For anyone LGBTQ+ or interested in LGBTQ+ culture, it should not have gone unnoticed that this year marks the
50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Though there remains much work to be done, there is a long history of queer resilience and perseverance that many of us don’t know about. The good news is: It’s easier than ever to tap into LGBTQ+ culture via your phone.
There are dozens of Instagram accounts dedicated to honoring our LGBTQ+ heroes and preserving queer histories, and what better time to follow them that pride month? Some of them are serious archives, which urge us to remember the protests and fights that helped to get close to LGBTQ+ equality, others are just a bit of camp fun (with names like @godimsuchadyke) and some are even forging real-world relationships and communities for their users offline.
Ahead, we outline eight of the best (and most hilarious) queer history and culture Instagrams to follow right now — particularly if you want to stay up-to-date on lesbian gossip or brush up on your queer history.
In the words of the account @lgbthistory: “It’s crucial to learn where we’ve been in order to know where we’re going… and how we get there.”
With more than 190k followers, Leighton Brown and Matthew Riemer’s Insta account is
the definitive quick-hit source for LGBTQ+ history.
The pair are a real-life couple living in Washington, DC, and tell me the story behind the account, started in November 2015 when they went to the unveiling of Frank Kameny’s headstone in Congressional Cemetery. “Kameny – perhaps best known for coining the phrase ‘Gay Is Good’ – was the rock upon which the modern queer rights movement was built, certainly in the US, and arguably the world over,” they explain. “How we ended up at the event was fairly random, but it wasn’t because of a background in queer history. In fact, that ceremony made one thing clear: we didn’t know shit about queer history.”
Over the next year, they began to self-educate, even setting their TV screensaver to a slideshow of pictures of gay activists and icons. Then, as they started being able to connect names and dates to the pictures, they decided to start the account. “We weren’t active social media users, although we soon realized this was beneficial; we want to provide well researched, objective snippets of queer history, not our individual opinions. The account is not about Matthew and Leighton,” they maintain.
“What we’re most proud of, and what makes for perfect posts, is our ability to react in real time to current events. Because of the vast collection of images we’ve collected – which represent decades’ worth of amazing work of activists, archivists, and photographers – we can speak to news of the day. When the US travel ban was announced, for example, we put up a picture from 1979 of LA pioneer Morris Kight protesting discriminatory immigration policies. When Trump does virtually anything, we have an image by Dona Ann McAdams from an ACT UP protest at which a person of color is holding a cardboard coffin emblazoned with the words ‘WE’RE HERE, WE’RE QUEER, WE HATE THE FUCKING PRESIDENT’. Using historic imagery to speak to the here and now – connecting queer people’s anger, isolation, sadness, joy, pride, and solidarity with what came before – makes a perfect post.”
A real-life archive running since 1974, it made perfect sense when the New York-based Lesbian Herstory Archives took to Instagram so that more people could see the collection, which is made up of artifacts and publications related to all things lesbian culture.
Whether it’s a “Better Blatant Than Latent” badge or a photo from a Pride gone by, the people behind the project believe that preserving actual materials related to lesbian history – a history often denied or erased by the patriarchy – is a political act that can “change deprivation into cultural plentitude” (to quote Joan Nestle, who housed the material collection in her Manhattan apartment for years). Follow this account if you want to learn about the lives of lesbians who have been lost and to see the some of the greatest gay slogan T-shirts that were ever made.
Your fun go-to for anything to do with butch identity, this account is all about its camp sense of humor. ButchCamp’s creators self-describe as “just a couple of European dykes!” One is a designer in Amsterdam and the other is a painter in Lisbon, they met at art school in London and the account became a way to stay in touch. “We started the account as a conversation, a way of talking to each other in sets of images that described, visually, this quality we called ButchCamp,” they explain over email.
is ButchCamp exactly? “It’s really an offshoot of classic camp, or a camp re-centered around the sensibility and aesthetics and humor of lesbianism, rather than the more conventional (and tired) gay male camp everyone is so used to. But to explain camp is like explaining a pun, it’s such a charm breaker. We just point to something that falls within the realm of ButchCamp and someone either feels a camp thrill or they do not.”
The result? A carefully curated feed of in-depth profiles, histories and newsy gossip – one with an underlying political importance. “Butch lesbians have got such a rough deal in popular culture,” say the curators. “Even in camp masterpieces like
The Producers, the butch dyke is the butt of the joke and an object of contempt or dismissal; in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Bernadette says to Shirley: “Now listen here, you mullet. Why don’t you just light your tampon, and blow your box apart? Because it’s the only bang you’re ever gonna get, sweetheart!”
“The butch lesbians we profile are all complex and delicious and fascinating: Moms Mabley, Beryl Reid in
The Killing of Sister George, KD Lang, Mabel Hampton, Alison Bechdel, Louise Fitzhugh who wrote Harriet the Spy, Big Mama Thornton, the list goes ON. But we profile them not for their butchness, but for their BUTCHCAMP-ness.”
