Thursday, January 09, 2014

Why is LGBT History so Important?

February is LGBT History Month in the UK, and the 9th annual celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender history in the UK started by Sue Sanders in February 2005.  The theme this year is Music.

The inspiration for LGBT history Month came partly from its US equivalent in October each year, but mostly as a result of the work Sue had done through her Schools Out project to raise awareness of LGBT issues in schools and her campaigning for the abolition of Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988.

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, passed in November 1988, stated that a local authority:
 "shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship".
Whilst section 28 did not create a criminal offense and no one was ever prosecuted, what it did was to support the homophobic and transphobic attitudes in many schools, especially faith schools, and many of the more conservative local authorities.  As a result much of the limited support for LGBT projects was withdrawn and little or no education and support for LGBT pupils or children of LGBT parents was available for the next 15 years .  Of course this also meant that LGBT history was largely erased from education. 

The past 10 years since the abolition of Section 28 in 2003 has seen huge changes in equality law in respect of LGBT people, yet still today schools are reluctant to address the issues and sexual orientation and gender identity remain the second highest cause of bullying behind weight.  Worse is that schools have allowed homophobic comment to go unchallenged.  The fact that the expression “OMG! That is so gay” is considered by many to be not offensive is an example of how schools have failed to prevent bullying, harassment and victimisation on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

But even within institutions there is still a strong undercurrent of negative attitude founded mostly the strongly held homophobic and transphobic beliefs of major religions.  This year in the debate over same sex marriage, attempts were made by mostly Conservative Lords and Bishops to reintroduce regulation giving schools the right to opt out discussing same sex issues.
It is that institutional homophobia and transphobia that has been the primary cause, of persecution of LGBT people. I am now starting to create an LGBT History Section on my GenderNetwork Website where I hope to draw together the real history of LGBT people across the world. Some of what you read there will fascinate you, some may shock you and some may even make you angry.

The problem with all history is finding the truth. I recall attending a lecture, when I was studying for my MSc in Gender Research, on using autobiography for research. The lecturer started the session by saying:
“Let’s be clear from the start. All Autobiography is Fiction!”
She proceeded to demonstrate this statement by comparing a number of autobiographies and biographies and historical records. When people write their own history they tell us what they want us to remember. In the past most history was written by mostly male academics, clerics and government officials. Free speech is a relatively new right. Governments throughout history have controlled what is written; religious orders have destroyed records that challenge their beliefs; journalists have lied to create a great story; legends have been created by theatre, poetry and songs that stretch or even invent the truth.

Yet despite all attempts to demonise LGBT people, the truth is still there if we look hard enough. Sometimes we have to make assumptions; sometimes we have to make interpretations based on the evidence; but I hope at least to challenge your thinking, open your minds to some new ideas, throw a new light on what you thought happened in the past and take you on a fascinating journey into a world that is quite literally “Hidden in Plain Sight”.

February is just three weeks away, and a great opportunity for all organisations, not just public sector, to promote a positive attitude to LGBT Issues. Why not organise a LGBT in music event, or an exhibition of local LGBT history, or run some LGBT, Sexual Orientation or Transgender Awareness Training, or sponsor or support a local LGBT support group, or best of all, do something to promote LGBT issues in your local schools.

There are loads of great ideas and resources on the LGBT History Month site.  Remember that the theme this year is Music and there are a huge number of musicians who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender so there is bags of scope for finding a project that you could organise or support.  And if you need a speaker for your event don't hesitate to contact me, Rikki Arundel 

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