Why you have to know about the 1533 Buggery Act

It may sound like just another dull law from history, but The Buggery Act wrought international persecution of the LGBTQ+ community for centuries!

OK I know what you’re thinking. Why is the 1533 Buggery Act such a big deal! After all, it’s a piece of Tudor law:

A) that sounds dry AF

B) has nothing to do with me!

Well, if you care about LGBTQ+ rights (or let’s be blunt, basic human rights) than this is a piece of Tudor law that you have to know about!

The 1533 Buggery Act wove a tangled web that stretches throughout history. Beyond those who were caught up in its immediate wake, It’s threads lead us to Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment, Alan Turing’s conviction and the abysmal pit where fundamental rights should be, that the LGBTQ+ community and their allies are still fighting against.

So if that still sounds dry AF, then strap in Donald, because you’re about to get your mind blown.

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Seriously we’re getting into world view changing stuff!

The Buggery Act was the brainchild of Henry VIII who had a fun habit of lumbering the UK with laws that came out of him wanting to make a point during a hissy fit…yet inexplicably stuck around for hundreds of years at a major human cost (e.g that time he made it legal to execute someone with severe mental health issues) The 1533 Buggery Act was no exception!

But lets take it back to pre-Henry for a second. Prior to 1533 there were no set laws to persecute homosexuality in England. That’s not to say it wasn’t. In the 13th century two legal codes called for men caught having same sex relationships to be buried alive or burnt, which is horrific!

However, these were suggestions, not actual laws and there is no evidence that these punishments were ever carried out. For the most part, the then frowned upon act was dealt with in the ecclesiastic courts (so basically it was left with god and his earthly servants to deal with either after death or in the realm of the church)

As such, the sudden decision to make homosexuality criminal was a big deal. In fact it was such a big deal that this sharp turn to criminalisation actually had to be addressed in the original statues outlining the 1533 act. Which says that the law was in part created to make homosexuality clearly punishable, saying:

“For as moche as there is not yet sufficient & condigne punishment appointed & limitted by the due course of the lawes of this realme for the detestable & abominable vice of buggeri committed with mankind or beest.”

It goes on to explain the possible punishments for those caught committing ‘buggery’:

“And that the offenders being herof convict by verdicte, confession, or outlaurie, shall suffer suche peynes of dethe, and losses, and penalties of their goodes, cattals, dettes, londes, tenements, and heredytamentes, as felons benne accustomed to do accordynge to the order of the common lawes of this realme. And that no person offendynge in any suche offence, shalbe admitted to his clergye”

Obviously the clear biggy here is ‘pain of death’, but right at the bottom of this portion of transcript there’s the sentence:

‘And that no person offending in such offence shall be admitted to his clergy’ that right there is the crux of this whole piece of legislation.

Because why create The Buggery Act and criminalise same sex relationships at this particular moment in time?

To persecute the Catholic Church of course!

If you’re thinking , ‘that makes little to no sense’, gold star! It doesn’t… well at least until you break down what was going down in 1533.

You see, until the 1530’s England had been part of the Catholic Church. But, Henry VIII was desperate to break away from the church as it wouldn’t grant him a divorce so he could marry his side chick, Anne Boleyn. So Henry decided to create a new church for England, one that he’d be the head of (and wouldn’t you know it, the head of this new church just happened to be A-ok with divorce).

Sadly creating your own church doesn’t magically erase your countries already existing, centuries old religion overnight. So Henry worked with his right hand man, Thomas Cromwell, to loosen the tight hold Catholicism had on England and for a double win, also siphon it’s money to Henry.

The 1533 Buggery Act was just part of this plan. It was solely designed to take away a little bit of the power away from The Catholic Church, not to actually persecute homosexuality.

And yet this law was about to take its first victim.

By 1540 the Buggery Act had done its job. The Catholic Churches hold on England had been loosened, Henry had married Anne Boleyn (and then had her executed), married again (this time she’d died in childbirth) and was onto marriage number four. Thomas Cromwell had played Cupid for these nuptials, hooking Henry up with his new wife, Anne of Cleves. Sadly Henry wasn’t a fan of his new bride and this was such a big no no that it led to Thomas Cromwell’s death.

But as is probably clear by now, Henry was a petty bitch, and so he made sure that when Thomas went down, he wasn’t going alone.

On the 29 June 1540 Thomas Cromwell was beheaded for treason and his mate, Walter Hungerford, became the first person to be executed under The Buggery Act (among other allegations).

A bloody punishment, with the Buggery Act added as an extra dollop of humiliation for Hungerford and as an additional middle finger to Cromwell who’d helped create the act.*

*side note: before we start feeling really sorry for Walter Hungerford, he was an abusive man who imprisoned his wife to the extent she had to drink her own urine to survive. So you know. Maybe hold the sympathy cards.

Ok, that was A LOT to take in. So let’s pause and take a quick moment to  look at where we are:

  • We have a law that was created to criminalise homosexuality BUT was actually used to screw over the Catholic Church
  • We have a first victim of the law…BUT he was most likely executed not because of the law itself but as an F U to his mate who created the law.

So, we can all agree that thus far, The Buggery Act is a very bloody farce. But that does that mean it’s done?

OF COURSE NOT!

Though the law was repealed by Henry VIII’s daughter, Queen Mary I in 1553 (who wanted power over this to go back to the Catholic Church and it’s ecclesiastic courts), once she died, her successor and sister, Queen Elizabeth I made the Buggery Act law once more.

And from there it started to truly transform into a law for persecution.

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Using a Latrice Royale gif to cut the tension, but just a warning: It’s about to get really dark for a bit.

For much of the 15th and 16th centuries arrests and executions under the Buggery Act were few and far between. However, that didn’t happen stop this horrifying law from spreading.

One of the huge issues of The Buggery Act being a law, was that Britons leaving the country took it with them. Take for example those plucky puritans who set sail for the brave new world of America – alongside terrible hats and a smattering of racism, they made sure to also pack legal persecution!

And so the legal execution of people for homosexuality began in a new country. In 1624, Virginia hung Richard Cornish, a ships captain, for ‘forcible sodomy’ of his ships 29 year old cabin boy.

