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GROWING UP NEEDING THE PAST – An Activist’s Reflection on the History of LGBT+ History Month in the UK

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From SQS, a Finnish LGBT+ Magazine.

This issue features this piece from Schools OUT UK Chair Sue Sanders.

Patron Dan Vo discusses “The Compassionate Way: Towards Trans and Non-Binary Inclusive Narratives in Museums”

(click on the link and scroll down for Dan’s piece)

by Sue Sanders

Thinking back, when growing up in London in the 1950s, I knew nothing  about gay and lesbian people, and even less about LGBT history. When  I was a kid, there were two gay men who lived next door; one worked at  Decca, the then record company. I would sing in the garden in the hope  of being discovered; needless to say, it did not happen. My parents were  tolerant of them, nothing else. My mother had some close female friends  who I learnt later were probably lesbians in a threesome, but it was never  discussed.

There was a very sweet gentle local gay man I met when I was a teenager.  He was very brave walking around in pink trousers in the early Sixties. We  chatted a bit, but I don’t think I ever came out to him as I was not out to  myself then, just knew I was different. I was having quite a few relations  with boys, much more so than my best friend who was secure in her  heterosexuality. 

Although our Sunday ritual included a roast dinner and listening to the  radio programme Round the Horne ( which had two very  camp gays, Julian and Sandy doing a sketch every week. My parents loved  it, yet whether they were aware they were laughing at gay humour I don’t  know. It was very risqué, full of double entendre, and used Polari, the gay 

Language. So, the irony was that gay life was there, but hidden in plain sight  and certainly out of mine.

I do remember – and I would have been 10 at this time – being very excited  about the Wolfenden Report, buying a paper, one of the tabloids, to find  out about it. So clearly some part of me knew it was important to me. The  report was looking into whether prostitutes and homosexuals should be  decriminalised, and the report recommended that homosexuality should  be. Yet that was enacted only partially ten years later in 1967.

Unfortunately, I stumbled upon and read Radclyffe Hall’s Well of Loneliness  quite early, maybe in my late teens. I found it very unsettling to say the least.  In an attempt to meet lesbians, I rang the Gateways, a lesbian club, now  closed, featured in the film The Killing of Sister George. I stammered “I think  I might be a lesbian”, and a very butch voice came down the phone: “Do  come down, I will look after you!”. I did not go near the place for years.  I  did, though, direct No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre in my third year at drama  college. It was, I guess, my final fling at the heterosexism of the college. I  cast the lesbian against type, which intrigued all, and it worked. I was the  only out ‘gay’ in a drama college in London in the so-called swinging sixties!

It was in the seventies and eighties that I began to look for lesbian historical  material. It was a time of much activity. I ran the Oval House, a well-known  fringe theatre in London, for a year. It supported women’s and left-wing  theatre and attempted to get theatre that was exploring all the pertinent  and current issues.  I was directing in the theatre and working with a lesbian company, Siren,  and living with Caeia March, who was working on her first Lesbian  novel. I was at the same time working with Nancy Diuguid. She had  been an instrumental force with the Gay Sweatshop company, (www. a ground-breaking theatre company that toured  plays exploring and celebrating what we would call now LGBT+ issues.  Julia Parker and Mavis Seaman were running the Drill Hall, a theatre on  the fringe, off Tottenham Court Road, London, that supported feminist  and gay theatre. It was a heady time of experimental theatre exploring the  issues of the day known as agit prop – witty, powerful, sometimes surreal  drama and very much exploring themes and people hitherto unknown.  Nancy, together with a group of women – predominantly lesbian – directed  a play written by Barbara Burford (, Patterns, which  attempted to illustrate the sisterhood down the ages. While many books  and art pieces were reclaiming women’s history, the lesbians were often left  out. Whereas Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party (www.brooklynmuseum. Org) is one prominent example of art work which included lesbians, Dale  Spender’s Women of Ideas: And what men have done to them (1982) was  a detailed exploration of women that history had forgotten, but did not  explicitly identify lesbians. In response, I wrote an essay for a women’s  studies conference titled “Where are the Lesbians in Women’s Studies?” Which  was well received by the lesbians and frostily by the heterosexual women.  In 1984 they were keen to hide us, as they were afraid lesbians would put  off heterosexual women exploring and embracing feminism.  

