A Really, Really Queer History




“For me to use the word ‘queer’ is a liberation; it was a word that frightened me, but no longer” At Your Own Risk (1992), Derek Jarman.

It could be said that the word “queer” as we know it has been in use for almost 100 years now: we may use it as a reclaimed and celebratory term of self-identification, while others may have used it as an insult. This course looks at the mixed history of the term alongside the histories of LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and more) people, identities and communities. It is the story about the great and good of this country, from kings and queens, to a wider spectrum of society, that takes in those in more humble posts, like the actors, clerics, clerks, dock workers, post officers and so many more who keep society moving. This is a narrative about oppression, resistance and, perhaps in more recent times, progress.

You will come away understanding the impact of the law on individuals, how binary concepts of gender and sexuality were historically exported from Britain and continue to impact societies around the world, as well as how intersectionalities can link queerness with sexuality, gender, race, disability, faith and other protected characteristics in the fight for equality and human rights for all. Within in Britain and beyond, you will encounter remarkable individuals that reveal stories of diverse gender and sexual identities who sometimes tried to conceal themselves from history, and at other times flaunted what they had, but at all times you’ll find that it’s a really, really queer history.

This course is open to all and no prior knowledge in queer history is required.

Delivery: The course will be delivered by a series of 4 pre-recorded video lectures and group Q&As. Participants will also receive a reading list, course literature and activities. Links and details will be sent to participants a few days before the course begins.  Lectures will be released at 7pm each Thursday and will be available to view for a month and half.


1. Queer Being: A Chronicle of Queer Britain

The opening lecture will hot step you through a selection of key moments in queer history in Britain starting with the founding of Roman London around 50AD, through to the most recent socially distanced Trans Pride London and Reclaim Pride march and protests that passed through the heart of the city just this year. The impact and legacy of each event on queer lives will be explored.

2. Queer Thinking: Literature and Philosophy

Gay’s The Word in London holds a special place in the hearts of many in the LGBTQ+ community. The oldest LGBTQ+ bookstore in the UK, it was raided in 1984 and also immortalised in the film Pride in 2014. As the ultimate library of queer literature we peruse some of the weighty tomes that have graced its shelves and have shaped queer thinking over the years.

3. Queer Looking: Art and Visual Culture

Queerness has long been coded in the canon of art and more recently become more accepted as an explicit expression of artistic creation. From gilded paintings to glazed ceramics, we take in some 5,000 years of queer art from traditional monumental masterpieces to today’s bitesize digital outputs on social media that are quickly reshaping our understanding of queer culture.

4. Queer Acting: Performance and Activism

Parallel with the decreasing power of the Lord Chamberlain over censorship in British theatre and performance (and to a lesser extent film) were some of the most dramatic counterculture protests of our time. Theatre, film and music has helped spread ideas of radical activism in Britain and beyond, calling for equality and human rights. Meanwhile, what remains to be done?

Your Tutor: Dan Vo FRSA is a museum consultant and educator. He was the course leader of the V&A Academy’s first course in queer history: A Queer History of Objects. Currently, he is the Co-Project Manager of the Queer Heritage and Collections Network, Social Media Manager for Queer Britain and patron of LGBT+ History Month. Previously, he developed LGBTQ+ programming for the V&A, University of Cambridge Museums and National Museum Wales, among others.

If you have any queries about the course, please do not contact the tutors direct. Instead, contact enquiries@histfest.org where we will be happy to advise.