Two years later, Massachusetts hung William Plain on allegations of sodomy that took place in England (so before he even moved to America!).

That same year, the countries New Netherlands colony successfully managed to achieve the discrimination trifecta when they used the Buggery Act to strangle and ‘burn to ashes’, Jan Creoli, a poor black gay man.

If you thought things were bad, they are about to get even worse.

Back in Britain, a more vocal queer community was starting to appear, thanks to the underground popularity of Molly Houses (places where queer men could be free to openly show their sexuality, kind of the great great great grandfather of the small town gay bar). But this emerging light in the dark attracted the worst kind of people and they dedicated themselves to eradicating what they saw as the gay scourge.

One such group was the catchily named, The Society For The Reformation of Manners. Determined to rid London of its LGBT subculture, they worked undercover to infiltrate Molly Houses, gather evidence against its users and then together with the police, raid them.

One such raid was that of Mother Claps house in 1726. Dozens of men were rounded up and arrested, with several fined and pilloried. But that’s not the worst of it. 

The Society For The Reformation of Manners successfully helped to leverage the Buggery Act to hang three of the arrested men for the crime of having sex, or as one witness spat out during the trial:

‘Making love to one another as they call’d it’

example of tyburn execution from the era
Example of an execution, like that of the Mother Clap House victims. from the era

During the 1800’s the executions continued. Trials for men accused under The Buggery Act sprung up across England. Some of those found guilty had the relative luck (though the chance of survival still wasn’t great) at instead being transported to Australia, but others weren’t so lucky.

The last men executed under The Buggery Act were James Pratt and John Smith, in 1835.

A husband and father, James Pratt, met with John Smith in August 1935, at an ale house in London for a drink. The pair then got chatting with an older man, William Bonill and went back to his rooms.

William Bonill soon left to get another drink at the pub, leaving James and John alone. It was after this that Bonill’s landlord reported finding the pair having sex.

Neither James Pratt or John Smith stood a chance in court. If you are in any doubt on that front, just read the opening transcript from John Smith’s prosecutor.

‘feloniously, wickedly, diabolically, and against the order of nature, had a venereal affair with one James Pratt, and did then and there, feloniously, wickedly, diabolically, and agains the order of nature, carnally know the said James Pratt, and with him the said James Pratt did then and there feloniously, wickedly, diabolically, and against the order of nature, commit and perpetrate the detestale, horrid, and abominable crime (among Christians not to be named) called buggery, to the great displeasure of Almighty God, to the great scandal of all human kind’

Charles Dickens actually attended Newgate jail, when the men were awaiting sentencing and recalled:

‘Their doom was sealed; no plea could be urged in extenuation of their crime, and they well knew that for them there was no hope in this world.’

He was, of course, right. Of seventeen others sentenced to death at the same time as John and James (for crimes including attempted murder) all had their sentences commuted to transportation to Australia. All expect John Smith and James Pratt.

A huge crowd gathered outside Newgate Jail to watch their deaths.

Watching his (possible) partner, John Smith, being blindfolded and his noose put on, caused James Pratt an understandable level of anguish. He reportedly went physically weak, needing help just to stand and calling out:

‘Oh God, this is horrible. This is indeed horrible.’ 

Though we don’t have clean cut evidence that the two were in a relationship, it’s hard to read this as anything other than love and the devastation of James knowing what his partner was about to go through.

Which I think summarises the pointlessness and brutality the Buggery Act had on all those who feel under its wake. Of it’s last two victims; two men who just wanted a private moment to be together and died because of that.

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Newspaper from the hanging of James Pratt and John Smith

The Buggery Act remained in place in one form or another until 1861 when the Offences Against The Person Act replaced it.

The new law abolished the death sentence for ‘buggery’, instead punishing those convicted with a prison sentence of up to life. In 1967 the laws around homosexuality as an illegal act were dropped.

All of this, because in 1533 a pissed of King set up a law that he hoped would bring down a religion – the persecution of thousands if not millions, was just secondary. 

If you want to read up more on this and other areas of LGBT+ history (and please do!) some great sources are below:

  • Rictor Norton, for a treasure trove of articles and essays on the history of LGBTQ+ history in England dating back to the medieval era. 
  • The Peter Tatchall Foundation, a human rights charity with an amazing section of history of laws that sought to persecute 
  • The British Library, where you can look at so many of the original documents I mention in this, digitally wherever you are in the world!

Queer Quickie: Christopher Isherwood

Christopher Isherwood was an Anglo-American writer famed for his semi-autobiographical novels The Berlin Stories that recounted his experiences living in The Wiemar Republic (aka Germany).

These novels gave birth to the most fabulous of stage shows CABARET! Made famous by the faboosh 1970’s Liza Minnelli film.

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Isherwood in 1976

I’m Coming Out

Christopher was born on August 26th 1904 in the North of England on his family estate near Manchester. Now by the fact he lived on his families estate, you’ve probably ready guessed that Christopher’s family were minted. And though this meant he was lucky enough have a very privileged upbringing, it was also incredibly suffocating!

His family had his entire life planned out for him, so little Chris was packed off to boarding school and then sent to Cambridge university, to chase his mothers dreams of him becoming a university Don.

This wasn’t what Christopher wanted 

And it wasn’t just his career plans that we’re different. Isherwood knew from an early age he was a homosexual and had dalliances during his boarding school and university days; worried about his families reaction, he kept his sexuality secret from his family.

Then in 1925 Christopher managed to get himself kicked out of Cambridge by writing joke answers to his exams.

A huge disappointment to his parents, he worked a series of odd jobs as a private tutor, before starting work on his first novel All the Conspirators.

Weimar Berlin

In 1929 Isherwood moved to Berlin. The Weimar Republic was a hot pot of culture and sexuality, so you know that Christopher threw himself straight in and started embracing his queerness.

He finally openly pursued romantic entaglements with men and fell in love with a beautiful young man named Heinz.

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He Man knows…

Isherwood’s most famous works came from this Berlin Period.