Homophobia continued to be a prominent feature of life into the 1980s.  For example, Greenham common, the American nuclear base in Berkshire,  was being campaigned against by a group of women activists. The publicity  surrounding the campaign was predominantly very lesbophobic. Most  papers vilified us as man hating, hairy, ugly lesbians, and presented us as  aggressive – an irony given we were peacefully challenging the most vicious  aggressor threatening annihilation on a mass scale. Also, the reaction to  AIDS was appalling. The press and the government were vile; AIDS was  known as the gay plague and the stigma of it was horrific.

In an attempt to find my history, I took myself off to the British Library  armed with a list of possible lesbians I had gleaned from the works of  Chicago and Dale. By then I had discovered that the writer, who had so  inspired me while studying her work at A level –Virginia Woolf – was  bisexual.  She had used the British Library extensively, so I might be sitting  at a desk she had used! Had anyone told me about her bisexuality when  I was studying at school, my life would have been completely different. I  would have been confident in my choices knowing that I was not alone in  them and that someone of such talent and profound reputation had feelings  like mine. The lying by omission done by my teachers cost me years of  angst and led to self-denial that may well have contributed to my inability  to perform academically to the standard expected of me, failing as I did both  my eleven plus and my A levels, despite being seen as a leading student.

Despite my enthusiasm and wonder, my quest to find historical lesbians  in the library was at the time not well received or understood by the staff  at the British Library. I was not adept in the Dewey system and needed a  lot of help. I think embarrassment and disdain describes their reaction. I  do still have my stack of index cards of historical lesbians and hope one  day to pass it on to someone who can bring them back to life. Much of my research yielded discoveries of lesbians of the early 20th  century who had gravitated to Paris. Finding out about them was a  revelation. Many were writers and artists living a life imbued by their art  and their women lovers. Their lack of politics did dismay me, although  Gertrude Stein driving ambulances in the first world war was an epiphany.  Knowledge of the existence of these lesbians and their romantic, exciting  and artistic lives was inspiring and empowering, but the fact that they had  been hidden from me meant that I felt a strange combination of thrill and  anger. Reading about lesbian lives and discovering lesbians who had led  full, rich, useful lives succeeding in their chosen fields and finding ways 

To make their mark gave me hope. It encouraged me to think that I might  be able to do something useful and gave me a sense of a potential future  that hitherto had been denied me.

As my career developed, I gradually started to make connections between  my work and LGBT history. As a drama teacher and an out lesbian in  schools I would often call myself a walking visual aid. As a kid, I had had  no role models of political lesbians, although there were strong women in  my life. My mother and my aunt had both forged their lives in the heat of  the second world war in London.  My aunt never married and had a career  in the BBC. She bitterly complained about the men that she trained, and  who then climbed the ladder and left her behind, but she did not make  the connection to feminism and socialism.

I discovered Schools OUT, a small group of LGBT+ teachers who were  working together to challenge homophobia. It was a vibrant group with  people from all over the country, who were also union activists. It had been  formed in 1974, known then as the Gay Teachers group. Initially it was  founded as a social group, but quickly became political when one of their  members was sacked when he was outed. I joined the group and met Paul  Patrick, a fellow drama teacher. We eventually became the co-chairs and  wrote resources for schools and delivered training together.

In addition to my work in schools I started to develop and run equality  training workshops for a variety of voluntary organisations and local  authorities. As part of this work, I wanted to offer to my students and my  training participants solid examples of people who, at different historical  moments, had bucked the norm and pioneered sexual and social revolution  (; Devlin 2015). It seemed to me that as humans we need both theory and concrete  examples to inspire and inform our lives. Given that much of the training 

I was delivering took place after the Stephen Lawrence report (www. came out in 1999, it seemed vital to give examples of  how people gained confidence and developed strategies to make the world  a safer and more equal place for all. 

