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Recognising LGBT+ History Month: Paul Harfleet

Image: Paul Harfleet, Barbican Press

Posted on: 20 February 2023

LGBT+ History Month is an opportunity to recognise the outstanding achievements of the LGBT+ community. In this blog we focus on the artist Paul Harfleet.

Paul started the Pansy Project to combat verbal homophobic and transphobic abuse in public. Paul shares the following on his inspiration for the initiative: “A string of homophobic abuse on a warm summer’s day was the catalyst for this project. The day began with two builders shouting; “it’s about time we went gay bashing again isn’t it?”; continued with a gang of yobs throwing abuse and stones at my then boyfriend and me, and ended with a bizarre and unsettling confrontation with a man who called us ‘ladies’ under his breath.”

It was not the first of such encounters for Paul, but he was keen to explore the emotional impact of these experiences. This caused Paul to plant pansies. 

On the choice of pansies Paul adds: “The species of plant was of course vitally important and the pansy instantly seemed perfect. Not only does the word refer to an effeminate or gay man: The name of the flower originates from the French verb; penser (to think), as the bowing head of the flower was seen to visually echo a person in deep thought. The subtlety and elegiac quality of the flower was ideal for my requirements. The action of planting reinforced these qualities, as kneeling in the street and digging in the often-neglected hedgerows felt like a sorrowful act.”

Using plants was also used to shown to rise amongst adversity and was a positive way to combat the abuse.

Paul’s work has led to appearances on TV, radio, and podcasts. He was notably the subject of the 2015 French documentary Les Pensées de Paul directed by Jean Baptiste-Erreca which won several international film awards. Additionally, Paul Harfleet has spoken at many events such as at M&S HQ, the British Library and the Nuart Festival in Stavanger, Norway. 

Paul is an example of using an initiative to make the world a more inclusive, welcoming place for all. It is important to remember the impact words and actions have on people regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

For more of Paul’s work visit:

Written by Nicholas Percival, Deputy Director of Human Resources, February 2023.