Of these, Mr Norris Changes Trains came first in 1935, which follows a narrator’s friendship with a mysterious man who has all manner of unsavoury entanglements during their time in Berlin. The second novel Goodbye to Berlin was published in 1939.

But the most famous of his stories around this time was about a cabaret singer called, Sally Bowles.

That name sounds familiar right? Well that’s because the character of Sally Bowles was adapted for the stage, first as a play called I am a Camera (1951) and then into a musical Cabaret!’ (1966), which was immortalised in the 1971 Liza Minnelli flick. 

However, Isherwood distanced himself from Cabaret, claiming he recognised little of his work in it, but it opened his work to a new audience! Meaning…

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Money money MONEY!

Heinz and Christopher left Berlin in 1933 and floated around Europe while Christopher kept writing.

However, their happiness was short lived as Heinz returned to Nazi ruled Germany in 1937, where he was arrested as a draft dodger.

The relationship broke up, though the pair did maintain contact after the war up until 1976.

America Calling

In 1939 Christopher moved to the United States permanently, entranced by it’s promise of freedom and prosperity for all.

He was an instant hit with Californian literary circles and quickly settled into the Hollywood lifestyle.

Then on Valentine’s Day 1953 Christopher went on a trip to Santa Monica beach where he was introduced to 18-year-old artist, Don Bachardy. Christopher was 48 at the time, but he fell madly in love with Dan.

Still, there was no getting around that creepy age gap, it was weird, and people were scandalised.

Not to mention that, the relationship was tempestuous to start.

Christopher encouraged Don to explore his sexuality and his art, but was also prone to intense jealousy; meanwhile Don felt his artwork was overshadowed by his relationship with Christopher.

Yet, this turmoil created another magnificent work from Christopher; his next novel A Single Man, about a lecturer who is mourning the death of his partner.

The book follows the man around for a day noting his interactions and connections with all manner of people. The university is a multi-ethnic campus and despite the language being very dated, the book argues for a progressive multicultural society.

Thankfully after this, Christopher and Bachardy’s relationship became more stable and they both encouraged each other in all their artistic endeavours, whilst maintaing the importance of having time away to themselves.

They had a problem though – they wanted to get married and have all the legal rights that come with being a spouse.

However, it wasn’t legal. Meaning, Christopher couldn’t set up Don with his estate, to look after him when Chris inevitably died earlier (hi again age gap!)

So they got around that legal-ish by…

CHRISTOPHER ADOPTING DON!

Yup. They did that.

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That’s one way to get around it…

Post adoption/marriage gate, Christopher returned to Berlin in his works one more time with Christopher and His Kind in 1976.

In it he details his time in Weimar Germany and his affair with Heinz. He considered it his contribution to gay liberation as he was SO candid and open about his sexuality.

BUT Heinz was so shocked by the book he never spoke to Christopher again!

Shortly after this last major work was published, Christopher passed away from pancreatic cancer in 1981 at aged 81.

His legacy lives on, through his novels which focus on periods of gay history that were tempestuous and full of changing attitudes.

That was Interesting. Where can I find out more? His novels are still in print and The Berlin Stories is a great place to start. It looks at a fascinating time in history. There’s also a brilliant documentary called Chris & Don: A Love Story that looks at the relationship between Isherwood and Bachardy.

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

Queer Quickie: Stormé DeLarverie

Happy Pride month to all our LGBTQIA+ readers! Last year we celebrated Marsha P Johnson and this year we want to celebrate Pride even more, so all this month we’ll be bringing  you some of the most incredible players in the fight for LGBQTIA+ rights!

Lets kick things off with the story of stone cold butch babe Stormé DeLarverie.

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Stormè working security outside The Cubby Hole

Stormé was known in LGBT circles as the ‘Lesbian Rosa Parks’ she fought against ‘ugly’ (her term for bigotry and hatred) for her entire life and always looked out for others.

There’s a Stormé coming

She was born in New Orleans in 1920 to her mother, an African American servant and her father, who was head of the white family her mother worked for. Her parents eventually married and moved to California.

In her teens Stormé realised 2 major things:

A) that she was a lesbian

B) she had a talent for singing and keeping a captive audience.

During the 1940s Stormé toured with a jazz trio as the singer. Stormé started performing in drag around this time and made quite a name for herself as an accomplished Drag King in queer cabaret circles.

She also performed as part of the Jewel Box Review, a drag cabaret, which featured predominantly drag queens and one drag king; our gal Stormé.

Stormé spent the rest of the 1950s and 60s crooning jazz numbers to enthusiastic queer crowds

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In full King mode – Doesn’t she look dreamy?

Stormé and Stonewall

Things started to get real rough for Stormé. You see, in the late 60’s there was a relentless campaign against Queer hot spots in New York City by the police and tensions were at an all time high.

On June 29th 1969 Stormé was hanging out near the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan, having recently come back from touring with the Jewel Box. She was having a wonderful time, drinking and socialising with her mates.

Suddenly police descended on the Stonewall Inn. They forced their way into the bar at around 1.20am and started forcefully dragging patrons outside. The police molested lesbians, beat up young men who resisted arrest and refused to show identification (cross dressing was ILLEGAL then)

Stormé saw one of her friends being assaulted by police. She was not having it. She fought back and threw a punch at one of the policemen, after he assaulted her.

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No comment needed

Stormé was then handcuffed and thrown into the back of a police van, but she kept escaping amidst the chaos. She complained her handcuffs were too tight and she was beaten about the head with a baton.

Bleeding and being dragged back to the police van again Stormé addressed the growing crowd directly.

‘WHY DON’T YOU DO SOMETHING?’

The crowds outside started to fight back against the police AND SHIT KICKED OFF!

Speaking later about the Stonewall Uprising she said

“It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience–it wasn’t no damn riot.”

Don’t forget she was nearly 50 when she fought back against the police. She was known for being lovely, but tough as fucking nails.

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Truly Stormé is the baddest of all bad bitches.

Stormé: The Later Years

After Stonewall Stormé was an important member of the SVA, The Stonewall Veterans Association, she was a key figure in NY Pride often appearing with her car, which was well known for being parked outside the gay bars in Greenwich Village and was actually outside Stonewall Inn the night of the riots!

