BBC History Magazine

“We need to see LGBTQ history as part of wider social and cultural changes”

Matt Elton: Over the past few decades, popular history has increasingly embraced lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer [LGBTQ] narratives. Do you think it tells those stories well, or are there moments that still get overlooked?

Matt Cook: I think we’ve seen the development of really important narratives that have made LGBTQ lives visible. Yet at the same time, we have become increasingly aware that separating these strands from wider histories is very problematic.

We tend to base the timeline of LGBTQ history around big, clearly gay and queer moments, such as the 1969 Stonewall riots [a series of demonstrations that took place after New York police raided a gay bar]. But in a way, you could say that the most significant moments might instead be the expansion of the British empire and the way in which it exported a whole series of sexual norms and ideas of respectability around the world, or the inception of sexology [the study of human sexuality] as a science. But they don’t tend to be part of LGBTQ history as it’s popularly understood.

So while I would celebrate the upsurge in LGBTQ history,

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