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Hidden in plain sight

Martyrdom of St. Sebastian by Bartolomeo di Giovanni

Until recently, across much of the Western world, homosexual acts and cross-dressing have faced legal prohibition. This, together with the widespread social stigmatising of homosexuality and gender non-conformity, has meant that LGBT communities have had to develop innovate ways of communicating with each other that fall under the radar of the establishment and those not ‘in the know’.

One important way that gay men have conversed in Britain, until the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in 1967, was through the slang language, Polari.  Polari is a mixture of Romance, Romani, Yiddish, rhyming and other forms of slang, and was used in London fish markets, circuses, fairgrounds and the theatre, and also by gay men. Fashion accessories, from handkerchiefs to green carnations pinned to lapels, have been used by gay men to signal to others that they can be approached. Art has consistently provided a platform for the development of often highly creative, coded languages and visual devices. In the past it has allowed LGBT artists to express themselves freely, even in highly visible and conservative public spaces. 

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