She settled in Brooklyn, New York in her later years, giving up touring and promptly appointed herself protector of lesbians within Greenwich village in NYC. 

Stormé would patrol round the local LGBT hot spots checking everyone was ok. She did this well into her 80s.

She was a much loved and familiar face as a bouncer to local gay clubs. She greeted everyone with ‘Hey babies’, or ‘Hey love’ and always encouraged everyone to get home safe.

Stormé was full of love for her community.

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She is the best

Stormé passed away in 2014 at the grand old age of 93, and was an inspiration to so many people, myself very much included, showing us that displaying kindness didn’t mean you couldn’t be tough and fight for what you believed in.

That was interesting where can I find out more? Well there’s a short documentary on Stormé called Stormé: Lady of the Jewel Box and you can find it here on YouTube! It’s about her time working on the Jewel Box Revue and shows her working as a bouncer in the 80’s.

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

Moms Mabley: The Dirty Granny of Stand Up

Moms Mabley was…to be blunt: a god damn American Institution. Gay, black and all kinds of political she was smashing boundaries left and right.

Born Loretta Mary Aiken on May 1894, Mobs Mabley would become the first African American female stand up who crossed over to mainstream audiences AND she was an out and proud lesbian.

Seriously, she and her story are amazing and I am ridiculously excited to tell you guys all about it! 

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The Gorgeous Jackie ‘Moms’ Mabley

Now the start of Moms life reads like the worst Shakespearean tragedy; it’s truly FUCKING HORRENDOUS!

She was born in North Carolina to two loving parents; James Aiken, a business savvy man with fingers in many pies and her Mum, Mary Smith, a hardworking, badass matriarch.

Her Dad died in 1909 while working as a volunteer fireman. After he was caught up in an explosion when their fire engine caught fire.

Moms was just 15.

Her Mum stepped up and took over running the family’s general store,…until 1910, when whilst coming home from church on CHRISTMAS DAY she was run over by a truck and killed

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Bad right? Gets worse! 

Moms also had two illegitimate children who were born out of rape.

One of the children was fathered by a white town sheriff who raped Moms.

Both children were given up for adoption… old timey men are awful.

Ok…now all that horrible stuff is out the way lets look forward to the birth of a hilarious stand up QUEEN!

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When Loretta was 14 her awesome Gran convinced her to run away and join a travelling vaudeville show, and it was here she started working as a stand up.

She quickly become one of the most popular acts in the Theatre Owners Booking Association Circuit (also known as the Tough on Black Asses circuit) and was soon traveling all over America developing her talent.

At the age of 27 Loretta came out as a Lesbian, a massive deal at the time because most people didn’t even know what a lesbian was, and TBH gay rights was not a thing.

Then add being black during the great depression into that mix?

Girl was a fucking trailblazer.

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Loretta’s humour was downright filthy and she was DECADES ahead of her time, with her acts landing more in the ‘CAN SHE REALLY SAY THAT?!’ category.

She talked about racism, sexism, queerness… nothing was off limits.

Her early acts in the 20s and 30s featured her talking about living as a black lesbian in the USA.

Sadly she didn’t record anything during this time so we’ve just got testimonials from people who knew her. (which is a downright shame as that ish sounds amazing!)

The birth of ‘Jackie Moms Mabley’

The character of Jackie ‘Moms’ Mabley was developed early in her career. The dirty talking old lady with a penchant for younger men was based on her much loved Grandmother.

Loretta portrayed Moms while being a younger lady, by hiding behind huge floral dresses, bad grey wigs and big floppy hats.

She struck gold with Moms! Audiences LOVED this dirty granny, which meant she could get away with using blue language and chatting about all sorts… cause she’s just a harmless old lady right?

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The OG Dirty Granny. 

Also as if that wasn’t great enough Loretta got the nickname Moms from fellow performers because she was such a loving and friendly lady.

Here’s some of our fave Moms one liners.

  • “Only time you see me with my arms around some old man… I’m holding him for the police.”
  • “My husband was so ugly, he used to stand outside the doctor’s office and make people sick.”
  • “There ain’t nothin’ an old man can do for me but bring me a message from a young one… I’d rather pay a young man’s fare to California than tell an old man the distance.”
  • “It’s no disgrace to be old. But damn if it isn’t inconvenient.”
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All the lolz 😂

Moms gained popularity with mainstream audiences in the 1960s when her career took off in television.

She appeared on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and later The Ed Sullivan Show and also appeared in a handful of films throughout her career.

Her last starring role was in Amazing Grace, which she completed AFTER having a heart attack!!!

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My face when learning that… She’s badass

Moms finally started recording comedy shows during the 1960s and completed around 20 in her lifetime.

They are all hilarious and you should listen to clips of them on YouTube. We recommend her bra shopping joke.

Moms paved the way for future generations of stand up, her influence was far reaching even though she didn’t get the recognition she deserved during her lifetime.

She was the first popular female stand up EVER! so every self-identifying female comedian owes her a serious debt of gratitude. She showed the world that women are fucking hilarious.

That was great, where can I learn more? Whoopi Goldberg also produced a cracking documentary on Loretta in 2014 Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

Pride: Get to Grips With Some Bona Gay Slang

It’s the third and final article on our Pride series (don’t worry there’ll still be plenty more on LGBTQ history to come!!!!)

Now being gay used to be illegal so a secret language developed that helped all the queers identify each other in a public space without fear of being arrested or having the shite beaten out of you by police.

That secret language was called Polari….lets dive straight in

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Get excited bitches! Via Giphy

Polaris origins are a mish mash of Italian, Cockney rhyming slang, Romany and Yiddish. It started developed within the fairground, seafaring and theatrical communities in the 30s and 40s before being adopted by gay men in the 50s and 60s as a way of socially identifying each other.

If you saw a sexy geezer in your local drinking hole all you had to do was slide over to him and drop a bit of Polari to see if he was also a ‘friend of Dorothy’ For example:

‘Ello dish, nice basket you’ve got for me.’

