Events And Activism – Highlights

Rose Collis has initiated and participated in a diverse variety of public engagement events – everything from presentations at national and local art galleries and museums, to conferences and launches, with many linked to her stage and literary work and activism.

‘She’s something of a human encyclopaedia, Rose Collis…as curious as a child, a trait that’s led to her writing books on a wide range of esoteric subjects. Collis is a character in herself; in the future, surely someone will be singing a song about her.’

Nione Meakin, The Argus

This section features selected highlights from the last 15 years.


Rose Collis gave a 20-minute illustrated presentation about her new, in-development stage show and lesbian history/heritage project, Forty Years Out (And Counting) at this conference, in a session on ‘Lesbian Pasts’.

Rose Collis was invited to speak at the Queering Celebrity conference and gave a well-received illustrated presentation in the Origins and Icons slot: A Fine Romance: Nancy Spain and Gilbert Harding, The Original British Queer Celebrities.

Other speakers at the conference included Prof. Richard Dyer, Daisy Asquith and Dr Jack Halberstam.


Rose Collis was a keynote speaker at the launch of LGBT History Month 2019 at the British Library. The theme this year is Peace, Reconciliation and Activism. Rose gave an introductory speech about the plans for her ambitious new mixed media lesbian history/heritage project, drawing on both her experiences as a lesbian writer, performer and activist for forty years, and her extensive and unique archive curated during the last four decades.

This is the full text of the speech:

As we know, this year and next year contain significant anniversaries in LGBT history and in universal history: 100 years since the partial suffrage of women in the UK, and the ending of WWI, and 50 years since Stonewall.

But they are also significant anniversary years for me: this year, it’s 40 years since I first came out as a lesbian, and next year, it will be 40 years since I went on my first Gay Pride March.

Both events marked the beginning of a 40 year (and counting) personal, political and cultural journey as lesbian activist, performer, writer and historian, reflected in my private archive which chronicles and reflects the social and political history and evolution of a community’s fight for equality and justice: the battles, campaigns, victories and losses.

One of the great custodians of our past is Jan Pimblett at London Metropolitan Archives. The other week, she said to me, ‘You know, history is a set of examples’.

Well, it has been my fate to have witnessed, participated in and chronicled many such ‘examples’ in our history in the last 40 years:

  • There were the early Gay Pride and Lesbian Strength marches, in the days when the police outnumbered marchers by about 10 to 1 and, as I witnessed at Gay Pride 1980 and Lesbian Strength 1984, were only too keen to arrest and assault us on the slightest pretext.

  • I was the first lesbian to join the group who produced the ground-breaking documentary Framed Youth, the first documentary made by and about lesbians and gay men under 25, for which we won the 1984 BFI Best Documentary Award.

  • Then there was the lengthy and expensive battle to save Gay’s The Word when it was targeted by HM Customs & Excise.

With other lesbians and gay men, including Lisa Power and Linda Semple, I took part in one of the most successful fundraising events in that campaign: the Maupin Marathon at the Fallen Angel: a 36-hour non-stop reading of the first four Tales of the City books, organised by Peter Scott-Presland, launched by Chris Smith MP and attended by Armistead himself.

So, next year, to mark my anniversaries, some of these ‘examples’ will form the basis of Forty Years Out, a new solo mixed media stage show, written and performed by me, that will be very much ‘flagging up the lesbian’.

This work will be the cornerstone of a major long-term multi-media project of the same name, comprising online and physical exhibitions and a variety of public engagement events throughout the UK, drawing on the rare material I have in my private archive. The show will re-visit, reflect and even re-enact some of the stories, the songs, the slogans, the sit-downs, the sorrows and the solidarity. The project will be one of celebration, creation, commemoration, discrimination and demonstration.

All very much in keeping with next year’s History Month themes. Unfortunately, for too many years, there was a great deal of activism, scant reconciliation — and bugger-all peace.

This was no more true than during the four years I spent at that wonderful magazine City Limits from 1985, when I was appointed the first lesbian co-editor of the ‘Out in the City’ listings and news section, which my late colleague Brian Kennedy had created. City Limits was the first non-gay magazine to have a lesbian writer on its staff hired specifically to cover all things lesbian, both in our own right and within what used to be called a ‘mixed gay community’.

On just one day a week, I covered the lesbian waterfront: clubs, pubs, publishing, theatre, music, cinema, television, art and activism.

The first feature I ever wrote was, appropriately, about director Greta Schiller and her documentary Before Stonewall. And, from then onwards, for City Limits, Gay Times, Shebang, Spare Rib and Diva, I began to write articles about lesbian history, which was then neither trendy nor the foundation for a career.

Appropriately, 2019 marks another anniversary: it will be 25 years since the publication of my first book Portraits to the Wall, all about UK and European lesbians. It was the first of 17 books to be published that now bear my name — not bad for a self-educated non-academic…

During those years at City Limits, Brian and I were at the forefront of the fight against two major enemies that could have destroyed our community, yet which had a powerful mobilising effect.

The first was AIDS.

