Let’s explore her impact on the queer community
BY JANE TRAIES
Probably best known for her book From The Closet To The Screen: Women At The Gateways Club 1945-85, Jill was a teacher, librarian, researcher and writer. Born to a teacher mother and historian father, Jill had a gender-relaxed childhood, featuring both a dolls’ house and a toy fort. Her parents encouraged her to aspire to a career, so she worked hard at her state-school, and was able to achieve a place at Somerville College, Oxford. Whilst studying history here, she discovered feminism and Spare Rib magazine.
Her journalistic career began with an article about homeless people in Oxford, for the student magazine Cherwell. While she was still at primary school, Jill was outraged by the sacking of a teacher who had been discovered to be gay. As she grew up, she became aware of her own possible bisexuality but, like so
many queer people at that time, felt unable to disclose or act upon it.
During Jill’s first teaching post, she and her landlady fell in love, and she discovered Brighton’s lesbian scene. Born Jill Longmate, she first adopted the pseudonym “Gardiner” in 1992, in order to submit a (prize-winning) lesbian love poem to the Cardiff International Poetry Competition; it was a time when her sexuality could have got her sacked from teaching.
Despite having to lead a double life, Jill’s teaching career flourished: she taught history to both A Level and Access students, becoming Head of Politics, and (of course) Equal Opportunities Co-ordinator. Alongside her teaching, she wrote essays on politics and gender for Causeway Press, and a book, Women And Politics: Progress Without Power? for the Politics Association. While on a women’s walk one day, she was recruited to the Brighton Ourstory Project, eventually becoming one of the editors of their book, Daring Hearts: Lesbian And Gay Lives In 50s And 60s Brighton (QueenSpark, 1992). Encouraged by the inclusive poetry scene, she also became Chair of Brighton Poets.
Writing was Jill’s passion. From an early age, she used verse to express her undeclared love of women. She found fiction difficult, so embarked on a social history of lesbian life in the second half of the 20th century. Based on 80 interviews with Gateways Club members, plus extensive academic research, From The Closet To The Screen was published by Pandora Press in 2003 and has been in print ever since. To finish this huge task, Jill reduced her teaching hours, then resigned from teaching altogether, becoming a college librarian instead.
Jill was a familiar figure at the Women’s International Festival on Lesvos, where she wrote and performed some of her poems. In 2019, her poetry reached a wider audience when her collection With Some Wild Woman was published by Tollington Press. Before she died, she was working on a biography of the author Maureen Duffy.
Her death has come as a shock to her many friends, and is a loss to the wider lesbian community. As well as being a significant historian and poet, she will be remembered as a loyal and generous friend, who has been taken from us far too soon.
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