LGBT+ History Month is in February every year. This year our IP Out community and CIPA are collaborating on a series of posts throughout the month, beginning with this personal reflection and introduction from IP Out committee member Darren Smyth of EIP.
When I agreed with the IP Out Committee to write some materials for LGBT+ history month this year (which is February), I was quite daunted. Conor Wilman did a fantastic series of posts last year, which seemed to say everything that there is to say and are a very hard act to follow. They are still very much worth a read – you can find them on the IP Inclusive website with the LGBT+ history month tag (https://ipinclusive.org.uk/newsandfeatures/?news_tag_id=223). But then the lovely people at CIPA contacted me and said that they were keen to write some materials for the month as well, and so we have agreed to share one another’s burdens. So, during the course of February, after this post, we will publish two more from me, interspersed with three posts from CIPA.
If that is not enough to sate your appetite, there is loads of other stuff on the internet. Some of it will be referred to in my later posts, but here I would like to additionally refer you to the LGBT+ History Month website (https://lgbtplushistorymonth.co.uk/) that has developed resources that are linked to National Curriculum subjects. They have adopted “Body, Mind, Spirit” as their theme for this year, and their resources (https://lgbtplushistorymonth.co.uk/resources/lgbt-history-month/) include interesting biographies of Lily Parr, Mark Ashton, Maya Angelou, Michael Dillon, and Mark Weston.
I turned 50 last year and have been in a reflective mood. It strikes me that I have been alive for most of the period in which LGBT+ history has been able to be increasingly open in this country. The partial decriminalisation of sex between men in the Sexual Offences Act 1967 was only a few years before I was born, and I think marks a line between when our history was of necessity very covert and when it has been able to be more public. Of course we had a history before then, but it takes a lot more work to uncover it.
My life has been very affected by the legal changes that have happened. The partial decriminalisation only applied to acts between two men over the age of 21 in private. When I came out at the age of 19, I was “jailbait”. People only a generation above me clearly remembered the times before 1967. And after the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, prosecutions for offences related to consensual sex actually increased. Cottaging (meeting for sex in public toilets) was still illegal and strongly policed using entrapment techniques. And “in private” meant that you could be prosecuted for having sex in your bedroom with the door closed if your house was shared with other people.
Then in 1988 came “Section 28”, which forbade local authorities to “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”. This meant that the generation following me were not allowed to learn about gay relationships in school, and also meant that many LGBT+ services and non-commercial venues, which often relied on council funding for support, had to close.
From that low point things could only get better, and they did. Section 28 was repealed, the age of consent was lowered and then equalised, civil partnerships were introduced, and finally equal marriage was achieved. So much was realised in a very short time, but in the last few years I have become convinced that what was quickly gained can be quickly lost. Now is the time for vigilance, not for complacency.
I have also been reflecting on how the language we use to describe ourselves has evolved. When I first came out, “Queer” was not used as a self label, whereas now, while not accepted by everyone, it is widely used as an umbrella term for the LGBT+ community and individual identities. The LGBT acronym had not been coined at all. At university, the “Gaysoc” became the Lesbian and Gay Society, and then the Lesbian Gay and Bisexual Society before becoming Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. I want to make it clear however, as some are currently seeking to put this in doubt, the LGB does and always has stood with the T: we share a community and our cause is the same cause. Other identities are also included in the community, but for now IP Out has chosen to indicate these with the “+” rather than extend the acronym further.
In my lifetime there has also been an explosion of LGBT+ representation in the arts. One example of that will be the topic of my next blogpost. There has also been overall a rise in LGBT+ spaces, although there have been many pressures acting against this, and that will be the topic of my final blogpost. In between those posts, there will be posts on the Pride flag, its history and different forms, and on LGBT+ in the Judiciary System, from our friends at CIPA.
Page published on 1st February 2021
Page last modified on
Thank you for your comment, Peter. Indeed Section 28 was an evil of two halves, the first which defunded many services and had the de facto effect that LGBT+ issues were not discussed in state schools, and the second, which had no actual legal effect, was to legislatively declare that gay relationships were "pretend". It's really good to hear from someone who also remembers that time.
Interesting to read your reflections, Darren. I'm about 10 years older than you, and remember those times, too. I always thought that Section 28 was callously worded. The press only ever referred to the first part: "promoting homosexuality", and never to the second: "promoting the acceptability of homosexuality ...". The first part is so ridiculous as to almost be a no-brainer, but hid the pernicious effect of the second. And I agree that we must be ever-vigilant in protecting the gains we have made. Recent attacks on trans people's rights, who were the first to act in the Stonewall Tavern, is testament to this. Heading into retirement now ...