The Stephen Lawrence report, or the macpherson report as it also was  called, was conducted to look into the mishandling of the investigation of  the murder of Stephen, a black teenager in a suburb of London. It exposed  the racism and corruption that had been at the root of the practice of the  police at the time. Police had not arrested anyone for his murder, though  there was a group of white boys who were well-known for their racism and  violence. The report was the first thing that the first Home Secretary of  the new Labour government Jack Straw set up. It proposed wide sweeping  changes not only in the criminal justice system, but in all government  departments including education. Mcpherson report defined institutional  racism as

The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate 
and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, 
or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes 
and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting 
prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which 
disadvantage minority ethnic people (Home Office 1999).

What flowed from this report was landscape-changing. We had a new  government that was keen to challenge the status quo that had supported  the police in their practice of bullying and interfering with demonstrations  and civil rights. Examples would be the brutal policing of the miners’ strike,  Greenham common and many marches for women’s and ‘gay’ rights. There  had also been several so-called riots in predominantly black areas of the  country due to racist incidents of the police and the authorities.

Some of us were already working with the police to change their  homophobic culture. We sought to get both the police and local authorities  to take seriously the task of tackling homophobia. This was at a time when  Section 28 was in place. Though we had vehemently fought against it, it  was enacted in 1988, and was not repealed till 2003. It stated that a local  authority “shall not intentionally 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” (Section 28,

The fight against Section 28 was widespread and brought many members  of the LGBT+ community together to challenge the virulent homophobia  of the press, media, and parliament. I was involved in both the arts and  education forums that worked hard to educate the politicians and the press  about the dangers of such a discriminatory law.

Having such a law in place, though there were never any court cases,  encouraged homophobic attitudes that of course spilled into discrimination  and sometimes violence in schools, workplaces and on the streets. Many  members of the community practised self-censorship and kept themselves  firmly in the closet. Those of us who were already working with the  authorities attempting to mitigate the damage of 28 and the attitudes it  engendered welcomed the Stephen Lawrence report. One of the report’s  70 recommendations was that every member of the criminal justice system  should receive training on equality and diversity to challenge the racist  culture that the report had exposed. I helped to design and deliver some  of that training. I felt that to be effective the training needed to enable the  participants to see that all stereotypes and prejudices based on class and/or  about women, LGBT, older and disabled people, needed to be challenged.  There was no way we could improve the service and meet the needs of the  public if any one group that was a subject of prejudice was not included.

During the early 2000’s I was delivering a variety of training in the diversity  and equality field, often through the lens of antihomophobic training. For  me, knowing that other lesbians had existed, and fought to forge a reality  that acknowledged lesbian lives, was crucial. However, I found that it was  hard to find the diversity of lesbian experience. We were all hidden but  some, like working class and black lesbians and lesbians with disabilities,  were even more hidden. Black feminist writers like Barbara Burford and  Jackie Kay, who were friends and colleagues of mine in the UK, and  Maya Angelou in the USA, were ensuring that we were discovering and  celebrating historical black feminist and lesbian experience. 

Black History Month was a very powerful influence on my work.  It was a  crucial resource for schools, local authorities, and libraries. Linda Bellos, a  well-known black Jewish lesbian mother, was one of the founders of Black  History Month in the UK. We knew each other, since she was working  in Lambeth Council, a local authority in London, where she became its  leader. We worked on campaigns like Women Against Violence Against  Women and we were the founders of the LGBT Independent Advisory  group to the Metropolitan police.

The month October was used, but not always effectively, to raise awareness  of black history. Unfortunately, all too often in schools, the history was of  the American civil rights movement, rather than of the struggles of the  British black leaders, or, say, the Windrush generation, the name given to  the first generation of African Caribbean people who come over to the UK  after the second world war in a boat of that name. Saying that, it nevertheless  did bring to the fore the potential to discuss black people’s contributions  to British society and gave space to discus and raise awareness of racism  and the ways to counter it.  The fact we had a month in the UK to explore and celebrate black  experience was a crucial precedent for LGBT+ History Month. With Paul 

Patrick, my then co-chair at Schools OUT (, we  wanted to explore how we might set up such a month for LGBT+ people.  We felt that if libraries and museums used the month, then teachers might  feel emboldened to use it in schools. So we chose February, as it was at  that time a quiet month for schools, and it had a half term. In the UK we  became the mirror image of America, with our Black History Month in  October and our LGBT+ History Month in February, and theirs vice versa.

