An end to silence
Since 1997 the position of LGBT people has improved as a result of human rights legislation. Transsexual men and women are now able to assert their gender on passports and birth certificates. Section 28 was repealed in 2003. Since 2010 we have had a single Equality Act that includes sexual orientation and gender reassignment among its protected characteristics. A crime with a homophobic motive is now a hate crime. LGB people can enter civil partnerships and enjoy the same pension rights as heterosexual couples. We have become visible in the media, from Saturday night TV and soap characters to dramas and documentaries about our LGBT ancestors. Out and proud gay and lesbian MPs sit in parliament in all the major parties.
We have begun to deal with the legacy of silence in our schools, places of work and our public institutions. This is not only in the interests of LGBT people but of our whole society. Silence breeds ignorance and distorted imaginings. From these come, at best, embarrassment; at worst, hostility and hate crimes.
Together, we can break through the silence that still surrounds the lives of many people who do not conform to conventional notions about sexuality and gender. We can help to end the sense of isolation and bewilderment felt by so many LGBT people, particularly the young. We can make bullying unacceptable. We can also help to dispel the anxiety and confused rage that drive some people to aggressive behaviour.
Understanding who we are
Throughout history we can find many examples of people who, for one reason or another, refused to conform to the outward signs of the sex to which they were born. We also find many stories of people who loved their own sex. Some of these people were famous; some of them obscure. Some of them experienced serious persecution; others were luckier. Some are remembered for the contributions they made to our culture and society. Their personal lives are usually suppressed or censored, except in specialist publications.
To understand our present and imagine our future, we must first gain insight into our past. This is true of us as individuals; it is also true of societies. LGBT History Month is a time when we can explore and share some hidden aspects of our country’s past, both recent and remote. This hidden history belongs to all of us; it is part of our inheritance.
A grass-roots initiative
LGBT History Month has been welcomed by the governments of both the main parties, as well as the LibDems and Greens. However, its origins lie with the grass roots.
The idea came from School’s Out!, a campaigning organisation of LGBT people involved in education. They took their inspiration partly from the US, where LGBT History Month has been celebrated since 1994. They also make respectful acknowledgement to the example of Black History Month.
LGBT History Month isn’t something the government will organise for us, nor is it just for Londoners, or people living in big cities. It is something in which we all take part.
If we want it to have a major impact, we must share the responsibility for making it happen. Click here for suggestions for events and activities, as well as other information.
As LGBT lives have been hidden from history, we will on some occasions make assumptions of LGBT status for which we only have circumstantial evidence. However we believe this to be infinitely better than the current general practice of assuming heterosexuality for all, which has made us, our lives and achievements invisible, and has distorted human reality. Given the conspiracy against the proper recording of our lives we may end up assigning a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender identity erroneously. Only those that consider such identification offensive, should find such an honest mistake unacceptable. We will of course reclassify anyone on clear proof that such an honest mistake was made.
Part of the development of this project is to assign an LGBT identity to famous historical figures, who have had it robbed from them. This is an activity fraught with difficulty, for what we would now consider an LGBT identity is a very modern construct and is therefore not always appropriate to assign to people in history.
An error often made when sourcing and creating our history is to assume LGBT people are white and/or western and/or able-bodied. This assumption is part of what we call heteronormativity and to follow it would lead to the creation of a distorted LGBT history. It is therefore crucial to remember that we, as LGBT people, belong to: all races, nations and cultures; beliefs and faiths; are old and young; partnered and single; parents and non-parents; disabled and non-disabled; women, men and intersex; and belong to every social class. For more on this from our websites, go here and here