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Historic plaque to be changed after complaints it erased lesbian sexuality

Historic plaque to be changed after complaints it erased lesbian sexuality

The plaque to Anne Lister was unveiled in July

A blue plaque commemorating Anne Lister is to be changed following complaints. The plaque was unveiled in the city of York, northern England, in July.

Blue plaques mark places of historic interest in the UK. They typically highlight where famous or influential people once lived or worked. This was the first blue plaque to also feature a rainbow upon it. Many regard Lister as ‘the first modern lesbian’.

The plaque graces Goodramgate at the Holy Trinity Church, York. At this site, Lister received communion with her girlfriend after exchanging rings with one another at home. York LGBT History Month and York Civic Trust collaborated on the plaque.

Diarist Anne Lister

A wealthy, rural gentlewoman, Anne Lister was born in Halifax, West Yorkshire, in 1791. She is famous for her coded diaries which reveal something of her life as a lesbian in Victorian England. She was also a keen mountaineer.

A portrait of Anne Lister
Anne Lister (Image: Calderdale Museums)

The plaque states: ‘Anne Lister, 1791-1840. Gender non-conforming entrepreneur. Celebrated marital commitment, without legal recognition, to Anne Walker in this church, Easter 1834.’

However, since its unveiling, there have been complaints that the plaque does Lister a disservice.

Some believe labelling her simply as ‘gender non-conforming’, erases her sexuality.

‘She was also however, a lesbian’

A petition urging the plaque to be changed has received over 2,500 signatures.

The petition’s founder, Julie Furlong, says: ‘A gender nonconforming woman can be many things because it only means that you do not conform to societal expectations. It has nothing to do with sexuality.

‘Anne Lister was, most definitely, gender non conforming all her life. She was also however, a lesbian.’

Now, it’s been announced the plaque will be changed.

York Civic Trust says it has made a joint decision with the Churches Conservation Trust, York LGBT Forum and York LGBT History Month.

A spokesperson said, ‘The plaque is intended to be a positive celebration of the union of Anne Lister and Ann Walker, and this remains the case. The last thing we wanted to do was to cause offence or upset to any community.’

Kit Heyam, a former committee member of York LGBT History Month, told The Guardian: ‘I am really, really pleased that we’ve got a permanent plaque to Anne Lister in York. It’s incredibly important to have visible memorials to LGBT people.

‘It is clear that we made a mistake with the wording. It was made with absolutely the best of intentions, but it is clear that we made a mistake by not consulting on the final wording before casting the plaque.’

A consultation on the new wording will now take place. The amended plaque will be unveiled in Spring 2019.

See also

10 notable queer women in UK history that you should know about

The gay man who bombed a building and deserves to be celebrated as a hero