After the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, an emphasis on anti-violence,  equalities and diversity became more prominent in both the public  and private sectors. With the abolition of Section 28 in 2003 (www. and the plans of the Labour government to bring in a  single equality act, it seemed to us that the time was perfect to launch the  idea. The public sector equality duty expanded public protections for a  range of people, including LGBT people. It ordered that: 

In summary, those subject to the equality duty must, in the exercise 
of their functions, have due regard to the need to:

• Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation 
and other conduct prohibited by the Act.

• Advance equality of opportunity between people who share   

A protected characteristic and those who do not.

• Foster good relations between people who share a protected 
characteristic and those who do not (

It was very exciting anti-discrimination law, saying not only thou shalt  not but also thou shalt!  Although we set up LGBT+ History Month in  2004 and celebrated it for the first time in 2005, the public duty did not  come into being until 2012, by which time LGBT+ History Month was  pretty well embedded in museums, libraries, local authorities and union  calendars. Schools however were much slower and their reaction to this  day is very patchy!

The month was launched in November 2004 at the Tate Modern Art  Gallery in London. We had 13 people on the panel: 3 trans people, several  people of colour, disabled people and a straight ally, as well as a bisexual,  gay men and lesbians. As evident, I was determined to send the message  out that we were wanting to celebrate the full diversity of our community.

Since then we have launched LGBT+ History Month in some spectacular  venues. From the Royal Courts of Justice to a school in Hackney, from  Bletchley Park where Alan Turing among so many others worked on  counterintelligence, to the famous Oval Cricket ground, and even in the  Speaker’s Chambers in the Houses of Parliament. We launch our theme in  November, to give people time to learn about it and prepare their events  for February. We are also careful to ensure a wider geographic coverage.  Apart from London, among the cities where we have held launches are  Liverpool, Cambridge, Oxford, and Birmingham. 

Over the years the month has developed organically. The website www. has been refreshed several times as we add more  and more resources, all free to use. The month could not exist without the  internet. It enables fast and effective ways of reaching people who want to  be active on the issue or just want to know more about LGBT+ issues. The  initial funding that we prized out of the Department of Education enabled  us to set up the first website of which the most important component was  the interactive calendar. This meant we needed a volunteer who could  design the website for people to put up events. I was thinking that in the  first year we might have ten events round the country. In fact, we had over  a hundred! The work is done by the unpaid members of the Schools OUT UK  committee which is quite a fluid group. Many people have been part of  it for a time and gone on to do amazing things for the community. Tony  Fenwick, our CEO, and Steve Boyce, the chair of trustees, have been the 

Longest members of the committee apart from me. Paul Patrick alas died  in 2008. We are all unpaid and work from home. We have no core funding  but get support from a variety of sources. We have over the years had  small pockets of money from trade unions, the criminal justice system,  and LGBT+ networks of commercial firms. LGBT+ History Month also  developed a couple of offshoots, such as The Classroom and outing the  Past.

The Classroom was developed to give resources to teachers to celebrate  and make visible the diversity of LGBT+ people all the year round, so  that we were not just stuck in February. We were able to get some specific  funding to set up the website and now one of our partners, The Proud Trust,  an LGBT Youth Group Organisation that supports a variety of projects  for young LGBT+ people, has undertaken a refresh of the resources. The  website has over 80 lesson plans that usualise LGBT+ issue across the 

Curriculum for all ages. Outing the Past is an annual festival of LGBT+  history for both the general public and academics. This year a television  firm, Free at Last, sponsored the festival.

We have for some time now produced and sold a pin badge for each  year. When we started to have a theme for the year, we made the badge  to represent the theme. It is designed by students of a design course in  a university, as part of their curriculum. Thus, we enable the students to  learn about LGBT+ issues which they may not otherwise encounter. The  badges have proved to be a good source of funding, along with rainbow  lanyards we launched in 2020.

