The Rainbow Connection: exploring the heritage of LGBT communities

The Rainbow Connection is an exciting new project, being funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and being brought about through a partnership between Cornerstone Praxis (University of Plymouth), Pride in Plymouth and Barnardos along with The Box, Plymouth and Devon Police, Babcock International and a number of schools in the city of Plymouth.

The Rainbow Connection builds on the work of the existing Plymouth LGBT Archive in collecting and exploring the heritage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities in the city Plymouth, while acknowledging that the handing down of this heritage does not often occur through generational lines in the same manner as other identity characteristics often do. 

A younger generation do not automatically come into contact or learn details of their LGBT+ heritage without direct intervention. This project seeks to challenge this with the development of an inter-generational educational framework and resources that can encourage empowerment and the building of identity among LGBT+ groups of varying ages.

In the last few years, there has been an acknowledgement that an understanding and an appreciation of your heritage can directly impact on wellbeing in communities. The LGBT+ community is not a community that lives in one location but we are bound together in reconciling a sense of 'difference'. Being connected to the elders in the community and their stories creates a sense of legacy and shows us we’re not so different after all.
Dr Alan Butler, Cornerstone Praxis Manager

Alan Butler at Totnes Pride 2017

Through a series of talks, workshops and use of oral history practice, this project will use the archive, and the people which have contributed to it, in new manner to create safe spaces for this heritage to be shared, transmitted and celebrated. Through this process we seek to create a unique mentoring scheme as well as an ongoing archival resource for this and future generations.

The successful completion of the Rainbow Connection pilot will create learning and workshop materials which can continue to be used for public engagements and, perhaps most significantly, it will enable the testing a more direct way of activating archives to directly impact into young LGBT lives through mentoring and conversations. This methodology is particularly important for the partnership with Barnardos and will create a means of empowering young LGBT individuals that will endure and grow as the project develops.

Plymouth LGBT community archive and pop up exhibition

The project is developed around an understanding of the ways in which adolescents come to acknowledge their developing sexualities and gender identities by defining as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer through a process of coming out, be that solely to themselves or to a wider audience. In doing so, a young person tends to set themselves apart from their families and carers as, despite many cultural and legal changes in the last few years, the majority of parents still tend to be heterosexual and cis gender.

No matter how supportive or empathetic parents might be of other sexualities or gendered identities, their experiences tend not to mirror their children in this regard so LGBT+ young people are often unable to access narratives and histories relating to this aspect of their history. The situation is further complicated by a lack of spaces deemed appropriate to share or receive this heritage.

At the same time, an older generation have traditionally been directed to conceal and even be ashamed of these aspects of their identity. Often they have had little opportunity to celebrate their pasts, presents and futures and sharing these narratives later in life can be a transformative experience for them in terms of taking pride in their place in the city and in its past.

We also have a generation who grew up in a time of Section 28 legislation where local authorities were prevents from acknowledging gay lifestyles as acceptable and that is balanced against a younger generation of LGBT+ people who are growing up with more information available on the internet but often a lack of inter-generational engagement around LGBT+ heritage.

The Plymouth LGBT Archive

The Plymouth LGBT Archive project is an award winning community archive created to capture and explore rich life and histories from the Plymouth LGBT communities past and present.

Read more about the Plymouth LGBT Archive project