First published in the Sheffield Co-operator: October 2017
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain. In Sheffield, the occasion was commemorated with a series of events in the last week of February, to coincide with LGBT+ History Month. Hosting academics and writers, film showings, and activity sessions, the weekend culminated with a Full Moon “Tea Dance” hosted by DJ Wendy and the Out Aloud! LGBT choir.
One of the highlights of the weekend was Sally Goldsmith’s lecture – supported by the Friends of Edward Carpenter – on the relationship between famed Victorian writer and political activist Edward Carpenter and locally born razor grinder George Hukin. Carpenter is known to the LGBT+ community as an early advocate for sexual equality: his writings on “homogenic” love and his open espousal of a homosexual identity often put him at odds with the more conventional radical Labour community of the time, but they have helped him achieve lasting fame.
A native of Brighton, and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, Carpenter travelled the north for many years as a lecturer, making Sheffield his base. Receiving an inheritance from his late father, he moved to Millthorpe, a farming hamlet not far from Dronfield, in 1883. It was there that he wrote his most famous books, including Towards Democracy, a narrative poem inspired by Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Carpenter twice travelled to the United States to visit Whitman, and later published an account of the days they spent together.