Kit Lashmar is an Exeter University History student who volunteered with Queer Kernow for a university work placement. They assisted our Director, Sophie, in cataloguing all 150 issues of the Outback collection.

When thinking about Queer history, most people’s minds jump immediately to the memories of how we suffered at the hands of governments and people who hated us for our very existence – the AIDS crisis, Stonewall – or they remember the ‘triumphs’ that have been those same governments and people allowing us some of the most basic rights; the right to marry, the right to medical help, the right to be ourselves on our private property without the fear of police bursting in, even the right to adopt. Basic things that we would never have had to fight for if we were straight, cis, ‘normal.’ When thinking about Queer history, people never think of those Queer people just living their lives, trying to find each other in an oppressive world and enjoy spending time with those who understand.

This is part of why the Outback magazine research is so important. It recontextualises those stories of oppressed people struggling and dying into stories of people living under oppressive laws and yet still making the best of their lives. It shows Queer people in history living and loving and existing outside of riots and fights. It reminds us that we are not all the ones to throw the first brick at Stonewall, sometimes we are just people trying to get by, the same as anyone else.

Of course, there are reasons that we don’t see ourselves portrayed in this light, don’t see ourselves as people in history, instead of political figures. Much of this is down to Margaret Thatcher’s Section 28, a legislation passed in 1988 that prohibited the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ by local authorities, including schoolteachers, and very much banned any form of Queer history being taught in schools or published in books to be put in local libraries. In the United Kingdom, Section 28 was one of the most destructive things to happen to Queer history, and unfortunately, we can see it being echoed today in America with Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill, as it is being colloquially known, banning any classroom discussions about gender identity or sexual orientation that are not ‘age appropriate’. It also seems to be banning any books that could be seen as one that could spark any discussions around gender or sexual orientation – an unfortunately similar effect to Thatcher’s legislation.

 So, Outback is important, not only because it gives us this insight into ‘normal’ Queer lives, but also because it is notably a successful way of getting around Section 28. It was started in 1996, at a time when Section 28 was still very much in effect but started by a group that were not local authorities, or anything of the sort, simply a group of Cornish Lesbians to connect with their community and bring more people in, prevent others from feeling alone in a world that was poised against them. For context, ‘being’ homosexual – or the act of homosexuality – was illegal still in the majority of countries across the world and punishable by death in a considerable number of those, only having been officially decriminalised in the UK in 1967, only 30 years earlier and likely within living memory for some of those who read or contributed to the magazine. The AIDS crisis was still very much a huge thing for those within the Queer community, and it is discussed at length, certainly in the earlier issues although it is mentioned less in the later ones, giving an insight into when it stopped being such a giant, overwhelming problem. 

Many notable world events took place while the magazine was in circulation, (twelve years until 2008) among them 9/11, Princess Diana’s death, the financial crisis of 2007-2008, and even my own birth, but not the legalisation of gay marriage in the UK, which did not take place until 2014 and is within living memory for much of the younger generation. The Outback magazine regularly addresses three alternate forms of marriage for the community: commitment ceremonies, civil partnerships, and the – of the relationship. Civil partnership was the closest a same sex couple could get to being legally married, but there were still issues with that and having those relationships acknowledged, as is mentioned in our interview with some of those involved in creating Outback.

Different issues address different forms of homophobia faced by the Cornish Queer community and the wider community, including the fight in parliament to lower the age of consent to be the same as heterosexual sex, but it is not all doom and gloom. Often, there are reviews of lesbian media, such as Xena, Warrior Princess and BTVS, and the coming out of real-life celebrities, including Ellen DeGeneres, in between reports on what the Stonewall Organisation is doing currently and activities organised by lesbians in and around Cornwall – their sense of community really stood out to me as I read through the issues, in some cases it could be argued that they had a greater sense of community than we have today!

It is difficult to find any articles or papers – or really anything – on what LGBT life was like in Cornwall during this period, so we hope that the inclusion of Outback in Kresen Kernow’s archives might spark more specific discussions and research. 

  • Written by Kit Lashmar, an intern with Queer Kernow.