I lost people I had campaigned with, worked with, marched with, screamed with, grown up with. Historically speaking, I cannot remember another time – before or since — when a health crisis in this country was used as a socio-political weapon against the sector of the community most affected by that crisis.

And with so many gay male friends and colleagues dying on a depressingly regular basis, the parallels between a generation of young men being lost in WWI, and what was happening from the early 80s onwards, were startling. And the emotional, social and psychological damage no less profound.

The second enemy was, of course, Section 28. Together, we marched, we wrote, we spoke out. We witnessed the founding of Stonewall at Ian McKellen’s house. We even donated — when Michael Cashman gave me an exclusive interview, and The Sun stole portions of it and were forced to make a donation to the ‘Stop the Clause’ campaign.

Those are just some of our, and my, ‘examples’.

Over two and a half thousand years ago, Sappho wrote, “Someone, I tell you, in another time will remember us.”

And she was right.

So, today, as we reflect on the historic anniversaries of this year and the next, let us resolve to continue to be custodians of the past — with no erasing and no exclusions.

So that those in another time WILL remember us, AND those who went before us, AND those who fought battles with us, and who we have lost in those times of Peace, Reconciliation and Activism.

Rose Collis was a keynote speaker at Edgy: The 16th LGBTQ+ History and Archives Conference at London Metropolitan Archives on December 1, 2018.

This LGBTQ+ History conference explores ideas of ‘Outsider History’. The margins can be a powerful place rather than a place of exclusion. But what happens when people get excluded from mainstream memory through lack of resources or time? What happens when Outsider History strives to become part of the centre? How does the history get defined? Are aspects of history obscured in an effort to make things palatable and acceptable?

Rose Collis unveiled Forty Years Out: An Outsider Lesbian’s Inside Stories, a brand new presentation with visuals and music, followed by Q&A. This was a rare opportunity to explore forty years of history, featuring first-hand anecdotes, cuttings, photos, objects and ephemera from Rose’s substantial private archive — a ‘taster’ for a major multi-media project that will be produced from 2019 to mark forty years since her first Gay Pride march. Subject to funding, this will feature a new solo stage show, an online/physical exhibition and a variety of public engagement events throughout the UK.

Photo: Jan Pimblett

Here are a selection of social media responses to the presentation:

33 years ago a valiant troupe of British LGBT folk did a marathon public reading of the first 4 Tales novels at a queer pub in London called the Fallen Angel. As I recall, lasted thirty-some hours The performers slept in sleeping bags on the floor until they were needed again. It was a benefit for Gays the Word, which had recently been raided by Thatcher’s goons for importing my books, among others. The role of Connie Bradshaw was played by a feisty young woman who went on to become one of Britain’s most formidable activists.
Wish I could have been there for your talk, Rose Collis. Hope I’ll see you soon Armistead Maupin

Islington’s Pride IslingtonsPride Sensational talk by @RoseCollis1 looking back at the 40 years of Lesbian activism and support. Well done. Thank you.

Sean Curran ‏ @MxSeanCSuch a beautiful and moving series of recollections by @RoseCollis1, you could hear a pin drop, and our community owes you, and those you marched, fought and spoke out with so much. Thanks for saving, and sharing your collection

After her election to Equity’s LGBT+ Equalities Committee in June 2017 – the only lesbian committee member – Rose Collis worked tirelessly to help progress its two-year plan of aims and objectives.

This has included being an official delegate at both the union’s Annual Representative Conference in May 2018, proposing and speaking to the Committee’s motion and attending several important fringe events, and representing the Union at the 2018 TUC LGBT+ Annual Conference.



In February, performer and writer Rose Collis gave a new illustrated presentation – Player Kings and Queens: Equity Founders and Friends in LGBT History, at a special LGBT History Month 2018 event hosted by the entertainment union Equity.

Equity was formed in 1930 and its founding members included many major lesbian, gay and bisexual stage stars of the day, including Ivor Novello, John Gielgud, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies and the union’s first female President Beatrix Lehmann.

Rose shared stories, ephemera and pictures of these major stage stars and their creative cohort, including the legendary ‘Tavistock Set’, presided over by Clemence Dane at her flat a mere stone’s throw from Equity’s HQ and the Actor’s Church, Covent Garden, where plaques commemorating many of the ‘Set’ can be seen.

Player Kings and Queens, written and presented by Rose Collis, was held on Wednesday 28 February 2018, at Equity’s head office, Guild House. The event was warmly greeted by a packed audience who turned out for this very special evening, despite near-blizzard weather conditions in London. The photos of Mark Thomas captured the exuberant, warm and celebratory spirit of the event, and Equity’s own Equalities Officer, Ian Manborde, filmed record of the evening can be seen here:

In February 2018, Rose Collis appeared alongside Mark Bunyan and Kinny Gardner in Mark Bunyan and Friends – a monthly event featuring the UK’s first openly gay cabaret artist sharing his iconic material at the Toulouse Lautrec Jazz Club, London, joined onstage by a host of talent. Rose and Mark have known each other for nearly 40 years, and she sang two of her favourite Bunyan compositions, Do Yourself In and Agatha  – the latter can be seen (from a distance) and heard here:

In November 2017, Queer Perspectives, the National Portrait Gallery‘s innovative and inclusive quarterly event hosted by artist and curator Sadie Lee, turned ten. Rose Collis was delighted to have been invited back  to give two special performances to celebrate the prestigious anniversary. Rose treated packed audiences to some Brief Encounters, performing songs and stories inspired by famous queer sitters in the Collection . Other featured artists included David McAlmont and Bird la Bird.