We also choose 4 members of the LGBT+ community to represent the  theme, and we produce posters and info about them. Both the themes and  people representing the theme are linked to the school’s curriculum. The  Proud Trust annually produces a massively popular workbook for youth  groups and schools based on the theme. In this way we make it easier for  schools to use the month and embed it into the school’s fabric. At the same  time, we can ensure it does not become a one-off event, unconnected to  the ethos of the school. 

Our Voices and Visibility poster, which shows the laws and people that  have helped us get our human rights, will soon have its own interactive  website as it has been a very popular resource.

Once we set up the month, other organisations and groups began to explore  the rich territory of LGBT+ visibility and history. We have partnered with  some of these organisations and attempt to signpost people to their useful  resources by linking them to our website. So, people can celebrate the  month and learn about the diversity of LGBT+ people and our history.  Organising the website becomes an increasing challenge as we add more  and more resources and links.

On our website there is a general resource space with some indexing, and  then specific resources under each year, some of which we have produced  that are pertinent to the theme. 

The website is accessed across the world, as is our Facebook and Twitter  pages. This means that we are spreading the knowledge and increasing the  visibility of the diversity LGBT+ people. Since we updated the website 

In mid-January of 2020, we have had 55,000 visits to it. LGBT+ History  Month @LGBTHM has 69.3k followers and our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,  Trans History Month UK Facebook page at has almost 98,000 likes. 

I am amazed at the creativity of people in finding ways to celebrate LGBT+  histories, when I look through the calendar on the website and the reports  people send in of what they did. The ingenuity is as outstanding as is the  energy; so many hours of work, mostly unpaid, by so many people, to  ensure the visibility of the community is my dream come true. 

The number of events that occur in February have steadily grown, in 2019  we had over 1500 of them. In 2020 there were less reported events, but  looking on the LGBT+ History Month Facebook, twitter and Instagram  pages it is clear that now many people hold events and don’t even tell  us. The number of places that fly the rainbow flag during the month has  steadily increased. Universities, town halls, places of work, libraries etc. The  bureaucracy that must be navigated to make that happen is mind boggling,  yet the effect powerful, showing as it does, public support and visibility  of the LGBT+ community. This year we had a few zebra crossings turn  into rainbows. There is a clear mixture of volunteer led activities, some in  local clubs and pubs run by local LGBT+ groups. Often, they are low key  events like quizzes, drag nights, fancy dress parties etc. Others that are  organised with a little support by LGBT networks in workplaces can be  more elaborate affairs. One firm uses our posters every year as the screen  saver for the month as a simple and effective way of getting the message out. 

Often February is chosen to launch a LGBT+ initiative or to hold a big  conference. This year I attended several, three of which were linked to the  Criminal Justice System. Any local authority worth its salt will not let February go by without  organising something or working with a local LGBT+ group to enable a

Few events. Camden & Islington, two adjacent London local authorities  support the local LGBT+ forum. It has for many years produced a full  programme of events, meaning they have an event for every day of the  month! In year 2020 with our theme being Poetry Prose and Plays the  programme was jammed packed with poetry reading, plays, under-fives  story readings, art exhibitions, LGBT+ film day, and guided walks round  the borough discovering LGBT+ history.

Many local forums up and down the country link up with commercial  places like bookstores, cinemas and theatres, encouraging them to utilise  the month. Such work is not just done in the big cities, but we see it  happening in rural places such as Shropshire and Norfolk. In such places  there is a wonderful synergy of dedicated and talented LGBT+ people  using their creativity to produce events to celebrate our community. It is  particularly exciting when this work is intergenerational, bringing together  both younger and older people who learn from each other and forge links  that are often hard to make otherwise in rural spaces.

