LGBT History Month

Today is the start of LGBT History Month, marked in the UK since 2005 to raise the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, their history, lives and their experiences.

In 2017, there was a clear unifying anniversary of fifty years since the partial decriminalisation for part of the UK of sex between men – enabled by then Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, whose political career took him from Labour minister via SDP leader to the Lib Dem green benches.

2018 has key round-number dates too, though: forty years since the assassination of Harvey Milk; thirty years since the arrival of Section 28, the UK law which sought to make homosexuality a thought crime. Forty years too since the invention of the rainbow flag, and twenty years since the bisexual flag was created in response to the exclusion from the gay community many bi people experienced.

Last year LGBT+ Liberal Democrats added a history timeline to their website, which you can visit here. In building the timeline for the web page I was reminded how consistently the Lib Dems have been on the right side of history on LGBT issues – even if there has been the odd wavering MP or Peer along the way. When Section 28 was announced thirty years ago we stood alone against it while the Tories cheered and Labour prevaricated over what was at the time a populist measure. When the tide of opinion had started to turn against such homophobic laws we saw Lib Dems in parliament embarrassing Blair’s government over their inaction, often only ended by European legal rulings that forced a decade of legislative change from the turn of the century.

One of the key aspects of LGBT History Month is education: indeed it started in the UK as an initiative targeted at schools to unpick some of the devastation wrought by Section 28. Education is our Liberal LGBT story too: the championing of treating LGBT+ people as equal citizens deserving of respect and equal treatment did not just happen in the party because of the basic liberal principles upon which our movement was built. Our parliamentarians in the Commons, Lords and Brussels, and our voting members at conference backing LGBT+ rights motions, were standing on the proverbial shoulders of giants. People like Bernard Greaves and Gordon Lishman worked in the party through the 70s and 80s doing peer education work at a time when the received image of LGBT people was much narrower and more negative than it is today.

We need that education to keep going, though. The simple-to-understand battles of the 90s and 00s were on issues like the right to have your long-term relationship recognised, an equal age of consent or freedom from the threat of arbitrarily being sacked just because your employer decides they don’t like gay people. Today we are fighting campaigns for not just equal treatment but appropriate treatment, respecting the diversity within our LGBT communities. With Brexit and the loss of the momentum our membership of European institutions has given to the cause of equality and liberation we may find the next campaigns are fighting to avoid losing hard-won rights from the past two decades.

By teaching us about the past, LGBT History Month helps us to think about the battles ahead of us. Fellow LGBT readers, enjoy the opportunities History Month gives for remembering your own past and hearing about the experiences of people from the other LGBT ‘strands’. Cis hetero allies, do join us to listen and learn about the story of how we got to where we are. It may help you to understand even better the work we still have to do.

* Jen is former Chair of LGBT+ Lib Dems (2006-2009) and received the MBE in 2016 for her voluntary work supporting bisexual people over the past 25 years.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.
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2 Comments

  • A lot of progress has been made but more work is still to do. Unfortunately LGBT students still face bullying and victimisation in our academic institutions. The homophobic bullies that lurk in our schools, colleges and Universities must be confronted. Homophobia has no place in today’s society.
    LGBT rights are human rights.

  • Sue Sutherland 2nd Feb '18 - 12:36pm

    Jen I couldn’t get the link to work. It takes years to sort out the effects of oppression so thank you for everything you and the LGBT+ group are doing.

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