|Looking Back On
History Month 2020
Well here we are, LGBT+ History Month 2020’s celebrations are nearly (but not quite) over, and it has been a very full month for us. I always miss Paul Patrick who co-founded the month with me, but must admit to missing him more in February and know he would be flabbergasted to see how much we have grown.
I am writing some of this on a train going to Pinhoe near Exeter, so I will be there delivering tomorrow’s key note speech at the Meteorological Office, and I’m looking forward to it immensely. LGBT+HM takes me to such interesting places. The day facilitates all the civil service LGBT+ networks to come together, network and hear from outside speakers. 200 people will be there, listening to 14 speakers, exploring 18 stalls, 13 networks and companies including Exeter University, so it’s a very big deal!
The Rainbow flag flying proudly and Sue with delegates at the Civil Servants’ Network Day
The beginning of the month was very special, as we helped launch the very first exhibition of LGBT+ history in Northern Ireland at the Museum of Free Derry. Dr Jeff Evans, a member of the Schools OUT UK steering committee, with longstanding links to Ulster worked with several partners including Cara Friend and Rainbow Project and we were sponsored by Free at Last TV.
The Free Derry Museum was set up by the Bloody Sunday Trust to ensure that the story of that day in 1972 was told by the people involved, not by anyone else, especially the English. They contacted us wanting to be involved in bringing LGBT+ history to the fore as they saw it as part of their work supporting human rights. The fact that they wanted to launch it on the anniversary of the Bloody Sunday riots was particular special and moving for us. The exhibition is designed to tour and we already have venues both in Ulster and the USA. It is a first step to documenting the early history of LGBT+ people organising in Northern Ireland and supporting each other. It is a moving exhibition showing how we have had to struggle to get our basic human rights.
I attended the Bloody Sunday annual lecture and the memorial to the march, which was a real privilege. The exhibition at the museum is truly powerful and tells the story we rarely hear in England of how the protestors were massacred by English soldiers. The Mayor of Derry Maeve Mcloughlin kindly invited us to tea at her parlour, and we discussed how we might sustain the work started by the exhibition. It was decided that she would write to all the schools in Derry and invite them to the exhibition and a free day’s training on how to be inclusive of LGBT+ issues was set up for the 7th
The event proved a great success. Dr Jeff Evans and Dr Brian Lacey, with Lee from Cara Friend and a representative of The Rainbow Project, Jeff demonstrated how to do a history lesson that involved LGBT+ history which he designed. It is on The Classroom website. Over 30 people attended, most of them educators, and who got very involved with Lee receiving three calls from schools asking for information about training on the following Monday morning. (See the report from the project manager of the Bloody Sunday project later in the Bulletin).The exhibition is now on the move and will be shown in Belfast as part of the OUTing the Past event at the Public Records Office on 14th
March, then in Dungannon Public Library on 4th
April. More dates are in the pipeline for Northern Ireland this year then both Ireland and England next year.
Derry Launch – Lee from Cara Friend
I attended the annual D&I Leaders LGBT+ Conference which was another excellent day; LGBT+ leaders from corporate businesses sharing best practice with each other. It is fascinating to hear the ease with which they talk about the issues and how many of them have active LGBT+ networks, many of which celebrate LGBT+ History Month. The intriguing thing is that today I find so many people know about the month but not about our website or why the month needed to be founded. In many ways that is a compliment and means we have achieved our aim of creating a space to make LGBT+ people in all their diversity visible.
It is wondrous to see what people do for LGBT+ History Month. Schools hold all sorts of events - quizzes, cake-baking, assemblies utilising our free resources, decorating classrooms and corridors with our free posters or inviting in speakers. Diversity role Models tell us they have had their busiest February ever. I have been to a couple of schools and it was lovely to see our Faces of 2020 were popular, as they were unaware of the sexuality of our chosen people, with William Shakespeare coming as a revelation to them. The very reason I set up the month all those years ago, the fact that schools were lying by omission, still is true.
OUTing the Past, our LGBT+ history festival and offshoot of LGBT+HM, has proved very popular again this year. We had over 70 offers of presentations and 22 venues ran an OTP event. Six were held on the island of Ireland, with 14 in England and two in the USA. (alas since this was written circumstances have overtaken us and the Dublin, New York and Boston events have been postponed)
I made it my business to get to the new venues, so went to Charleston, a fabulous venue which not only had speakers selected from our Gazette but also an exhibition from local LGBT+ youth. Charleston is where the Bloomsbury Set (Virginia Woolf – one of my favourite authors, Vita Sackville-West et al) went when they left London and much queer goings on happened there. It has links with another of our Faces, author E.M. Forster. It is an excellent venue to visit with much to explore.
Historian Jane Traies opened the event with consummate ease giving us the story of famous academic Caroline Spurgeon (a Shakespeare expert) and her complex relations with two other women. GLF founding member Andrew Lumsden told us the fascinating story of the Labouchere family and their influence on E.M. Forster. Josh Rivers interviewed poet Sea Sharp, a powerful voice of the black experience. The session was recorded and can be found on Josh’s regular podcast Busy Being Black.
