Unique transgender archive sent to Canadian university after offer to LSE is rebuffed

Thursday, 18th July 2013

Professor Richard Ekins: Negotiated for archive to go to the University of Victoria in Canada, which paid for its transportation and inventory

Published: 18 July, 2013
by ALICE HUTTON

A UNIQUE archive charting decades of transgender history has been flown to Canada after being turned down by a Holborn university.

Since 1986, Professor Richard Ekins has amassed the extensive collection of media clippings, testimonies, books, audio, video, photographs and artefacts, which has been hailed by academics as “truly a treasure”.

It chronicles how attitudes and representations towards transgender people have evolved over time in Britain and internationally.

Professor Ekins, of Tavistock Place, Bloomsbury, offered it to the London School of Economics’ LGBT Hall-Carpenter Archive, but was told it would not be accepted because of a lack of an inventory listing what it contained.

He instead has negotiated for it to go to the University of Victoria in Canada, which paid for its transportation and inventory.

Amongst thousands of items were the personal papers left by the activist and transgender London councillor Rachael Webb, who committed suicide in 2009, and letters between trans activists and public figures including Margaret Thatcher’s office and Germaine Greer.

It has unpublished autobiographies, the first Channel Four trans documentary in the 1980s, complete collections of trans magazines from as far back as the 1960s, including the UK’s pioneering Self Help Association for ­Trans­sexuals, and newspaper clippings from the 1940s onwards, often in the context of prosecutions.

It also contains information on the trailblazing legal cases that sowed the seeds of the granting of rights to UK trans citizens, including that of Mark Rees who fought and lost the right to be recognised as male at the European Court of Human Rights in 1986.

Professor Ekins had been looking for a new home for the archive since July 2010.

Dr Stephen Whittle, OBE, a professor of Equalities Law at Manchester Metropolitan University told the New Journal that it was a “disaster.”

He said: “The loss is huge – I know from my own work that there was a vibrant trans community in the UK prior to the 1980s – but materials are few and far between.”

After an approach to Professor Ekins’ “first choice” library, the Hall-Carpenter Archive (HCA) at the LSE, the largest source for the study of gay activism in Britain, a “stumbling block” app­eared when the university said to consider it they would need him to get rid of any items subject to copyright or containing personal information like addresses, and provide a full, professional ­inven­tory.

He is “at pains” not to criticise the LSE but said: “I’m disappointed it couldn’t stay in the UK, it is a chronicle of a part of Britain’s history.”

Professor Ekins said: “It was too vast for one person to catalogue.

"What you must understand is that in the 1980s it was much more secretive to be trans. I used to get groups of local trans people coming in secret to read it. The term ‘transgender’ was barely in use.

“I was actually involved in the Oxford English Dictionary addition of the term. Things have changed since then, I like to think the archive had a hand in that.”

He added: “Of course, now we are already getting letters from people saying why is it in Canada? What really matters of course is the trans people themselves and to pay them the proper respect.”

The University of Victoria’s Professor Aaron Devor said about the collection: “It is truly a treasure and we are honoured to become its guardians.”

An LSE spokeswoman said: “The school was last contacted by Professor Ekins two years ago and requested further information about the archive’s contents.

"The school did not receive this inventory from Professor Ekins and was therefore not in a position to give the transfer any further consideration.”

For more information on the Transgender Archive visit http://transgenderarchives.uvic.ca/the-collection/university-of-ulster-tga-collection

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