LGBT History Festival a 'Tremendous Achievement'

History was literally made in February when Schools OUT United Kingdom marked LGBT History Month with the first ever National LGBT History Festival. The second What is and How to Do LGBT History? academic conference combined with the Festival Hub which was open to the general public and free were held simultaneously at three separate venues in the centre of Manchester. Delegates to all events over the Valentines weekend were enraptured at being treated to a host of educative, informative and entertaining events all as the city dedicated itself to unearthing the history of the LGBT community.
Guest of honour at the event was Stuart Milk, a gay rights and equalities campaigner throughout the world whose uncle Harvey was the subject of the eponymous film featuring Sean Penn and James Franco. Speaking from Miami, keynote speaker Professor Charles Upchurch, who presented some of his work on homosexuality in Victorian England remarked:
I’m really proud to be involved in this event. History is one of the things that helps us to understand our place in the world. I love that this festival is bringing together academics, activists, artists and so many interested individuals. I’m very much looking forward to learning from responses I receive, and to taking in the wide range of events that are a part of the festival.
The conference included and reflected the growing international interest in this exciting and challenging topic of global historical enquiry, within the academy and beyond. The conference welcomed scholars from a wide range of international institutions including, among others, the University of Bergen, Durham University, Yonsei University in South Korea and Indiana University, USA.
Among those present were the eminent British historian and sociologist, Professor Jeffrey Weeks, a patron of Schools OUT UK and LGBT History Month (SOUK/LGBT HM). Weeks has fearlessly pioneered and promoted the study of attitudes to sexual diversity since the early 1970s, and notes of the conference:
“The 1st National Festival of LGBT History and in particular the Festival academic conference plays a vital part enriching our understanding of our past history by highlighting the variety of past attitudes and behaviours towards the wonder of human sexual and gender diversity. History helps to make sense of the patchwork of our lives. By knowing where we came from, we can understand better the complexities of the present, and get a sense of what is possible for the future. A sense of history is essential for anchoring identity, and sustaining community.”
Dr Matt Cook of Birkbeck College, University of London, and Patron of SO/LGBT HM, commenting on the weekend of festivities, remarked:
This festival and conference explores how and why we should take the past seriously as we consider our present and future. It offers a tremendous line up of speakers, workshops, screenings and other events.
A specially commissioned workshop session was run by Professor Stephen Whittle, who lectures at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) as well as being a patron of SO/LGBT HM. Stephen welcomed this remarkable conference and underlined its importance, saying:
“Hosting this Festival and Conference is a recognition of Manchester’s central place, not just in the UK, but in the global battle for LGBT rights. Manchester’s LGBT community has been a powerhouse of liberty and freedom throughout the last 60 years. Despite fighting the daily prejudice, discrimination, homophobia and transphobia that came with sticking their heads above the parapet, Manchester’s lesbian, gay and trans people effectively put their lives on the line in the struggle for their recognition as equal citizens. As such, they have gained a place in Manchester’s historical legacy of fighting injustice, and they have been instrumental in creating the colossal changes in the social and legal recognition of LGBT rights, that we see today.
The conference was kindly hosted by Lesbian and Gay Foundation in the Heart of the Manchester Gay Village. Paul Martin OBE, Chief Executive of the LGF and conference host, said: “Manchester has a long and illustrious history of fighting for equality for all members of our diverse society, so it is appropriate for us to celebrate the very first National Festival of LGBT History in this amazing city. Everyone from The Lesbian & Gay Foundation is delighted be a part of history by hosting the festival at The LGF and we’re honoured to welcome international academics, researchers, artists and other individuals to celebrate LGBT history with us.”
The Hub was hosted by Manchester Library in their newly refurbished and splendid building and The People’s Museum, a truly fantastic venue in the city’s newly built West Bank. Among the speakers were Peter Tatchell, who spoke of our colonial legacy in Africa and Christine Burns, who talked about trans empowerment through social media.