Last year I met with Jamie Valentine, an LGBT activist and coordinator of Our Story Scotland, to talk about the crucial work he has been doing over the last two decades.
Having met Jamie once before at a community event I already knew of his genuine passion for the cause he had dedicated so much of his life to.
Beginning our conversation, Jamie told me a little about what he would describe Our Story Scotland as; “[it] is a Scottish charity which collects archives which present stories of LGBT people in Scotland”.
He went on to explain this is “because those stories were, until our and other organisation started going, absent from the libraries and museums.”
“So if you went to a gallery, museum or a library for stories of ordinary LGBT people, you would not find them. We had to do this because our society was changing so much and the people who have witnessed those changes, their stories would be lost forever unless we recorded them.”
Our Story Scotland’s journey first began at the LGBT centre in Glasgow in the early 00s, while Jamie working was on other projects he began to question if these stories they were finding were being archived.
Initially moved by a personal storytelling artwork by Iain Passmore about growing up gay in Paisley, ‘Five Crossroads to a Gay Space’, Jamie said this idea got in the back of his head and over the years developed a curiosity and a passion for finding these local and national stories of LGBT people and preserving them before they were swept away by time.
The charity collects and records these stories in a variety of way and at a variation of events. One of their primary archive collections is the bank of audio episodes they have collected over the years.
Detailing that this form of storytelling is favoured by older generations, Jamie continues, “We have collected over 200 episodes, the first 171 of those have been archived.
“In terms of the overall history recordings, I don’t know, I would say we have over 20 full length ones but we have also collected history recordings in the form of group recordings and also video diary types of things, commonly favoured by younger generations.
When asked about the legacy Our Story Scotland will leave Jamie points out the accessibility of these archives but states there is a possibly more significant legacy.
“I think every time people tell stories with us, it stays with us and, there is an intangible legacy, where you realise you have a story to tell and you realise that your story is worth telling, you can tell it and people are interested. So it validates you, your story and your life.
Jamie then went on to talk about how this project is increasing visibility of LGBT stories all over Scotland.
“We had an exhibition up in Aberdeen on a main street, people would walk by and look in whilst they were doing their shopping and they would see these wonderful images, including a whole lot of stories written on dinner plates and arranged in a sort of dresser for valuable plates.”
I then sat amused as Jamie told the story of encountering a heterosexual 60+ couple at an exhibition and talking to them about the struggles of going to school being gay in working class areas in Scotland in the last 50 years.
“They said ‘yes, it really must have been hard’. There was no sense there of those people thinking ‘this is not for us’, they though, I’m sure, they felt it was part of their heritage and a heritage to be shared.
Jamie then told me about how he felt the EU referendum had affected him and how he feared for non-Scottish LGBT people living in the country and the kind of message he felt we should be sending.
“Last year, I got very depressed by the way the world was going and on a personal level.
“I think the resistance has begun. I think we want to be a part of the way we celebrate LGBT people’s stories and their rights in Scotland and beyond Scotland.
Talking more broadly about the Our Story Scotland, Jamie continues, “Well, we started in 2002 and I don’t envisage any end for it. A very small charity eventually does end but it depends on the people.
“I am hoping we can get enough people to carry it on for some generations, but it just depends on people. We certainly have no idea that this is not necessary, I think it is absolutely necessary.