The untold stories of queer life in Britain from 45 years ago

BY SOPHIE GRIFFITHS

As a helpline for anyone who wants to talk about gender identity and sexuality, Switchboard has been hearing from and helping queer people since 1974. Their newest venture comes in the form of a podcast and it’s a great way of learning all about the LGBTQI folk who came before us.

The Log Books is a fresh glimpse into the past of queer life in Britain. Each episode of this stirring podcast centres around log book entries made by the volunteers who staffed the phones from Switchboard’s first day.

The producers behind the podcast, Adam Smith, Natasha Walker and Shivani Dave, believe that it is not only important to remember our history, but also to consider it in light of issues affecting us all today.

Stories on the podcast range from police entrapping gay men meeting for sex in toilets to women losing custody of their children for being lesbians.

We chatted to trustee of Switchboard and co-host of the podcast, Natasha Walker to find out more about this brilliant new exploration of queer history. 🌈

DIVA: How did the idea for the podcast come about? 

NATASHA WALKER: Over the last couple of years, I’ve spent time working on and cataloguing Switchboard’s Archive, which is now held at Bishopsgate Institute and includes our log books from 1974 to 2003. Earlier this year as part of LGBT History Month, I presented my findings across the UK and at one of the talks was Adam Smith. He came up to me at the end of the talk and was so blown away by this resource, just like I was, and he pretty much said, “We should make a podcast”. We then got Shivani on board as another producer and we got to work.

Adam Smith, Shivani Dave, Tash Walker, producers of The Log Books – photo by Imogen Forte

What LGBTQI issues does the podcast cover?

The issues we highlight across the podcast are numerous, but each episode focuses on a particular theme, which we drew from the log book entries we found in the time period we are focusing on which is 1974 to 1982.  There are eight episodes in total, and the themes are as follows: 
– Home (runaways, finding somewhere to live, homelessness)
– Nightlife
– Sex
– Police
– Rights, Definitions and Identities
– Loneliness, Isolation and Mental Health
– Sexual Health (pre-HIV) and Trans Health

How important is it to you that the queer community of today is aware of our history? 

So important, and that’s exactly what we are trying to do with this podcast. Share the untold stories from Britain’s queer history, whilst reflecting where we are today in relation to the issues and themes discussed. We have a responsibility to share and educate people not only on Britain’s LGBTQIA+ history, but also the integral role that Switchboard plays in it: supporting and informing people from 1974 right up until today.

Are the topics that came up in The Log Books still relevant issues for today’s LGBTQI community?

At the end of each episode, we reflect back on the themes of that episode and speak to people about that in the context of today. If we look at the actual calls that Switchboard’s volunteers have taken since 1974, one type of call remains constant – calls for support. Throughout all the changes in legislation, changes in societal and cultural attitudes and indeed the changes within the LGBTQIA+ communities, the calls from people questioning their identity, with themes of shame, confusion and loneliness remain constant, right up to today.

Which episode/story did you find the most surprising/interesting? 

I honestly don’t think I have a favourite story or episode. The people we spoke to were so open, it was a true honour and privilege to to hear them and be able to share them through the podcast. They are all such incredible people with such resilience and I have so much respect for them all. The entries in the log books also range from the heartbreaking to the hilarious, with two particularly funny tales that came from previous volunteers – one about a double ended dildo and the other about a massive poster of a vagina unfurling on a bus. But you’ll have to listen to the podcast to hear those stories in full.

If you could go back to any point in queer history and change something, what would you change? 

I think this is an impossible question to answer as queer history is so vast, going back hundreds and thousands of years. It is also incredibly complex with each community within the LGBTQIA+ umbrella facing their own multifaceted and equally difficult challenges. I wouldn’t want to single one out from another. The fight for acceptance and equality is, as we know, still in progress, so the only queer history that I can change is the history we are making right now. That is why I believe, without question, that the LGBTQIA+ communities are strongest when we all stand together in that fight. 

How has the reaction been to the podcast so far? 

We’ve been completely overwhelmed by the response to the podcast and have received lovely messages of support and, more importantly, agreement that these stories should be shared. Stories of people who have lived through the time period we are looking at, experiences of being LGBTQI+ in the 70s and 80s and the integral role of Switchboard in Britain’s Queer History. 

The Log Books Podcast is available wherever you get your podcasts – Apple, Spotify, you name it! Make sure you give it a listen here and subscribe:

Also, be sure to keep up with the wonderful work of Switchboard who are always there with advice and support for the LGBTQI community. ❤️

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