In February 2017, Rose Collis presented a popular illustrated talk at the V&A about Clemence Dane: The Invisible Woman of British 20th century culture: a prolific and popular writer and artist, described by her great friend Noel Coward as ‘a wonderful unique mixture of artist, writer, games mistress, poet and egomaniac.’ Rose has been researching the life and work of Clemence Dane for a decade, in preparation for a full-length biography and this remarkable woman is the subject of her new Arts Council-funded solo play, Wanting the Moon.

In 2015, Rose Collis was shortlisted for the Gladstone Library Writers-in-Residence 2016 programme, awarded an honorary scholarship and delivered a sell-out event in the literary festival, Hearth.

Rose Collis compered and performed at LGBT History Month 2015 – The Launch. Speakers included Sadie Lee,  Clare Barlow from The Tate Museum, Jan Bridget and Jez Dolan from Polari Mission, plus performances from Diversity Choir, and Champagne Charlie.

From the Unfinished Histories website: ‘Our second Oval House event was a tribute evening celebrating the life and work of Kate Crutchley, Oval House programmer 1981-91 (dubbed ‘Kate’s Great’ by those participating). Around 40 people contributed to the creation of this event which gave an overview of her life and career, focusing especially on her Oval House years. Many companies, groups and individuals lined up to pay tribute including: Karen Parker and Debby Klein (formerly Parker and Klein), Eve Polycarpou and Martha Lewis (Eve and Martha formerly known as Donna and Kebab), Stella Duffy, Sandra Freeman, Sarah McNair, Nicole Freni, Crin Claxton, Rose Collis, Susan (Clark) Hayes, Caroline Mylon, Clare Summerskill, Hot Doris Band, Sue Frumin, Adele Salem, Steve Gooch and Alwynne Taylor. At four hours long it never palled but did full justice to Kate and her legacy. The evening was rounded off with a speech from her partner Claire Oberman.’

Queer Perspectives at the National Portrait Gallery, November 2014

‘Last Thursday’s social event was a trip to hear Rose Collis discussing with Sadie Lee a number of LGBT icons in the Gallery’s collection, including Noel Coward, Nancy Spain, Gilbert Harding and – most surprising of all – Clemence Dane who most in the audience had not heard of. An excellent evening with solid research, entertainment and even singing from Rose.’

University of Westminster LGBT Staff Network

‘In support of Rise Brighton – a domestic abuse charity that offers advice, resettlement and therapy – End Of was a night that balanced the serious and the silly perfectly. Despite appearing a happy, fun night with high heels and white wine in abundance, there was an undercurrent of understanding for the hard work the charity does.

The chilling ensemble performance by Julie Graham, Ann Mitchell, Tracy-Ann Oberman, Zawe Ashton and Sarah Solemani saw them reading pieces inspired by the real-life plight of one of the audience members, who had been helped by Rise, and the stunned silence lent gravity to the evening. Other readings by Caitlin Moran, Suzanne Moore and Tracey Thorn ranged from the passionate to the very, very witty, and were interspersed with musical interludes.

From pop band Vanquish to Rose Collis, to leopard-print legend Linda Lewis’s rendition of her 1970s hit Rock-A-Doodle-Do, all genres were covered. The show was closed by Alison Moyet singing Don’t Go among other greatest hits, before the tables were cleared back for a disco. There’s barely any need to point out that all the performers were female, just that they were all brilliant, and united for a very worthy cause.’                                                                                                          

The Argus

What The Dickens? — Rose Collis wrote and co-performed a semi-dramatised presentation about Charles Dickens and Brighton, as part of the CMP Festival 2012 and at the Blue Plaque unveiling, attended by Ian Dickens, at the Holiday Inn, former site of the Bedford Hotel, where Dickens stayed during his many visits to Brighton.

‘Good literary events expand our horizons and encourage us to pick up books and read authors we have never considered before. That’s exactly what happened to me at the Clifton Montpelier Powis Festival on Saturday (7 July). Writer, alternative historian and Brighton resident Rose Collis presented a fascinating performance about Charles Dickens and his many connections to Brighton and Hove. With the help of two actors, her entertaining and semi-dramatised show What the Dickens? related snippets of the great author’s many visits to the seaside resort in the mid-1800s.’

Brighton and Hove Free Press

‘If you hear of a workshop near you that is run by Rose, then I recommend that you book early and go, you won’t regret it. In the meantime, you can always dip into her books; like Rose herself, they sound absolutely fascinating.’

Laura Wilkinson,

‘She talked movingly about her subjects as well as about the process of biographical writing. A very enjoyable session and an author to look out for.’

Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals