Canterbury’s LGBT history

February is LGBT+ History Month, a celebration of queer history, gay rights, and LGBTQIA+ icons, so CommunityAd take a brief look at Canterbury’s LGBT history.


It was established in 1994 by Rodney Wilson, a high school history teacher in Missouri, and is the perfect excuse to look at some important figures in the community’s history who hail from our own town. Two queer Canterbury icons at opposite ends of history and lifestyle come in the form of Christopher Marlowe and Jodie Harsh.


Christopher, or Kit, Marlow was an Elizabethan playwright and contemporary of Shakespeare. Born in Canterbury in February 1564, Marlowe studied at the King’s School and later attended Corpus Christi College at Cambridge, and began writing in his early twenties. Little is known about Marlowe’s life as facts have become so entwined with theory and embellishment that it’s hard to know what is real and what is fiction. We know he was a writer but he may also have been a government spy. He may have been an atheist, which would have been a dangerous admission in Elizabethan England. Scholars have been arguing about his sexuality for decades, with academics coming down equally vehemently on both sides of the debate.


Marlowe’s theatrical success began in the 1580s with the success of his play Tamburlaine the Great. More plays and more success followed. His last work, Edward II, depicts a romantic relationship between two men, and his 1590 poem Hero and Leander is similarly homoerotic.


Marlowe was killed in a bar fight on 30th May 1593 at the age of 29, but even the manner and motive behind his death has been questioned and remains mysterious.


Fast forward several centuries to another queer icon in Canterbury’s LGBT history: DJ and drag queen Jodie Harsh.


Jodie Harsh was the first drag artist to be playlisted at BBC Radio 1 and has been hailed as a trailblazer for making it in the DJ industry, which is usually dominated by cis straight men. Jodie is the alter ego of Jay Clarke, who was born in Canterbury in 1985 and moved to London when they were 18 to study at the London College of Fashion. Clarke started doing drag while in London as another creative outlet and as a way to pay the bills, but the persona of Jodie Harsh was so popular that she set up her own club night, Circus, which was a huge success.


In 2016 Jodie appeared in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie as herself alongside Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley. In 2021, Jodie made an appearance on the second series of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK. That same year she signed an exclusive global publishing deal with Universal Music Publishing Group UK after releasing two singles with Warner Records UK.

Originally published on Page 54 of Canterbury CommunityAd Magazine, Febuary 2023 – Issue 44

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