Lavender Menace returns for Edinburgh Pride

Lavender Menace Returns: an interview with Sigrid Neilson and the Lighthouse's Mairi Oliver

Sigrid Neilson and the Lighthouse's Mairi Oliver discuss the return of Scotland's first LGBTQIA+ bookshop and queer spaces as they are today

June is in full swing once more, meaning that Pride parades are taking place from San Francisco to Sao Paulo. For the LGBTQIA+ community it's a time of celebration but also of reflection: rejoicing at the advances that have been made in recent years but also casting an eye back to the event's radical beginnings and queer struggles throughout history.

Edinburgh's Lighthouse is no exception, with the radical bookshop choosing to revive Scotland's first LGBTQIA+ bookshop from Friday 21 to Friday 28 June. Emerging in 1982 alongside a flourishing of LGBTQIA+ underground publishing from the likes of Gay Men's Press, the Women's Press and Brilliance Books, Lavender Menace served as important hub for resource sharing and networking.

To commemorate the earlier bookshop's achievements, Lighthouse will transform itself with a range of titles specially curated by Lavender Menace founders Sigrid Neilson and Bob Orr, alongside a range of events including Our Queer History in Cartoons with illustrator Kate Charlesworth, Reading the Rainbow: The LGBTQ Books That Shaped Us and SAY IT LOUD, a banner-making session before Edinburgh Pride on Saturday 22 June. Ahead of the unveiling of Lavender Menace Returns, The List sits down with Neilson and Lighthouse owner Mairi Oliver to talk alternative queer spaces, the corporatisation of Pride Month and queer literary heroes.

The decision to bring Lavender Menace back to life was partly motivated by the success of James Ley's 2017 sell-out Royal Lyceum show Love Song to Lavender Menace. The play was instrumental in demonstrating the shop's significance, as well as the wider value of alternative LGBTQIA+ spaces, where queer people can 'be ourselves and don't have to explain ourselves.' As Neilson comments: 'James [Ley's] interviews with former customers [informing the play] showed how important the shop was to people. Some said they had met partners in the shop or that they had been motivated to reach out to other LGBT people just because of the shop's presence.'

Lavender Menace Returns: an interview with Sigrid Neilson and the Lighthouse's Mairi Oliver

Oliver explains that the collaboration with Lighthouse then came about organically as 'word had got around that we were an LGBT bookshop that would be a natural ally of the Lavender Menace Returns project.' Yet the affinities between the two bookshops goes far deeper than their shared focus on LGBTQIA+ titles: 'At its core Lavender Menace showed how the personal was political and how important community was and is. Lighthouse keeps that ethos alive. We're all about providing a safe space of discovery and community for those [who are] marginalised, overlooked or exploited outside our doors.'

Whilst the two booksellers champion radical politics, Pride has come under scrutiny in recent years for the presence of corporate sponsors, which some believe distances events from their historic beginnings in the Stonewall Riots. However, Neilson points out that the situation is not as clear cut as some commentators might have us believe: 'Pride as a civic festival is far more inclusive than the protest march Prides I went on in the late seventies. But if it's a festival rather than a protest, there's money to be made by anyone who can organise it efficiently, whether they care about community groups or not.'

Taking pride in queer identity should not be confined to the month of June and LGBTQIA+ literature is fundamental in encouraging queer consciousness all year round. Together, Nielson and Oliver's queer literary heroes range from Sara Ahmed to Audre Lorde, Samuel Delaney to Edmund White and, of course, Rita Mae Brown — whose lesbian feminist activist group Lavender Menace inspired the name of Nielson's bookshop. As Neilson explains, queer literature is one of the most vital forms of representation, one that not only helps LGBTQIA+ people feel seen but also allows them to learn more about who they are: 'LGBT books of the past are about lives like ours – in a way, the writers and characters are our ancestors and remembering them gives us a sense of ourselves we can't get in any other way.'

Lavender Menace Returns, Fri 21–Fri 28 June, Lighthouse, Edinburgh. Tickets are available for advance purchase from Eventbrite.

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