Hello, I am Celine. As a student of Literature and Arts from Germany, I was delighted to have the chance of diving into the history of Glasgow Women’s Library. It is my pleasure to share with you in a series of twelve blog posts some of the highlights captured in past GWL Newsletters. I hope you enjoy reading about them as much as I did during my placement at this wonderful place and join in the celebration of the Library’s 30th Anniversary.
In celebration of this year’s LGBTQ+ History month, it seemed to be a wonderful opportunity to share highlights of the regular column ‘Read our LIPS: Lesbians in Peer Support’ published in the past GWL Newsletters (published from 1996 to 2008).
Funded by Comic Relief, LIPS was set up by Glasgow Women’s Library in 2000 and ran until 2006 as one of the first projects that GWL secured funding for. LIPS opened up a chance for young lesbians and bi women to come together in a safe space to share their thoughts, experiences and struggles. Together, they enjoyed many activities, events and workshops in order to build up confidence, have a good time, as well as support and empower each other. Today’s Director of Operations, Resources, and Enterprise, Sue John, was one of the workers on this project, together with Shona Bruce.
Reading the articles published in this column, one can follow the exciting story of this enriching project. In Issue 12 (1999), the approval of three-years funding by Comic Relief was announced to represent a promising starting point for LIPS. Clear details and an introduction can be found two issues after the announcement of the funding:
“[…] the need for the project was identified by young women using the Library’s resources, and as a result of findings from research into Poverty and Social Exclusion of Lesbians and Gay Men Research, carried out by GWL last year. The feedback was that young lesbians feel isolated and unsupported and therefore need a safe space where they can meet together to gain the strength and confidence needed to cope with being lesbian or bisexual in our so
GWL Newsletter, Issue 14 (2000)
On the 28th October 2000, LIPS was officially launched in the Tron Theatre. Not knowing what to expect, it was a wonderful surprise to see that twelve people came to the very first meeting. The project was so positively received that many participants, up to fifteen, attended each and every meeting. Filled with good company and exciting activities, they always had something interesting to write about in the ‘Read our LIPS’ column. A one-week trip to Camas on Mull with some of the members from the LIPS group, as well as some of the ALN (Adult Literacy and Numeracy) learners, gave them lots to write about and enjoyment for the readers. This trip was tied to a course for outdoor activities and workshops that looked at drug awareness and harm reduction issues. Works that captures some of the experiences made on the excursion, make up the back cover of Issue 29 (2004).
As time went by, Sue and Shona dived into the search of looking for funding options in order to be able to train LIPS women to become peer educators, as it was something desired by some of the attendees. Later on in Issue 26 (2003), the announcement of meetings for Peer Educator training was proclaimed. Themes in these training sessions, were among others, awareness-raising on racism and sexism, as well as challenging discrimination. One year later, it was announced that “the Peer Educators are now fully trained.”
With time, the meetings of the LIPS group took place in the space of the Lesbian Archive. To give you an idea of the various activities they did in their sessions, Issue 22 (2002) gives you an insight into some of them. Among other things, they had drumming sessions and personal safety classes, in addition to topics they covered, like body image and eating disorders.
Issue 24 (2002) features an advertisement for Drag King workshops led by Diane Torr, who had made a previous appearance in the Newsletter in Issue 8 (1998), when she was in Glasgow for her performance in ‘Bull’ at The Tramway. One Issue after the announcement, readers could enjoy hearing about the two Drag King workshops held over the winter in 2003. It gave “women an opportunity to experience male power from the inside.” Participants were encouraged to create a male persona for that day. Looks and behaviours were designed and trained according to the male identity they chose, to get the full man-experience.
“Feedback from the Workshops was very positive, some saying that it made them realise the reality of the power men have, and how they take advantage of it. For others it was helpful in reacquainting them with their feminine side.”
GWL Newsletter, Issue 25 (2003)
Nowadays, we can see colourful Drag Queen TV shows on various channels and platforms showing extravagant depictions of characters associated with femininity. Shows, like RuPaul’s Drag Race, have definitely the aspect of entertainment as a key element to them. That is why, it was very interesting to read about Drag King workshops, which seemed to be very contrasting to the content mentioned. Reading the reviews of Diane Torr’s workshops showed that the Drag culture goes beyond acting out stereotypes and the act of dressing up, what some people might be led to think to be the main aspects of Drag Queens and Drag Kings. The characters created in her workshops, as well as her own Drag King persona ‘Danny King’, appear not to be very theatrical, like they are meant to have an entertaining stage presence, but they could simply pass you on the street. In Glasgow Women’s Library, you can read up on Diane’s work in her publication ‘Sex, Drag, and Make Roles: Investigating Gender as Performance’ (2010), which she worked on together with critic, Stephen Bottoms. Here, Bottoms elaborates the sense of Diane’s workshops as “in seeing the world, at least temporarily, from a man’s perspective, and in being responded to as male, women are able to distance themselves critically from their socialized perspectives as females, sometimes with life-changing results” (p. 2). Generally speaking, the art of Drag is presented as more than just a form of entertainment, but opens up an opportunity for enriching experiences and different expressions of the self.
LIPS opened up a wonderful chance to gain confidence and support surrounded by understanding equals, which are reasons that make it a special project worth commemorating. This is also why they were happy to secure another three years of funding from Comic Relief in order to uphold the project until 2006. The workshops also included music and art, among all the different kind of topics, so that there was something for everyone!
Three Decades of LGBTQ+ work
Glasgow Women’s Library, and Women in Profile (the organisation that GWL grew from), involved LGBTQ+ people right from the start. Over three decades we’ve played our role as activists, delivered events, commissioned writers and artists, created life-changing projects and helped to impact on government policies.
This year, the OUT in the Archive exhibition, and accompanying Open Archive event on Saturday 26th February 2022, bring that work to the fore and highlight some of the milestones, achievements and individuals who’ve contributed to making Scotland better for LGBTQ+ people.