This translates as: ‘Hello sexy, I like the bulge in your trousers!’

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She knows… Via Giphy

If he was into it he’d probably ask if you were looking for trade… ie THE SEX!

It sounds gloriously camp and theatrical (because it was) and was very much a part of the working class gay haunts in London.

Gay men embraced and played up to the theatricality of the language, both protecting themselves and expressing themselves with a way of communicating that was just for them.

It was popularised in mainstream culture by two comic characters Julian And Sandy in the popular radio sketch show Round The Horne.

Played by Kenneth Williams (him off all the Carry Ons) on and Hugh Paddick. They’d revel in salacious gossiping with the straight man host Kenneth Horne.

SANDY: “Don’t mention Málaga to Julian, he got very badly stung.”

HORNE: “Portuguese man o’ war?”

JULIAN: “Well I never saw him in uniform…”

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Ba-dum tish! Via Giphy

It died out in the 70’s after the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967. Also gay men had to remind everyone else that not all of them were theatrical and camp queens. It is not ONE SIZE FITS ALL or rather one stereotype fits all, so Polari fell out of favour.

So many gay slang terms still used (not always in a good way) come from Polari, like camp, mince, drag, butch (applied to masculine lesbians) and cottaging.

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Yes we are!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Via Giphy

Want to have a go? Here’s some choice words for you to try out. Give us your best Polari!

Basket – The bulge in a dudes trousers.

Bold – Daring

Bona – Good

Buns – Bum

Butch – masculine

Camp – Effeminate

Chicken – A Young Man

Dolly – Pretty

Dish – A sexy man

Eek – Face

Fantabulosa – Wonderful

Fruit – An older gay gentleman

Naff – Not available for fucking

Omi – Man

Omipolone – A camp gay man

Polone – a lady

Riah – Hair

Slap – Makeup

Trade – SEX

Troll – Walking

Vada – To look at

So to use a classic Julian & Sandy line:

‘How nice to vada your dolly old eek’

would basically be ‘Nice to see your pretty face!’

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🏳️‍🌈 Via Giphy

This was interesting, where can I find out more? 

This brilliant short film, set in the 1960’s shows us two men having a conversation in Polari https://youtu.be/Y8yEH8TZUsk

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

The Baddest Bitch of Stonewall

Marsha P Johnson was a fucking badass. A badass with a big heart, a creative sense of style and a fearless attitude. She was a veteran of the Stonewall riots in the late 60’s, she campaigned for Queer rights and set up a charity to help disadvantaged Queer youth.

The influence Marsha and other trans women of colour had on bringing Queer rights into the mainstream as well as the creation of Pride, protests and change in laws is often ignored or whitewashed by mainstream culture.

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Marsha never missed a protest 💪🏿

Marsha was a child of poverty, she grew up in a rough neighbourhood and moved to New York City from New Jersey when she was 18. Once in New York she legally changed her name to Marsha and started getting the reputation as being the Queen with a big heart.

She was often homeless, hustled to make money (as many trans women had to) and was always getting picked up by police.

The thing I love most about Marsha is her creativity. She was a street queen who could turn any junk into treasure, she was known to put christmas tree lights in her hair and use bits and pieces she found in the trash to make her outfits.

If someone complimented her outfit she was inclined to give it to them. That’s just how she was.

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Our babe Marsha 🙌🏿 Via Giphy

Marsha was at the Stonewall Inn Celebrating her birthday with friends when police raided the bar at 1.40am. The police treated the Queer community like shit and were constantly raiding and arresting people in some of the only available safe spaces they had. So tensions were already high.

Marsha fought back against the police that night and threw a shot glass into a mirror stating she knew her rights thus instigating the riots and protests against their treatment by police that lasted THREE FUCKING DAYS! This became known as the:

‘Shotglass heard around the world’

You don’t come to fuck up Marsha’s party and leave without an ass kicking.

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Damn right bitch! Via Giphy

After the riots Marsha and her friend Sylvia Rivera (another trans activist) founded STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) and they used every penny they had to set up a halfway house for runaway LGBT youth.

Seriously EVERYTHING they made went on clothing and food for the ‘children’ they supported. They were utterly selfless.

They were still often homeless and went without themselves to help their kids. Marsha became known as the ‘Queen Mother’ of the house.

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My kinda Queen Mother 👑

Marsha and Sylvia are heroes and should be lauded as such right? But during one of the first gay pride marches in New York, Sylvia took to the stage to make a speech AND THE AUDIENCE TRIED TO BOO HER OFF THE STAGE!

No, I don’t see the logic her either… but Sylvia wasn’t going to just walk off stage. Bitch turned that crowd around and by the end was leading a mammoth chant of

 ‘GAY POWER!’

Marsha was also often dismissed by other gay rights activists at the time because of her appearance and ‘kooky’ demeanor. She struggled with mental health issues and was in and out of prisons and mental health facilities throughout her life.

Once when she was in court a judge asked her what the P stood for and she replied

‘Pay it no mind.’

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Same. Via Giphy

LEGEND! The judge totally let her off.

Marsha had a varied and incredible life despite her shitty living conditions.

In 1975 Marsha was photographed by Andy Warhol for his Ladies and Gentlemen series. He painted a beautiful picture of Marsha that captured her essence perfectly, our girl looks fucking radiant!

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Marsha and her Warhol portrait.

As if that wasn’t cool enough she started performing in the mid 70’s with Hot Peaches an experimental queer cabaret group.

She was super popular with the audiences and loved being on the stage. She played up to being tone deaf so screamed rather than sang her numbers, AND EVERYONE LOVED IT!

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Marsha scream/singing. Via Giphy

Now, guys I’m really sorry but… Marsha’s story has a really shitty ending.

She was found dead in the Hudson River not long after the 1992 New York Pride march. The death was dismissed as a suicide by the police, but her friends were adamant that there had been foul play.

There’d been sightings of Marsha being harassed in the street the night she went missing. But hey, she was black, gay and trans so they didn’t give a toss.