It is particularly gratifying to see that libraries, national trust houses and  museums are now positively working to find and celebrate their queer  connections. We held our launch in the British Museum in 2014, which  was a great success given that they have so many artefacts of a queer  nature. Two years later, the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation  of homosexuality in 1967, due to the Wolfenden report, we saw many  museums and art galleries stage exhibitions celebrating their connections  to predominately white homosexual men. There was great media interest,  so we are now working through our websites and connections to museums  to ensure that in the future they present a more inclusive picture of our  community. I wish I could be more positive about schools. The response from them is  incredibly patchy. Some schools, colleges and universities have grabbed 

The potential of both the month and our offshoot, The Classroom. They  involve the whole school in celebrating the month, utilising our resources  and making and sharing their own. In other schools it is perhaps one teacher  who attempts to introduce the month to their students and in some schools,  there is no involvement with the month at all. It is a problem that, due  to the focus on academic achievement in the recent years, many crucial  areas like music, drama and citizenship have become less important. It is  also true that Section 28 has a long shadow. Even though it was repealed  in 2003, many teachers know more about Section 28 than they do about  the Equality Act and the Public Sector Equality Duty. 

It will be interesting to see what the implications of the new Relationships  and Sex Education curriculum will be from September 2020 onwards.  Without the complications of the COVID-19 pandemic it might have  been used to give schools more confidence to use the month. Now, given  that much of the training for teachers was due to take place this summer,  which is likely to be cancelled, we will await with interest, how and if the  new curriculum will be delivered.

To my mind, if we are to tackle bullying and negative stereotypes, it is vitally  important for young people to have access to LGBT+ history. Young people  have to be taught to be prejudiced, so we need to educate out prejudice by  informing our students about the diversity of the population. If the books  we use to learn to read are reflective and mirror all humanity, then there is  less chance for ignorance to take root and give rise to prejudice and abuse. Schools sometimes offer classes on ‘gays’ or on disability in an attempt  to challenge the prejudice by saying we are normal. I find that highly  problematic, as I feel the word normal has highly problematic connotations.  I prefer the approach I call usualising. On The Classroom website we offer  over 80 free lessons that give students the chance to be introduced to the  full diversity of the population in maths, history, English and so on, starting 

With the very first reception class. Since the success of LGBT History  Month we have produced The Classroom website so we enable teachers to  educate about LGBT themes everyday in every lesson so we are not just a  one month wonder ( Uk). Obviously, the lessons are not  all focused on history – most merely demonstrate ways in which LGBT+  themes and people can be dropped into a lesson to make us usual. This  website enables schools to do the crucial work of challenging stereotypes  and celebrating diverse LGBT+ people and issues throughout the year.

One of my incentives for starting the month had been to find our history, as  well as celebrating and making us visible as a diverse community. The latter  was certainly happening; however, the history part was less obvious. The  lack of inclusive recorded LGBT+ history was becoming a more evident  problem. Although museums and libraries, including the British Library,  were holding events in February for LGBT+ History Month, it was obvious  that such institutions needed help in finding the LGBT+ information they  held. So, we began to consider how we could help and influence that work. 

Dr. Jeff Evans, a long-standing member of the committee, proposed  a solution. In 2015 we held the first national LGBT+ history festival  and academic conference in Manchester called outing the Past (www. We put out a call for popular historical presentations  and academic presentations. We set up an academic panel to vet the  submissions and were able to choose and present over 30 popular  presentations and 20 academic ones. The following year we had 5 hubs,  but we did not stop there.  In 2020 we were offered over 100 presentations and had 22 hubs, 14 in  England, 6 on the island of Ireland and 2 in the USA. Unfortunately, our  Dublin, New York and Boston events had to be cancelled due to COVID-19  pandemic. Many are held in very prestigious venues such as the British  Museum, The Victoria and Albert Museum, the People’s History Museum 

Manchester, The National Archives Kew, The Public Record Office of  Northern Ireland, The Museum of Free Derry, and The Liverpool Museum.  The timing of Jeff’s work in Ireland was completely fortuitous, coming as  it did when Westminster passed the same sex marriage bill for Northern  Ireland. 

