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Libraries LGBT Source Guide

Top tips for searching archives

It can be difficult to find references to LGBT issues in archives. Sometimes this is because the words used to describe identities and behaviours have changed over time, but often it is simply because archivists write summary descriptions rather than describing individual items in detail.

Always remember that archives in which a large proportion of the population are found (such as newspapers, courts, hospitals, etc.) will include references to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. The trick is to decipher them!

Sometimes you need to be creative and think of a range of different terms. Remember that a file with an indirectly related title may contain references to your area of interest. Some terms that are common now, such as 'gay' and 'queer' have different meanings over time which can affect search results.

Useful 'identity' key words to search for include: gay, gays, queer, queers, lesbian, lesbianism, lesbians, homosexual, homosexuals, sexual minorities, sexuality, sexual orientation, transvestism, transvestites, bisexual, transexual, transgender.

Sometimes terms used to criminalise or stigmatise the LGBT community can be useful in searches, including: drag, buggery, sodomy, indecent, immoral, gross indecency, procurement, soliciting, immorality, unmentionable.

Subject indexes are even more problematic because the major thesauri tend to use the terms "Gender minorities" and "Sexual behaviour". Using these subject index terms may uncover additional materials. Unfortunately, according to the Unesco Thesauri the concept of "lesbian" does not exist!

For further advice, including a useful glossary, suggested search terms and
legislation timeline see Gay and Lesbian History at The National Archives: An Introduction.

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