Marsha’s case was finally reopened in 2012 which was 20 WHOLE YEARS after her death thanks to a campaign by transgender activist Mariah Lopez (another total badass, who opened the first transgender housing unit for Rikers Island, the largest American Prison in 2014.)

Marsha’s funeral had hundreds of mourners and they threw her ashes in the river along with bunches of bright flowers. She was known for having flowers in her hair, so this gesture gets us right in the feels.

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😭 Via Giphy

Her friend Sylvia was bereft without Marsha, but this bitch was tough. She carried on campaigning and helping disadvantaged LGBT youth until her death from liver cancer in 2002.

We love Marsha, she was an incredible woman who was full of life and love for everyone. We could all do with being a bit more like her tbh.

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Beautiful Marsha. Via Giphy

This was really interesting! Where can I find out more? The documentary Pay it No Mind: The Life and Times of Marsha P Johnson is on Youtube and it is much watch stuff!!

But please, we beg you… DO NOT USE THE HOLLYWOOD FILM, AS A REFERENCE! The film, Stonewall, is a whitewashed steaming turd of a mess (obvs our opinion, but…)

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

The Baddest Queer Bitches in History

It’s Pride Season and we’ve already started planning our outfit for London & Brighton Pride (hint… RAINBOW-LEOPARD PRINT-GLITTER) SO lets celebrate everything LGBTQ+! To kick things off here are some of our favourite queer ladies.

Sappho

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Sappho with Erena – Simeon Solomon

You cannot start a list about history’s greatest queers without mentioning Sappho. She was a Greek poet who lived on the Island of Lesbos (sign me up) around 615 B.C. Sappho wrote about her love for many a woman and was one of the highest regarded poets of her lifetime.

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Sorry,…Mrs Fancy Pants         Via Giphy

Plato called her ‘The Tenth Muse’ which was a massive compliment at the time. The other nine muses were the Greek Goddesses of Art & Science; so he thought Sappho was a pretty big deal.

There’s an argument between historian’s as to if Sappho did have relationships with women or if her poetry was just about her dearest ‘gal pals’. Only fragments of her poems survive and since she lived a really fecking long time ago we can’t ask her.

Personally I think her poems evoke a deep sense of love and sexual longing for her female subjects that goes way beyond the ‘female admiration’ lots of male historians like to think Sappho had for platonic pals.

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Presented without comment… Via Giphy

See what you think for yourself. Here’s an extract from Sappho 94 translated by Julia Dubnoff:

“For by my side you put on

many wreaths of roses

and garlands of flowers

around your soft neck.

And with precious and royal perfume

you anointed yourself.

On soft beds you satisfied your passion.”

……HELLA GAY!

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So so so gay.

Later history mocked and destroyed her work. It was denounced by the church and was ridiculed by poets and playwrights who wrote her off as a sexual deviant or a tragic character. But finally our girl is getting her rep back!

Sappho is the mother of lesbians and her influence cannot be argued with.

Mabel Hampton

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Mabel was a staunch activist and LGBT+ historian, she was instrumental in recording and preserving queer history, especially the experience of living as a gay, black woman in America during periods of huge upheaval.

Hell… Mabel IS the reason we know so much now. The Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York are full to the brim thanks to Mabel. She was a bit of a hoarder.

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Yikes! Via Giphy

She had a pretty tragic upbringing, her Mum died not long after giving birth to her and her Grandmother followed a few years later. She was raised by an abusive Aunt & Uncle before deciding ‘Fuck this, I’ve had enough’

She moved to Harlem and worked as a dancer during the Harlem Renaissance (see our blog post on this INCREDIBLE movement.) And she was a regular at Harlem drag balls; an early celebration of queer black identities during the roaring 20’s.

She left showbiz and started work as a cleaning lady. When asked why she left behind the glitz and glamour she famously answered

‘Because I like to eat.’

I have never related to a statement this hard.

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Fo realzies. Via Giphy

Mabel publicly declared herself as a lesbian during a time when being black alone made you heavily persecuted, but gay too?! THE LADY WAS BRAVE!

She met her partner Lillian Foster at a bus stop in 1932 describing her as: dressed like a duchess’. They were together until Foster’s death in 1978. Serious relationship goals.

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Mabel and Lillian spent their lives documenting their experiences as a lesbian couple. They helped set up the Lesbian Herstory Archives and Mabel & Lillian donated hundreds of newspaper clippings, gay books, photographs and other paraphernalia to the archives.

Mabel gave a speech at the New York Pride Parade in 1984 stating to the crowds

‘I, Mabel Hampton, have been a lesbian all my life, for 82 years, and I am proud of my people. I would like all my people to be free in this country and all over the world, my gay people and my black people.’

She was incredible. We were lucky to have her.

Anne Lister

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Possibly our fave on this list, Anne (born in 1791) was seriously rich…like MTV Cribs level minted. Her family owned a bunch of land in Halifax, West Yorkshire and they were desperate to marry her off to some rich oik to keep that money rolling in. ANNE WAS HAVING NONE OF IT!

She inherited fancy country house Shibden Hall from her uncle, immediately built herself a posh new library and decided to live openly with another super rich babe Ann Walker. She’s lucky Ann came along when she did because the money was running out at that point.

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Via Giphy

She was known locally as ‘Gentleman Jack’ for the way she dressed in male clothing. She tended to wear sensible black jakets, with no frilly business. Our girl was a Georgian butch. She kept coded diaries which tell us pretty plainly that Anne was very definitely a lesbian.

‘I love & only love the fairer sex & thus beloved by them in turn, my heart revolts from any other love than theirs.’

Her diaries were coded, she thought we’d never crack it, but thank feck we did because these diaries are SO JUICY! Anne had mad game and went through a lot of high societies ladies.

Here are some of our fave snippets

‘But I mean to amend at five & thirty & retire with credit. I shall have a good fling before then. Four years. And in the meantime I shall make my avenae communes, my wild oats common. I shall domiciliate then.’

So she wanted life to be like a big gay 18-30 holiday. Can’t argue with that.

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Same. Via Giphy

‘I begin to despair that M- & I will ever get together. Besides I sometimes fancy she will be worn out in the don’s service & perhaps I may do better.’