A new project from London-based model and presenter Jack Guinness, Queer Bible launched in 2017 as a database of queer characters who changed the world through activism, art, performance and more. Although still developing, what undoubtedly makes Queer Bible unique is its beautiful, specially commissioned illustrations of the online archive’s subjects, each of which is elected by LGBTQ+ writers (including myself).
“LGBTQ+ people really have to seek out positive role models,”
Guinness told Refinery29 back in November 2017. “They have to find a family and inspirations to help them explore who they are and construct their identity. We often don’t get the help of our peers or birth family. Too often young queer people have to do that alone. I wanted to make a space where learning about the queer community, especially the people that went before us, is easier.”
Visual AIDS is an exceptional US-based organisation dedicated to platforming the work of HIV-positive artists, living and past. The organisation was founded in 1988, but their archive project kicked off in 1994 and has been built up by dedicated staff to be the world’s biggest and best of its kind. A directory of visual artists with HIV/AIDS, it includes the work of famous artists like Felix Gonzalez Torres and Keith Haring, as well as Mykki Blanco and Refinery29 favourite
It follows that Visual AIDS’ Instagram account offers a time capsule for art created during the outbreak of the virus and a beautiful curation of artists from a variety of countries and backgrounds working today. You can even use the account to follow events the organisation has coming up, and see some of the work IRL, too.
Not to be mistaken with Lesbian Herstory Archives, H_e_r_s_t_o_r_y was singlehandedly founded by Kelly Rakowski, a photo editor who lives in Brooklyn. “I’ve always been obsessive about researching images based on topics of interest,” Kelly says. “Coming out late (only a few years ago), I decided to school myself on lesbian history/ queer history, which led me again to online archives and digital libraries, which were the roots of inspiration for h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y.”
The images – think rare pics of Jodie Foster, Queen Latifah, Ellen, as well as plenty of protest images – are sourced from several locations: digital archives, real archives, “re-gramming” from other Instagram accounts. “If you want a lot of likes, it needs to be a visually compelling image – a catchy slogan, celebrity pics, and nudity are top posts,” says Kelly. The account now has more than 100k followers and has been a huge hit with young queer women, from who Kelly has had a few thank yous, “but while it’s very much lesbian culture, it’s definitely welcome to everyone LGBTQ and allies,” she adds.
My favourite thing about h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y though, is its sister account,
@herstorypersonals: “They are my favourite, too,” Kelly explains over email. “The inspiration story for @herstorypersonals is a blend of falling in love with the personal ads from the 1980/90s written in the first women-run lesbian erotica magazine On Our Backs (you can read them here, I’ve organised them into an #onourbackspersonals hashtag) and Tinder/Tinder-like app burnout.
“Personals are written by followers of h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y looking for love or lust, and rely on wit and charm. The best part of it, people are really meeting via the personals – one couple even married! I encourage trans, genderqueer, POC, lesbian mums, people worldwide to submit their personals, the only catch is open call for submissions is once a month.”
This one’s got a bit more of a gay male erotica focus, but with plenty of avant garde art-related content thrown in – you know, John Waters’ stills and Nan Goldin photographs. There are a lot of bottom shots and in the captions, a splashing of camp humour, too. Based in Athens, the collective behind the account have put on local events such as a Madonna Danceathon and screenings of Bruce LaBruce films. They also elect queer artists to man the Instagram account for them. Who’s to say what will come next? We’re guessing it’s trashy.
The clue is in the name, but scrolling through this feed and all of its niche cultural references serves as a test of lesbian knowledge, as well as an homage to Sapphic admiration, and not just the tempered “girl crush” type (although that too – I feel like plenty of my straight girl friends follow this account just for the odd pic of Shane from
The L Word or Gillian Anderson).
“I started the account as a place to share my love of dykey visual and pop culture,” says its anonymous founder. “The page has been a place for me to share cultural treasures that I find. h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y and ButchCamp are the two Instagram pages that directly inspired me to start my own page and both have been incredibly welcoming and supportive, for which I am so grateful.” The perfect post, she says, brings critical knowledge together with pop sensibilities, particularly in the captions, resulting in a blend of high and low culture: “One is serious and provides the reader with a theoretical framework, and the other is irreverent and cheeky.”
After their first real-world event – a Christmas screening of
Carol, obvi – the future for the site is to keep building a community, online and off. “My mission with the page is to create a space where our community can come together and enjoy the richness of our visual culture, a place where they can learn something new, and most importantly, I want this to be a space where both I and my followers can just les out.” Ah, that’ll be the ethos behind the name then? “I came up with the name Godimsuchadyke because before I started the account I was feverishly researching every piece of les pop culture I could get my hands on and every les film I could find, just for my own enrichment and enjoyment… and I would always think to myself, ‘God, I’m such a dyke’.”
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