Lisa Power has been an LGBTQ+ campaigner for over four decades. She is also a trustee and supporter of Queer Britain, the first LGBTQ+ museum in the UK.
2022 marks the 50th anniversary
of Pride in London.
It is also a LGBTQ+ global movement
that takes place every year
in many countries around the world.
Over the last 5 decades,
every battle for the rights
of LGBTQ+ communities
has been fought in the
court of public opinion
as well as in the corridors of government.
Lisa Power is one of the most influential
LGBTQ activists and campaigners in the UK.
She was one of the creators
and founding members of Stonewall,
the social justice and equality group.
Direct Talk met her to find out
why Queer Britain
the first LGBTQ+ museum in the UK
which opened in May 2022,
is so important.
And why she is proud to be
a supporter and a trustee.
I very much believe in that old mantra
about the personal being political,
so a lot of what I campaign round is stuff
that very much relates to my personal life,
and I think it's important to do that.
You know, I'm a lesbian
so I care about LGBT concerns.
One of the fascinating aspects
of Queer Britain
is it really feels like an idea
whose time has come.
We found that we were pushing at open doors.
There had been the start of
a museums movement to actually
acknowledge the amount of lesbian, gay,
bi, and trans history that was in museums,
so coming along and saying
and let's have a museum
for all of the stories
that aren't yet being celebrated.
We have pushed at an open door
within the museums world,
but we've also pushed at an open door
within, the gay world,
because many people from the
first generation of activists are now older,
some people have already died,
we are aware of the need
to preserve our history
n a way that we haven't been before,
so I think we've absolutely
hit the zeitgeist.
In the half-century since criminalisation of
male homosexuality was partly repealed,
Britain's LGBTQ+ communities have made many
contributions to British culture and society,
often while faced with tremendous adversity.
Queer Britain is a showcase of
photographs and memorabilia
to remind people of how
LGBTQ+ rights were achieved.
It is also a dedicated space to celebrate
key figures from history who paved the way,
such as Oscar Wilde.
The thing that makes me cry
is the cell door for Oscar Wilde's cell,
Oscar Wilde being a famous writer
from the UK,
who was imprisoned for homosexuality
in the 19th century.
Somebody realised that Oscar Wilde's
cell door was there and they saved it.
And for me that's the amazing thing,
Queer Britain is full of things
that ordinary people, most of them queer,
looked at and thought,
I need to hold onto that.
This is obviously the absolute treasure
and it has enormous emotional impact
on people as they come in.
But many of the badges, the posters,
things scattered around here,
are things that really meant something
to somebody so they held onto it,
but now they've given is
so that everybody can understand
what we lived through, our history.
There are lots of things in the museum
that make me feel joyful.
One of them is
the wall of things that are actually
contributed by people who visit the museum
and we ask all of them,
why is it important to be visible,
why is it important for
LGBT+ people to be seen
and they all give their own answers.
It's wonderful to be seen.
It's powerful to be seen.
Can I use an Indian word?
It feels sanadara to be seen.
Being seen is powerful,
being seen is joyful.
A lot of young people go in and
they are just entranced by all the exhibits,
but also people bring their parents.
There are older gays there who go in
and you can see them saying,
I remember that.
It is the people that make it,
as well as the exhibits.
Lisa grew up in South London.
She knew from a young age
that she was a lesbian.
But during her childhood in the 70s,
it was difficult to be openly lesbian,
as it meant a woman,
had no rights as a mother
and could lose custody of children.
Even be sacked from jobs.
Well, I realised that
I liked other girls from very early on,
but I didn't have a name for it,
I didn't have anything to relate to.
We talk a lot these days about having
role models and icons and stuff like that,
well, you didn't have them in my day.
I was always aware of homosexuality
both male and female.
And I can't tell you why
but, in my youth,
there were a lot of oblique references.
And I remember, you know,
radio programmes that made jokes
which were obviously, had a gay subtext.
But there wasn't anything there to tell you,
this is who you might be.
In those days if you were a lesbian
and you had children,
they would be taken from you,
you really would not get custody.
There was an awful lot of injustice,
awful lot of persecution,
and awful lot of stigma.
But it didn't stop people
from being gay or lesbian,
it just stopped people from being happy,
and I didn't think that was right.
The museum reflects many of the events
that Lisa lived through
including the devastating epidemic of Aids
in the 1980s.
Lisa was one of the original people
to volunteer on the help lines
set up to help desperate young people
during that time.
A little while after I moved to London
I became a volunteer with
Gay Switchboard, as it was then,
we just call it Switchboard LGBT now,
we were getting calls
because we were a 24-hour-a-day,
for the gay community,
and so if people were worried about something
or they'd heard a rumour about something,
they would ring us up.
And for years
once we started to get information
and know what was going on,
we ended every call at Gay Switchboard
with just a little thing to everyone saying,
have you heard about AIDS?
We would talk to everybody
about safer sex,
about how you could or
could not transmit the virus,
about the stigma of AIDS
and trying to dispel the fears
that people had.