Dr Sara Carr and Dr Helen Spandler took us back in time to see how lesbians were treated by the medical profession between the 1950s and 1970s. This required much patience as there is hidden evidence to show that some unfortunate lesbians were given electric shock treatment and incarcerated in mental health institutions. Their research is ongoing so we hope to provide updates. Dan Vo of the V&A Museum was our last speaker. He has been a consistent supporter of both LGBT+ History Month and OUTing the Past, having been a member of our steering committee, now a patron, and helped us with promotion and enabled us to make the recordings for our up and coming new website which will make our Voices and Visibility resource poster interactive. Dan talked us through the queer links at Charleston and introduced us to his work queering museums round the country - see www.salonoutre.com
Young people’s work ‘LGBTO+=ME’ was a collaborative piece, interviewing and exploring local LGBT+ people and archives. It is so gratifying to see schools and youth groups collaborating in such work and just what we wanted to achieve. So hats off to a successful new hub. The staff at Charleston were very enthusiastic and were keen to work with us again next year.
We were thrilled that Charleston came to us and offered themselves as a hub. The same can be said for another new hub, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Both were held in lovely buildings, reeking of history. Jane Traies and Dan Vo were at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust as well, which as a joy as I so enjoy their work. Cheryl Morgan has been a regular presenter for OTP and always surprises and educates me, this time about Lord Byron and The Lion King. Jessica Heath gave us all sorts of anecdotes from her work on the archives in Huddersfield.
The Trust is now working on looking at exploring LGBT+ links and has produced what will be ongoing work under the title of Proud Shakespeare. Some were on display.
Trudy Howson, LGBT+ Poet Laureate, was in conversation with Paul Edmondson of the Trust. It was a delightful insight into a busy lesbian activist and artistic life. Paul then gave an amazing lecture on how we can see that Shakespeare, through his sonnets, was writing love poems to a man so we can see him as a bisexual in modern terms. Paul then had a conversation with Luke Turner, author of the bisexual memoir ‘OUT of the Woods’ about making bisexuality more visible. It was a wonderful event. The staff were so friendly and the atmosphere very warm, so we look forward to working with them again. Paul has also written a lesson plan on Shakespeare’s bisexuality for secondary schools which can be found at www.the-classroom.org.uk.
My involvement with LGBT+ issues is of course ongoing and in no way confined to only February. I have been involved with the Criminal Justice System for many years, working with them to ensure they give LGBT + people proper support in dealing with homophobic incidents and crime. The Crown Prosecution Service has updated a pack they produced with us some time ago on tackling homophobia in schools. I worked with them to ensure it was current and linked to young people. We launched it at Thomas Tallis School in late January in the run up to LGBT+HM, with students taking part in videos to demonstrate how to tackle homophobia. The Hate Crime lead of the CPS was there alongside Berenice Miles who led on the original writing and enabled the update. The pack will soon be available on The Classroom website so keep an eye open for that.
In the evening of the same day I was invited to the anniversary party of the LGBT+ Independent Advisory Group to the Metropolitan Police that I helped to found 20 years ago. It was a moving event for me. There was no way to know when we set it up that would it would last so long, be so effective, and be celebrated two decades later by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, an out lesbian. See here
Dame Cressida Dick, Metropolitan Police Commissioner
I have been retired from the IAG for some years now, but follow their work and am still a member of the independent advisory group on hate crime to the Home Office. The IAG to the Met was instrumental in helping create LGBT+ Police Liaison Officers and did a great deal of their training. PLOs were voluntary posts with officers who take on the role working with colleagues investigating homophobic crime, giving support, background knowledge and supporting victims. They also did preventative work in schools and venues. At one stage there was at least one in every borough. But over the years due to austerity, loss of police numbers and lack of interest in hate crime, we lost the role.
A survey last year and the work done by the IAG revealed that though there was an increase in the reporting of homophobic crime, there was a severe drop in sanction detections and satisfaction by victims of homophobic crime. Several LGBT+ activists including David Robson and Laila El-Metoui (both of whom have worked with us on the SOUK committee in the past) worked with the LGBT+ Police Network and LGBT+ Police Advisors were introduced. In February they held a day’s conference which was intended to launch the idea and offer some training and insights to the role. About 200 officers have volunteered and we can only hope that this time the role is properly resourced and embedded so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel in another ten years. I was given a chance to say a few words where I made it clear how vital the role was, and to work in schools and look at prevention as much as supporting victims, and of course remind people to support our work by buying badges, which are still our main source of income.
With David Robson, Leila El-Metoui and police officer Dan Ivey
Theatre is very close to my heart as a former drama teacher and director. There were many plays dealing with LGBT+ themes scheduled for LGBT+HM this year, so many that I could only see a couple of them. You can see my reviews of ‘High Table’ here
and the cabaret evening of disabled LGBT+ artists at the Stratford Arts Circus here.
Disabled performance artists at Stratford Arts Circus
One of many highlights was seeing the Post Office’s Nottingham Sorting Office use a post mark saying ‘February is LGBT History Month’. This seems huge to us, and we are still trying to discover who to thank.
