Archives and Activism – The Haringey Vanguard by Veronica McKenzie

With this post we are excited to welcome filmmaker Veronica McKenzie, founder of the Haringey Vanguard Project.

This important National Lottery Heritage funded history project celebrates the work, stories and influence of Haringey-based community activists between the 1970s – 1990s, whose historical contributions to the LGBTQ+ and anti-racist movements were felt well beyond the borough. Veronica shares a banner recently placed in the Haringey Vanguard archive. Preserved for over 30 years by an ex worker of the Lesbian and Gay Unit, the banner represents the creative spirit of these individuals, whose work continues to inspire new generations of activists. 

In recent years we’ve witnessed an upswing in protest movements. From Climate Change, the People’s Vote and Million Women Rising, to the death of George Floyd which galvanized millions worldwide, and the Sarah Everard case attracting swathes of newly politicised young women, huge numbers of people took their message to the streets. The posters and banners of these marches – a barometer of opinions mostly at odds with the mainstream –I believe heralds a golden era of protest posters and banners.  

Using provocation, challenging humour, and satirical design to illustrate their viewpoint, these banners not only capture the attention of bystanders but are made to be reproduced on social media, thereby expanding the reach of the message.

In choosing this brilliantly creative banner, I wanted to showcase the unique skill, time and effort undertaken in its design, as distinct from the more usual monotone images of the 80s.

Haringey Lesbians and Gays banner designed and made by Sarah X.

In 1986 the Labour Party’s Bernie Grant won control of Haringey Council, becoming the UK’s first black MP in modern times. Despite considerable anti-AIDS prejudice, Lesbian and Gay equality featured heavily in the council’s manifesto, and they challenged heterosexism – defined as a system of ideas and practices based on the belief that the normal sexuality for everyone was heterosexuality. 

The Council established the Haringey Lesbian and Gay Unit whose workers included a black lesbian, Greek Cypriot man, and visually impaired woman. They promoted equality for lesbian and gay men in schools and workplaces, which drew an immediate backlash from the newly formed Parent’s Rights Group.

As a rebuff to the growing anti-gay sentiment, the Haringey Lesbian and Gay Unit commissioned this banner, requesting bright colours and bold lettering to ensure visibility. The banner joyfully captures the sense of pride and unity of the local queer community and soon became a regular fixture on marches such as Smash The Backlash (1987) organised by Haringey Black Action and Positive Images group. That march was the first to highlight the presence of the black queer community, and to challenge moves to outlaw teachings about lesbians and gay men in the classroom which led eventually to the implementation of S.28. 

Preserved for over 30 years by Kyriacou Spryou – ex worker of the Lesbian and Gay Unit, we were incredibly grateful to accept the banner into the Haringey Vanguard BAME LGBTQ+ archive. 

Written by Veronica McKenzie, founder of the Haringey Vanguard.

Visit the Haringey Vanguard archive website by clicking here.

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