M was Mariana Lawton, who was the love of Anne’s life. She married a rich old dude, which devastated Anne as she wanted to live with M as her partner. Their affair carried on for a while after the marriage, but it fizzled out a few years later.

Much of the info we have on Anne’s diaries is from Helena Whitbread, another incredible woman working to preserve lesbian history. THANK YOU HELENA!

Marlene Dietrich

Dietrich!!

Marlene is one of my favourite old Hollywood starlets. This German had a mind like a razor and cheekbones to match, plus she looked fucking amazing in a suit.

She made androgynous dress sexy and alluring. Up till this time most women dressing as drag kings was done very much for laughs or in the sanctity of queer spaces underground. Marlene brought it to the mainstream.

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YASSSSSSSS BISSSSSSSSH!         Via Giphy

Dietrich was a German silent film actor in the 20’s before moving into talkies and raking it in with her ‘exotic’ looks and fabulous accent. During this time period the gay scene in Berlin was happening, hip, where it’s at etc.

Marlene bloody loved a drag ball, as she was openly bisexual, and could frolic with all the young ladies she could get her hands on. At these parties she learnt how to rock the fuck out of a three piece suit.

In the late 20’s/early 30’s she got her big break in Hollywood films where she usually played a sexy cabaret singer of some kind. In one of her most famous films, Morocco, (where she plays a sexy cabaret singer) Marlene dresses in a fancy very masculine top hat and tails suit (PHWOR!) during one of her numbers and at the end sneaks in a kiss with a young lady! SCANDAL!

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She kissed a girl AND she liked it. Via Giphy

She just about got away with it because American’s assume us Europeans are a passionate and sexually charged lot.

This theme of taking on masculine traits was something she embraced with gusto, training as a boxer in a sweaty gym in Berlin owned by a Turkish prizefighter. She enjoyed boxing and followed the sport throughout her life.

Marlene was known to have a network of Hollywood starlets she had affairs with, she referenced this overlapping group as Marlene’s Sewing Circle. I’m going to sew this onto my biker jacket right now.

Later in life she said some stupid shit (women’s lib was ‘penis envy’…) so she’s a pretty problematic favourite. But she was a real pioneer. Drag Kings and androgens owe her a debt of thanks.

Billie Holiday

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The Lady of the Blues is one of the most recognisable voices in the world. Billie had a tragic and abusive upbringing after which she then spent most of her adult life battling a serious addiction to drugs and alcohol.

Billie had relationships with many women but her most well known was with actress Tallulah Bankhead. It was a volatile relationship which was always on again, then off again, THEN ON. We’ve all been there.

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PREACH! Via Giphy

While Tallulah was starring in Noel Coward’s Private Lives on Broadway Billie had a contract singing in New York’s Strand Theatre. Tallulah would sneak in and watch Billie performing after her show finished. That’s sweet innit?

However the breakup went bad. Billie was arrested for opium possession and Bankhurst bailed her out, then got her into therapy. They parted ways soon afterwards, but things did not stay civil.

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Stay down bitch! Via Giphy

Billie was working on her memoirs, which included mentioning her friendship with Bankhead, but Talullah maintained she’d never even met Holiday (despite lots of evidence to the contrary) and she sent a letter to Billie’s publishers threatening to sue unless she was taken out of it.

Billie sent back an amazingly shitty letter to Bankhead reminding her that she had people around who could back up her story and she wrote-

‘And if you want to get shitty, we can make it a big shitty party. We can all get funky together!’

Mic drop. Holiday out.

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BOOOOOOOOM! Via Giphy

So that’s some of our fave historical queer ladies.

We’ll be doing more posts on LGBTQ+ history during Pride season, we’ve got Marsha P Johnson & the Stonewall riots up next week!

Who do you want us to write about?!

Answers on a post card…or in the comments.

Alternatively gives us a shout on the F Yeah History Twitter and Facebook 


Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

5 Drag Queens who changed herstory

Ru-Pauls Drag Race is taking over mainstream entertainment and drag is now hotter than ever. But before Ru there were these 5 Queens that changed herstory forever:

The library is open!
For knowledge…and maybe some reading

Empress Jose I

Jose Julio Sarria served in the military during the Second World. Though officially a too short to serve (standing at just five feet) Jose was desperate to sign up following Pearl Harbour; later claiming that the army overlooked his stature after he seduced a recruiting officer.

Jose Julio Sarria
To be fair, boy is a bae

Once home and discharged Jose started training to be a teacher; but as an out man in the 1950s this was -to be blunt- a fucking impossible profession to break into.

Still he persisted, earning tuition by waiting tables at San Franciscos Black Cat bar (described by Allen Ginsberg as the best gay club in the world-so you know it’s good) Jose caught the eye of authorities and in the mid 50’s was bought in on trumped up charges of solicitation. Now essentially unemployable, his dreams of teaching were in tatters.

But instead of heading back into the closet, Jose turned to drag. Learning the art from some of the Black Cats existing artists and rising to become The Black Cats headliner as Empress Jose l. He used his run in with the law as inspiration, performing his own take on the opera Carmen, which saw him run around the club fleeing the vice squad.

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Don’t pretend you wouldn’t die to see that via giphy

But satire wasn’t enough for Jose. Just like Jose had been, gay men in San Francisco were frequently arrested for solitician, gay clubs were shaken down for cash and drag queens arrested and accused of ‘intent to deceive’.

So Jose took action, he helped support those arrested fight their cases in court, led The Black Cats patrons to the jail to serenade those locked within and came up with badges that said ‘I’m a boy’ to stop harassment of other drag artists.

But this still wasn’t enough. Jose knew that San Francisco didn’t grant his community the dignity they did other citizens, and he couldn’t let that lie. So in 1961 he borrowed a friends suit and ran for San Franciscos governing body. The first openly gay person anywhere in the world to run for elected office.

United We Stand, Divided They’ll Catch Us One by One

Under this slogan Jose bought together San Franciscos LGBTQ community, urging them to fight for their place in society.

Jose lost. But the message was clear; San Francusicos authorities could no longer ignore the LGBTQ community. They had stood up, been counted and shown how powerful they were.