Outing the Past has most years another strand to it, which can be  followed on the outing the Past website. We have commissioned theatre  that explores hidden historical events. So, we can offer an immediate and  exciting link to our past, bringing to life forgotten LGBT+ people that  have played a crucial part in our journey to visibility. Steve Hornby is  our national playwright in residence and has given us gems from the Very  Victorian Scandal in the first year, which was a story of the Hulme Drag  Ball raid of 1880 Manchester, to A Queer Celli at the Marty Forsythe, which  explored the events of the first National Union of Students Lesbian and  Gay Conference at Queens University Belfast in 1983. The programme has  been expanded with plays about Walt Whitman, a lesbian bus driver being  sacked for wearing a lesbian badge, a crucial first meeting of the Campaign  for Homosexuality and the Gay Liberation Front held in a small northern  town Burnley, and a story about a Victorian trans man, which was pieced  together from local Manchester papers. 

Much work has flowed from both LGBT+ History Month and outing  the Past and we can see museums, archives and libraries working to  find their links with the LGBT+ community, setting up LGBT+ tours,  training their staff and working with enthusiastic volunteers to make their  institutions more welcome and inclusive. Jeff worked in Northern Ireland  with his many long-standing connections to facilitate the first exhibition  of Northern Ireland LGBT+ History. It was launched at the Museum of  Free Derry in 2020 and will, once the virus issues have subsided, tour in  Northern Ireland, England and USA.

All these years later, I am continually surprised and humbled by how the  LGBT+ History Month has grown. It has become a thing! Sometimes  there is no thought that there is an organisation making it happen or that  it had to be invented!  That is both a joy and a problem. When people hold  events and don’t tell us, as they as often do, their ideas can’t get shared on  our website thereby depriving others of their ideas.  

Not knowing the history of a people or a country is to make that place or  people invisible, and worthless. It lays the foundation for discrimination  and lack of respect. Watching how colonial countries organise education  in the countries they control demonstrates clearly how this works. The  oppressed country is taught next to nothing about their own culture, their  very language is degraded, and the oppressor’s is taught.  We live in a white  able-bodied, Christian, heterosexist cis patriarchal culture. Given that,  the need to educate in schools about the other characteristics is crucial. It  gives members living with those characteristics confidence in themselves  and promotes respect for those characteristics among people who do not  personally exhibit such characteristics.

In the UK since the referendum on the membership of the EU in 2016,  we have seen a frightening rise of reported misogyny and xenophobia;  homophobic attacks have risen by 147% ( It is  crucial therefore that we step up the work and use all the methods possible  to challenge the ignorance, and educate out the prejudice. Teaching the  history and placing the prejudiced groups in the forefront of our education  is crucial. In doing so we need to take care not to set up a hierarchy of  oppression.  Much of the Brexiteers and Trumpists are demonstrating their  frustration as white working-class folk who feel they have been left behind  and ignored, and are now venting their anger against the elite who did the  ignoring, and the women, gays and black people who they feel have been  given undue attention.

Looking back on all of this work we have done since launching the first  LGBT+ History Month, I am delighted at our achievements – although  at the same time it raises a variety of feelings, because you have to think  about why there was the need for such a thing in the first place. Yet today,  LGBT+ History Month seems just as important as ever, given the backlash  we are facing. I am so proud of our community grabbing the opportunity  that LGBT+ History Month offered. It is a joy to see the massive creativity  every February. I am also proud that the month has helped to inspire the  UK Women’s History month and the UK Disability History Month. At Schools OUT UK we have always been dedicated to celebrating the  diversity of our community and would labour to do so both linguistically  and with our content. Language has caught up with us, so we now have the  word intersectionality to describe our work. Language is on the move and  We have seen ‘usualise’, a word I coined, become more common. Young  people are hungry for knowledge, and they love to hear about how people  have overcome problems and made their mark. It has been a privilege to  be part of the movement that makes resources available to ensure that  everyone can recognise and celebrate the contributions made by LGBT+  people to our society.


Abolition of Section 28,

Barbara Burford,

Gay Sweatshop company,


Home Office. 1999. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry: Report of an Inquiry by Sir 

William Macpherson of Cluny, Command papers 4262-I, February 1999.
Homophobic    attacks,


Lawrence       report,


LGBT Youth North West and Devlin, Clíodhna (ed.). 2015. Prejudice and Pride: 

LGBT Activist Stories from Manchester and Beyond. Hammeron Press. 
Outing the Past,

Round the Horne,
Schools OUT,

Section 28,

The Classroom,