LGBT History Month

Back to the future


LGBT History Month co-ordinator Ann Marriott and gay MSP Patrick Harvie explain to Robin Lee why we must celebrate queer folk through the ages.

Love and life for LGBT people in the UK is looking a particularly rosy shade of pink in 2007. Civil partnerships have failed to wreck the institution of marriage, same-sex couples have the legal right to adopt children jointly, and the Equality Bill, outlawing discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities or services, is currently shuttling its way between the two Houses of Parliament.

While all three are to be applauded, there is a danger that we’ll forget how we came to arrive at this unprecedented position. Our society needs to be reminded that these rights (and responsibilities) have been tenaciously fought for - because they have been necessary for hundreds of years, and not just now. To paraphrase George Santayana, those who cannot remember the past may take their hard-won freedoms for granted (and those freedoms eroded in the breach).

This is where LGBT History Month comes in. ‘Up until now, there’s been very few opportunities to celebrate the contribution that lesbian gay, bisexual and transgendered people have made to our nation,’ says Ann Marriot, the month’s co-ordinator north of the border. ‘There have been questions - about why does it matter that somebody is within a same-sex partnership, why does it matter that somebody was trying to change gender - but by looking at LGBT history, we can celebrate these identities and allow people to have role models, and stop being scared about this idea of sex being part of sexuality on a constant basis.’

To whit, a series of events across Scotland, from pub quizzes to civic receptions. A brief sample: the popular Rainbow City exhibition makes a guest appearance at Leith library. Matthew Wellard leads tours of three national galleries, uncovering the gay histories of artists and artworks. At Glasgow’s Women’s Library, hidden lesbian lives are brought into the light, and the city’s film festival features five LGBT-themed flicks. Rock Hudson and Spartacus come out of The Celluloid Closet in Edinburgh, and the Metropolitan Community Church investigates sexuality and spirituality.

It’s no surprise that, as LGBT folks look toward to an egalitarian future with confidence, an appetite for celebrating queer history has developed. The fear of being shouted down and shut away has receded, and concealment and anonymity are unfashionable. ‘[This is] about people being able to live full lives, loving the person that they do, or being able to express who they are without fear of reprisal,’ Marriott continues. ‘By bringing to the fore things that have gone on in the past, we can learn lessons for our future.’

Such has been the change in institutional attitudes that Patrick Harvie, the gay Green MSP, found no shortage of sponsors for a motion praising LGBT History Month in the Scottish Parliament on 24 January. ‘It cropped up that there was a chance of getting a slot in Member’s Business, which doesn’t come up often for small parties, and I thought this would be a useful subject to raise. One or two tabloids have taken a predictable, knee-jerk position, [but] we’re at a time when political leaders across all major parties are supportive.’ Remember when it was different?

LGBT History Month runs throughout February.


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