Bert Savoy

Bert Savoy was the Godfather of camp. A Queen whose act played on sexuality and a healthy dose of innuendo, he wouldn’t be too out of place in today’s drag landscape.

Bert Savoy
He also looks like the most fun!

In the early 20th century female impersonation was part and parcel of the popular vaudeville scene. Drag acts such as Julian Eltinge wowed audience with acts that were elegant, fashionable and feminine. When drag was humorous it tended to be based around the premise of a man who had somehow been forced/ended up dressed as a woman (as you do).

But Bert Savoy was different; he walked on stage a drag queen without the need for plot or premise, performing bawdy, brash and colourful comedy routines. Bert Savoy 2

Soon Berts’ uniqueness (nerve and talent) got him to Broadway. In 1918 he appeared as part of the renowned Ziegfeld Follies, performing alongside straight man Jay Brennan. Bertie honed the art of high camp on stage as a redhead (sadly unnamed) Queen, shocking Brennan with stories of her debuchery sodden life.

That other infamous innuendo lover, Mae West, drew much of her inspiration from Bertie. With her iconic ‘come up and see me sometime’ drawn directly from Bertie’s catchphrase ‘you must come over’. 

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Via Giphy

Sadly before Bert could bring his groundbreaking campery to the silver screen and film the Mae West Bert Savoy team up that would have completed all our lives – he came to a dramatic end. dun dun dun!.gif

In the summer of 1923 Bert took a walk along Long Beach with several other Vaudeville stars. A sudden storm rolled in and as rain started to pour Bert turned to the others, hand on hip he struck a pose and said:

Well, ain’t Miss God cuttin’ up somethin’ fierce?

Upon which he was immediately struck by lightening. And that was the end of Bert Savoy

Danny La Rue

Years after Bertie Savoy was bringing a new type of drag to the Broadway stage, in England & Ireland Danny La Rue was quite literally dragging the art out of pubs and clubs and into Londons West End as well as small screens across the country. Danny La Rue

The first drag artist to perform for the royal family, La Rue bought drag into mainstream British entertainment. Known for appearing on stage in high glamour before turning to the audience and letting out a gruff ‘wotcha mates’, he mixed glitz and comedy with winning charisma.

He elevated drag from something that was seen as a seedy music hall throwback to something everyone could enjoy. When Prince Philip (who else…) asked La Rue if he really dressed as a woman for money, La Rue shot back that getting paid was the fashion now.

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La Rue in the title role of a production of Hello Dolly

A canny business man La Re had built an empire around himself before the end of the 1960s. With a string of smash hit West End shows, was a regular on TV and ran his own club in London where he infamously fought off a punter who got a bit to handsy with Barbara Windsor, saying ‘don’t let the wig fool ya’ before punching the scoundrel out.
-side note for my American readers: Barbara Windsor is a British national treasure, though I can’t really put my finger on why, so your just going to have trust me on this one’

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La Rue performing in his club

As well as serving as inspiration for the likes of Boy George and Lily Savage, La Rue was also one of the first out figures in the U.K. entertainment industry. Living with his partner of 40 years Jack Hanson – an ex marine turned La Rues manager – for decades before Hansons death.

La Rue then had several short affairs before his ‘companion’ Wayne King died of AIDS, an issue La Rue spoke out about; raising countless funds for aids charities and earning an OBE from the Queen (a huge fan, even if Prince Philip didn’t quite get it)

Divine

‘Cross-dresser walks along a street. Bends down, picks up freshly laid dog turd. Eats it.’

And enter Divine

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Find me a better entrance, I dare you. via giphy

Having experienced years of bullying Divine (born Harris Glenn Milstead) finally found a home with John Waters and his band of filmmaking misfits.

With the aim of shocking the love generation Divine and Waters teamed up to make some of the provocative and rebellious films of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, with works like Hairspray and Pink Flamingoes still standing up as must see classics (for reals though, if you haven’t seen a Divine film stop what your doing right now and go better yourself)Divine, Pink Flamingoes

An outcast even with the gay community, Harris channeled everything he experienced into Divine. Having grown up wanting to be a film star like Elizabeth Taylor, Harris flipped the Hollywood dream onto its head, creating the antsiphis of the beauty that graced film and drag stage alike and birthing something extreme, fun and troubling all at the same time.

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via giphy

With comedic timing and slapstick skills for days Divine quickly became an icon on film. She broke every drag rule. Wearing figure hugging clothes at 300 pounds? Check. Wielding a chainsaw at punters? Check. Bending the rules of feminine make up? Check check check (her trademark eyebrows can still be seen in every drag club)

Divine created the cutting edge and made it clear that for a Queen to break the mainstream she needed to be her own firebrand.

Mother Flawless Sabrina

Born in south Philadelphia in 1940, Jack Doroshow would be arrested over 100 times for cross dressing and go onto become Andy Warhols’ muse, a film star and a pioneer for LGBTQ rights under the moniker of Mother Flaweless Sabrina, or simply, The Queen. Flawless Sabrina .jpg

In 1958 – before Drag was legal – Sabrina started a drag beauty pageant, The Nationals (I will add here that Sabrina was 19. thats right. 19. Please take a moment to remember what you were doing at 19…I’m guessing it wasn’t anything this badass.

Sabrina set up The National Academy, a traveling drag pageant offering many newbie queens (including Divine) a chance to step on stage for the first time. There were 46 shows across America each year between 1958-1969, with Sabrina managing a staff of over 100 to pull off such a huge undertaking (making Sabrina quite possibly the largest LGBTQ employer of the 60s) Mother Flawless Sabrina

The impact that the National Academy had cannot be understated, whilst drag had performance spaces, these were the first performances for Queens by Queens. Sabrina ensured that where possible proceeds from shows were donated into local LGBTQ communities. In 1968 the More than all of this though, Sabrina provided an environment for people to find their place within their community

“Kermit says it’s not easy being green. Well, being a queen is flawless.”

So those are just 5 of the Queens that changed herstory forever. The question now is, which Queen will be the next game changer?

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