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Anne Lister was a gender non-conforming lesbian – now her blue plaque will show it

Josh Jackman September 4, 2018
Anne Lister is known as the "first modern lesbian"

Anne Lister (1791-1840)

A blue plaque honouring the pioneer known as the “first modern lesbian” will be altered after the original sparked outrage by leaving out her sexuality.

The rainbow-lined tribute to Anne Lister went up in July, placed on York’s Holy Trinity Church to mark the moment when she and long-term partner Ann Walker took communion together in 1834 – which, in their view, married them.

However, the wording – which correctly identified Lister as “gender-nonconforming” but failed to mention that she was a lesbian – produced a backlash.

The plaque left out Lister’s sexuality (theyorkmix/Twitter)

More than 2,500 people signed campaigner Julie Furlong’s petition accusing the plaque of erasure.

York Civic Trust, York LGBT Forum, York LGBT History Month and the Churches Conservation Trust have jointly announced that they will change the sign’s wording to better reflect the diarist, who wrote millions of words about her life.

Maxine Peake starred as Anne Lister in a previous BBC programme (BBC)

The groups told PinkNews: “It will reflect as accurately as possible Anne’s own view of herself,” adding that the plaque: “Will where possible be based on the words Anne chose to describe herself, her actions and her lifestyle.

“The last thing we wanted to do was to cause offence or upset to any community,” the organisations said.

The new plaque “will recognise the union of Anne and Ann, which is directly related to the taking of sacrament at Holy Trinity Church.

“All wording will be checked for historical accuracy by academic experts who have extensively studied Anne’s work prior to consultation,” the groups added.

They are aiming to have the new plaque up by spring 2019, and have said that the public will have another say before it is finalised.

Lisa Kelly, York LGBT Forum co-chair, told PinkNews that some of the backlash had been painful.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 21/05/2018 - Programme Name: Gentleman Jack - TX: n/a - Episode: Gentleman Jack - First look (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: *STRICTLY NOT FOR PUBLICATION UNTIL 00:01HRS, MONDAY 21ST MAY, 2018* Anne Lister (SURANNE JONES), Ann Walker (SOPHIE RUNDLE) - (C) Lookout Point - Photographer: Matt Squire
Gentleman Jack (BBC One)

“I was not personally involved in the original plaque, but after the public reaction and personal attacks aimed at myself, as a trans woman, I am involved in the new plaque,” she said.

Maxine Peake’s Anne Lister (right)

“The new wording will reflect Anne Lister as closely as possible to how she herself portrayed herself in her own words through her diaries, and Anne herself did use the word lesbian.

“She was a brilliant diarist, a landowner (which was not a commonplace thing for a woman back then) and an intrepid traveler.”

Lister’s story has been covered on the BBC in 2010, and will be detailed again in a BBC One drama called Gentleman Jack, due to be screened in 2019.

More: ann walker, Anne Lister, blue plaque, Church, gentleman jack, holy trinity church, julie furlong, lesbian, UK, York

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