History in Motion

London transit system’s new name sweetly honors LGBTQ+ history

The London Overground rail line has got a new name to raise a lesser known piece of LGBTQ+ history up from the underground. Thousands of commuters everyday will now know one branch of the Overground as the Mildmay line — honoring Europe’s first hospice dedicated to treating HIV/AIDS patients.

On February 15, London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced name changes for each line along with unveiling a new map — the biggest change to the map since it was created. Each name is designed to highlight different aspects of the city’s history. “There are so many fascinating, and often forgotten, stories from our city that should be told and remembered,” Khan said.

“Naming the lines will not only help educate visitors about our amazing city and its incredible history but will also make it easier for people who live, work or visit London to navigate the city.”

The Mildmay line takes its name from the Mildmay Hospital in Shoreditch, which opened in 1892 to address a cholera outbreak. After a lack of funds led to its closure in the early 1980s, it reopened in 1988 to treat HIV/AIDS patients — at a time when there was still fear and inaction in response to the pandemic.

Princess Diana famously made three official and fourteen unofficial visits to the hospital. Photos of the princess shaking patient’s hands without gloves were seen around the world, helping to dismantle the stigma surrounding contact with HIV/AIDS patients.

“HIV does not make people dangerous to know,” Princess Diana said at the Children & AIDS conference in 1991. “So you can shake their hands and give them a hug. Heaven knows they need it.”

While the original hospital has since been demolished, a new Mildmay hospital was built in 2014, and it continues to be a leader in HIV care. Now transit-riders will hear its name everyday. “More than just tracks and stations, the Mildmay Line symbolizes a journey of acceptance, love, and belonging – a vibrant thread connecting our collective past, present, and future,” Mildmay CEO Geoff Coleman told PinkNews.

Other name changes for the Overground lines honor the women’s suffrage movement, the victims of the Windrush scandal, and the historical importance of textile workers. The name changes are expected to be made official by the end of the year.

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