OUTing The Past may just have made a little bit of history itself

Full article available from The Canary

LGBT History Month is drawing to a close, and with it so is a nationwide festival of the community’s history. So before it has its swansong in London, The Canary caught up with the OUTing the Past festival organiser Dr Jeff Evans and Prof Sue Sanders from Schools OUT UK to discuss its highs, more highs, the media, the future, and making history itself.

A potted LGBTQ+ history

The fourth OUTing the Past festival has been running up and down the UK since 3 February. The self-titled “National Festival of LGBT History” hosted 12 events across the country. And each hub had unique speakers, debates, activities, performances and presentations.
This year’s festival had a full-to-brimming programme in its 12 hubs. It covered a multitude of topics. One event looked at Warwickshire’s hidden LGBTQ+ history. And another was a talk called Non-binary gender across time and space.


OUTing the Past’s overarching aim is to broaden the debate surrounding LGBTQ+ history in the UK. Formed on the 10th anniversary of LGBT History Month, in conjunction with campaign group Schools OUT UK, it focuses on bringing the community’s history to a wider public audience. It’s needed because mainstream education, media and politics often exclude it.
This exclusion is demonstrable from the events at the festival’s hubs. Take Hilary McCollum’s talk Sapphic Suffragettes: the key role of lesbians in the fight for votes for women at the Liverpool hub on 3 February. The mainstream history of the Suffragettes would have you believe they were straight, middle class women. While the ‘middle class’ element may be fairly accurate, McCollum looked at the “underexplored” possibility that many of the women were bi or lesbian. This is, of course, not to mention the disabled women and those of colour who were part of the movement.

Not news to the mainstream media?

Part of this under-exploration of LGBTQ+ history is due to a flaccid media. As The Canary previously reported, OUTing the Past’s Belfast hub was subject to some negative press coverage, after a speaker made comments many considered controversial. But Sanders told The Canary that this is run-of-the-mill from the mainstream media:

It seems to me that the press love printing bad news. LGBT History Month has been very successful, and its offshoot OUTing the Past as well. So, perhaps we are not news to them.
But OUTing the Past has a story worth publishing; in fact many stories. We are unearthing lives and events that link us to our past. Lives and events that inform us of how our LGBT family survived and thrived: soldiers falling in love with each other; lesbian Suffragettes; magazines that linked lonely lesbians and enabled them to meet and change their lives; hearing how we fought oppression and celebrated pride. Stories that show we are unusual and extraordinary and nothing to do with the stereotypes that have been promulgated. There are wealth of stories which we are proving people want to hear. So perhaps soon the media will catch on. We have seen more coverage this year, so we can only hope.

As The Canary always says: “get involved”, and OUTing the Past is one of the most enriching experiences you could hope to get involved in. And maybe you could be part of a little bit of history being made next year.
The Canary is the official media partner of OUTing The Past 2018, the national festival of LGBT history in the UK.
Get Involved!
– Find out more about OUTing the Past, book for its conference launch or register for the full event.

More OTP coverage from the Canary: here