Manchester University produced films about LGBT+ poets and writers that will be a great resource for years to come see here.
2020’s theme of ‘Poetry, Prose and Plays’ proved very popular, so it will take us a while to find all the new resources and get them up on the website. Keep looking, they will be up soon.
Another delightful evening was in Manchester at the construction organisation Building Equality event. They were incredibly generous and donated the door money and raffle money to us. There was also a rush on badges so that in all we raised about £500 much needed funds as my and committee members’ expenses going round the country to all these events is expensive.
History Month postal mark
It was good to be with representatives of companies not immediately the most obvious participants in work on LGBT+ issues. Their enthusiasm was incredible and they had some great videos from various people involved in the building industry talking about what role models meant to them. I felt it was the start of a very fruitful partnership.
With Chester Gorgeous at Building Manchester, plus a beautiful rainbow cake
I wanted to attend all the new hubs of OUTing the Past and as you can imagine this piece has been written over several weeks, so last night (9th March) I not only attended the Leicester LGBT centre but spoke as well, giving a potted history of LGBT+ History Month alongside presentations from author Caroline Paige on her new book documenting LGBT+ experience in the armed forces, and Rainer Schulze speaking about Holocaust survivor and trans cabaret artist, Suleika Aldini. Both presentations showed only too clearly the importance of knowing our history and how it can be hidden. The audience was delightfully diverse with both elders and youngsters from our community. It was a pleasure to be in one of the few LGBT+ centres in England and what a wonderful building it is, beautifully resourced.
I knew Leicester as a hot bed of LGBT activity in the ‘70s and ‘80s. There was a very active chapter of Schools OUT, as it was called then. Gill Spraggs, who designed and set up the first website of LGBT+ History Month, is a local. In the audience were some very important veterans of the movement. There was a retired teacher there who remembered Paul Patrick and the energy he brought to the work to make schools safe for LGBT+ people. They have done wonderful work recording local LGBT+ history to produce over a hundred oral interviews and a booklet summarising some of those histories. I did some plotting with Bernard Greaves, who has been involved in LGBT+ action for over fifty years, and which I hope will mean us collecting and publicising regional histories starting with Leicester’s.
Theo at Leicester OTP
Our badges are designed by art students every year. For 2021 we are working with Goldsmiths University, currently exploring their designs for the theme – Body, Mind and Spirit
. The University also has a design course which asked us to be clients of their students, to work on a project looking at how to utilise and market our concept of usualising. Several of the committee have been involved in pitching the idea and giving feedback to the five groups grappling with the concept. The projects are very varied, utilising weaving, gardening, pub culture and children’s stories. We will see the final results on the 19th
March and will let you know how this develops. The students have been very excited and enthusiastic about the project and have had sessions at the Bishopsgate Institute where my and Schools OUT UK’s archives are held, as well as getting input from SOUK patron, Dan Vo, now a professional queerer of museums. This means that one Schools OUT UK objective, working in education to make our community visible in all its diversity, is being achieved.
As I wrote this we still had the Belfast, Dublin, New York and Boston OTP events to come. Unfortunately these last three have had to be postponed due to the Coronavirus emergency.
The last event I attended, along with my partner Jeanne Nadeau, was at the British Library, an evening with Ian McKellen and Michal Cashman talking about Michael’s new book ‘One Of Them’. The last time we were both together with Ian and Michael was back in the days of fighting Section 28. Jim MacSweeney, manager of Gays the Word bookshop, introduced the evening, looking very dapper and sporting the LGBT History month badge on his lapel. There is a lovely film about him and the bookshop here.
Michael was kind enough to thank me from the stage for setting up LGBT History Month and I took the chance to thank the audience for all the work they do to make the month happen. Ian (an LGBT+ HM patron) was very skilled in drawing out wonderful stories from Michael to a packed audience. It was a delightful evening going down memory lane with them both. They did discuss the work we were involved in together fighting section 28 and Michael made links to the work being done now to protect Andrew Moffatt’s crucial ‘No Outsiders’ work. Michael’s book has received much praise
and I am so looking forward to reading it, or better still have him read to me as an audible book.
Michael Cashman in conversation with Ian McKellen
We have faced many setbacks, both individually and as a community. Learning our history and celebrating it is, to my mind, a healing process that gives us a sense of belonging to the long line of people who came before and played their unique part in laying down the stepping stones we walk, glide or stumble along to full human rights. Every year I learn about past champions, often unsung, to whom we owe our thanks, who helped us get to where we are now in the UK. Elsewhere in the world there are brave souls battling worse oppression. Yet when some come here to ask for asylum, they are treated atrociously. The job is not yet done, hate crime is on the increase, LGBT+ young people are disproportionately homeless and far too many schools deal ineffectively with homophobia and transphobia.
LGBT+ History Month offers us the opportunity to celebrate our community and rededicate ourselves to the crucial work of ensuring we have visibility, safety and pride in who we all are. Irrespective of where we might be in regards to lockdown, social distancing etc, our community's creativity will rise to the challenge and claim our past, celebrate our present and create our future.
Professor Emeritus, Harvey Milk Institute
Chair, Schools OUT UK.