We spoke a lot to young gay men
who had just come out,
they were just finding community,
and they were terrified that
they were going to end their life early
and that went on for over a decade.
We didn't find effective treatment until 1996,
when triple combination therapy came in.
This cabinet is all about
the early years of AIDS,
HIV as we call it now that we have treatment
that can keep you alive.
But in the early days
the gay community was particularly hard hit
and this is a string of posters
and funeral services
and other paperwork,
all things that were there
because people were
dying on us every week.
And if you knew a lot of people
in the gay community
you lost quite a few people.
I actually don't know anybody
who volunteered on Switchboard
or in any HIV-related organization
in the 80s and the early 90s
who doesn't have some sort of
post-traumatic stress disorder,
and it's even worse if you were
one of the people who was living with HIV,
waiting to see if you were going to die.
As the Aids epidemic continued,
the demonising of gay people,
galvanised Lisa and her friends
into creating a professional lobbying group
that would prevent such attacks on
lesbians, gay and bi-sexual people.
In 1989, Lisa was one of
the founding members of Stonewall.
Today it's the largest
LGBTQ rights organisation in Europe.
The aims of the founders
was to abolish Section 28 -
a law that discriminated against homosexuals.
They demanded an extensive programme
of legislative goals,
based on the principle that
if heterosexual people had rights,
homosexuals should have the same.
One of the things on show here
is a piece of typed paper signed by
six gay men who had a rather boozy lunch
Ian McKellen's house on the Thames
and decided to type up a manifesto
to start a new organization.
When they'd done that they said,
"Oh, we'd better get some lesbians"
and that's where I came in.
Effectively, in the late 1980s
you already had a situation
where it was legal to sack us,
it was legal to take our kids away from us,
it was legal to refuse us goods and services.
There were huge prejudice,
huge amounts of violence against us,
and on top of that
the government turned round
and put a clause into some other legislation
which stopped local authorities from funding,
anything to do with lesbians and gay men.
And the idea was basically to drive us
all into the closet and to shut up
And instead, it had the opposite impact.
What we wanted was equality,
if straight people had a right,
then gay people should have a right.
Whether that was the same age of consent,
whether it was the right to be included
in equality legislation alongside
gender, ethnicity, and disability.
All these laws became changed
after Stonewall got stuck in.
We had no idea when we started Stonewall
how successful it would be.
One of the milestones in Lisa's life
was when Same Sex marriage was legalised
in the UK in 2014 by a Conservative government.
When we started Stonewall,
we barely talked about marriage equality
because it seemed so impossible,
it really did seem that was the most
unlikely thing that we could possibly get.
And yet when it happened,
I suddenly understood,
it's like a key that unlocked
a whole load of people's feelings
about us being the same as everyone else.
It's hugely symbolic,
and I now really understand why
we do need to fight for
marriage equality across the world.
And for a lot of people
the idea of being able to have a marriage,
a steady job,
and just get on with
an ordinary everyday life
is what they're aiming for,
and it's important that
we fight for people to have that right.
Lisa feels that there are
many battles still to be won
in terms of acceptance.
Transgender people are now
receiving a lot of hate crime,
the same way that gay people did
when she was young.
That in some respects,
progress is being lost.
People like to find an easy target,
and at the moment
trans people are an easy target.
People think they don't know anyone,
they don't really understand them,
just like they thought they didn't know
any gay people in the 80s,
because we were all keeping our mouths shut.
Now that's unacceptable
and I'm hoping that we learn
from the lessons of the 80s.
I think it's vital
that we are able to show the everyday
ordinary humanity of trans people
in the same way that
we eventually managed to show
the everyday ordinary humanity of lesbians
and gay men and bisexual people.
People do not transition
in order to have an easier life.
They transition because they must,
just as it never occurred to me
not to be a lesbian.
You can say no,
but you will explode eventually
and the longer you leave it
the more miserable you will get.
Around the world LGBTQ+ people
in many countries
are still living in fear.
And Lisa fears that
in some democratic countries,
progress is going backwards.
We have a problem at the moment that
there is a right-wing backlash
in much of the world,
and part of that backlash is being
anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-trans,
all of these things,
and also women going back
and staying in the home.
So at the moment we really do have to fight
the kinds of anti-gay attitudes
that are rising up again,
that we thought we'd seen the back of,
so we have to do that,
but at the same time
we're also working globally
to decriminalise homosexuality in
there is still I think about 70 countries
where it is completely criminalised,
and death penalty in a small number of those.
Lisa is still dedicated to campaigning.
And remains a proud supporter of
many LGBTQ charities, marches, and events.
And whenever she can,
she attends pride events around the world
which celebrate her community.
Pride everywhere has started
to be more celebrated.
It's a celebration
and a protest
and I think it's important that
you have both of those elements,
we're here, we're queer, we're fabulous.
But it's also saying,
it's fine, come out and join us.
I think people often think about activism
in terms of people being angry,
and of course you know, there is anger
because it's anger at injustice.
But I think anger is no good
unless you do something constructive with it,
you have to use that anger to
change the world in a constructive way,
or what use is it?
"History is for Interfering with.
Just do it."