage’s Blue Plaque scheme, the Rainbow Plaques programme specifically honours the histories and legacies of influential LGBTQIA+ figures and their associated spaces, stories and culture.
Building on existing work established by Wandsworth LGBTQ+ Forum and Studio Voltaire in creating permanent plaques for Oscar Wilde at Clapham Junction Station in 2019, and the 1980s film classic, My Beautiful Laundrette, on Wilcox Road in 2021, five new Rainbow Plaques have been unveiled. In partnership with London LGBT+ Forums Network, five new Rainbow Plaques will be unveiled, dedicated to people, places, culture and significant moments that have been obscured or lost in LGBTQIA+ histories, supported by The Mayor of London’s Untold Stories Fund and Wandsworth Oasis.
The five new Rainbow Plaques are dedicated to:
- Beautiful Thing, Greenwich – Written by Jonathan Harvey and directed by Hettie Macdonald, Beautiful Thing (1996) is an important queer cinema classic with its representations of coming out and coming-of-age within South East London’s working-class communities. The story is set and filmed in Thamesmead and Greenwich, and the Rainbow Plaque will mark a key scene filmed at The Gloucester pub, known today as The Greenwich Tavern.
- Black Lesbian and Gay Centre, Peckham – Originally established in Haringey in 1985, the Black Lesbian and Gay Centre project found a permanent home in a converted railway arch in Peckham in 1992. Whilst local to London, the project reached people far beyond, providing advice, counselling, a helpline and library. The centre was the first of its kind in Europe and serves as an essential inspiration for queer communities today
- Jackie Forster, Westminster – In the 1960s, journalist, writer and Lesbian Rights activist Jackie Forster (1926–1998) joined the Minorities Research Group and wrote for the UK’s first lesbian publication Arena Three. She later set up the long-running magazine and social group, Sappho. Sappho was hugely influential, offering a safe forum for women marginalised by society and working at the intersection of the Women’s Liberation Movement and the Gay Liberation Front.
- London Lighthouse, Ladbroke Grove – Founded in 1986, the London Lighthouse was a pioneering centre and hospice for people with HIV and AIDS. It offered an innovative model of residential and daycare for adults and children, offering respite for people marginalised or abandoned following their diagnosis. Princess Diana first visited in 1989 and often went unannounced to talk with patients.
- Section 28, Haringey – In the 1980s, Haringey was at the forefront of the LGBTQIA+ rights movement. In 1986, the council set up the Lesbian and Gay Unit, among the first of its kind in the UK. In the same year, the group Positive Images was formed to increase lesbian and gay visibility. Haringey Civic Centre became a site of numerous protests in the struggle for equality.