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Jack Guinness on The Queer Bible

Posted on 26th May 2021 by Mark Skinner

A pioneering website exploring the rich and diverse history of LGBTQIA icons, Jack Guinness' The Queer Bible met with enormous acclaim and popularity. Now, the site has inspired a book of the same name and, in this exclusive piece, Guinness describes what motivated him to create The Queer Bible and how vitally important it is that trailblazing queer names are not erased from history.  

The Queer Bible is my overdue love letter to the queer community - it is my thank you to the LGBTQIA legends who came before me and made my life possible. Our lives now echo back through history. Their lives reflect our lives; by learning about my queer ancestors, I began to better understand myself. The words in this book have universal quality - it doesn't matter what your gender or sexuality is - these essays are about people exploring and embracing the complexity of who they are. People who are just doing their best to get on with their lives, in the messiness of being human. The stories are universal, the individuals are extraordinary!

Each essay in The Queer Bible is written by a personal hero of mine about a queer figure who has inspired them, and is illustrated by a queer artist or ally. Whether they know it or not, everyone is indebted to LGBTQIA people - their works have made all our lives richer; The Queer Bible shines a light on the impact that queer figures have had on shaping the world around us. These essays made me laugh (thank you Graham Norton and Mae Martin), spurred me to activism (Munroe Bergdorf is a prophet), and helped mend my broken heart (Paul Flynn's piece on George Michael breaks your heart and then puts it back together again). It's a collection that reflects the pain, joy, and sheer complexity of the queer experience.

The moment young people realise that they’re LGBTQIA they can instantly feel cut off from those around them. They feel separated from the very people they should feel closest to - their friends and families. Isolation and rejection led me down a path of self-destruction. This is the book I wish I’d read when I was growing up. To know where you’re going, you need to know where you’ve come from. So often LGBTQIA histories have been hidden, to protect people’s safety, or forcibly erased in acts of cultural vandalism and oppression. Just look at how the internationally renowned mathematician Alan Turing was treated; his legacy, until recently, straightwashed. This is why it makes me so happy to see projects that are starting to expose this history, such as the BBC drama Gentleman Jack, which reveals the hidden lesbian history of Anne Lister, or the American drama POSE which teaches younger generations the story of the Black, Latino, gay and Trans communities’ struggles and triumphs during the AIDS crisis. Let’s continue to bring these hidden stories into the light. I come to The Queer Bible as someone that wants to learn more about my own community’s history - to learn about people different from me, and explore what we have in common. I want queer people to not just survive, but to thrive, knowing that they follow in the footsteps of the bravest, fiercest, most inspiring people who have walked the face of the planet.

The person I am today has been shaped and influenced by so many queer heroes. The soundtrack to my life has been queer culture: laughter with my first gay best friend Kele, solace in the writings of James Baldwin, Walt Whitman’s magic words made me fly, Bronski Beat’s music released my tears, Audre Lorde gave me strength, I sung karaoke to George Michael’s ‘Freedom’, I worshipped the stars of Paris Is Burning, I drank with Drag Queens ‘til sunlight when I ran off to New York aged eighteen. 

In these politically unstable times, with LGBTQIA rights under threat the world over, this book couldn't be more necessary; it connects us through our shared history, and allows people to tell their own stories in their own voices. From the outset, I saw The Queer Bible as a platform to elevate, celebrate and amplify the voices of our community. As a white cisgender man, I benefit from so much unearned privilege. This collection shines a light on members of our community who so often aren’t given the attention or accolades they deserve. I hope that the range of voices, the varied stories, and the memories shared in this book speak to the richness and diversity of our global queer community. We stand on the shoulders of giants. It's time to learn their names.

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