Fight prejudice by making LGBT+ lives more visible

by Sue Sanders | LGBT History Month
Wednesday, 16 January 2019 09:28 GMT

A portrait of former inmate Oscar Wilde, who was gaoled for gross indecency with another man, is displayed in a cell at the former Reading prison, in Reading, Britain September 1, 2016. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

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LGBT History Month celebrates the rich diversity of gay and trans people and their contributions to society

Sue Sanders is professor emeritus at the Harvey Milk Institute and founder of LGBT History Month UK

For years, LGBT+ people and issues were either invisible or were presented extremely negatively. We were lied to by omission.

Children in schools could be reading novels, plays or poetry written by LGBT+ people but that was never revealed. It was assumed that everybody was heterosexual. The effect of Section 28, which prohibited local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales between 1988 and 2003 from “promoting” homosexuality, meant that teachers remained silent in the face of profound homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia.

The result was massive bullying in schools, something I prefer to call a hate crime, which led to physical attacks and gave rise to self-doubt, mental health problems and, in extreme cases, suicide. The atmosphere for LGBT+ people in schools, in the workplace and even at home became toxic.

In 2003, Section 28 was finally rescinded and Britain’s Labour Party began to talk about organising legislation that would cover sexual orientation and gender, as well as requiring those organisations that received government money to outlaw discrimination, advance equal opportunity and foster good relations.

Paul Patrick and I, the then co-chairs of Schools OUT UK, decided to explore the founding of a dedicated month of events that would celebrate the contribution of gay, bisexual, lesbian and trans people to society. And in 2004, LGBT History Month was launched.

Fifteen years on, this year our themes are peace, reconciliation and activism centred around four main people: murdered Brazilian politician Marielle Franco, German sexologist Magnus Hirschfield, British poet Robert Graves and U.S. activist and drag queen Marsha P. Johnson.

We want to reflect the rich diversity of our community and introduce key figures from the past to today’s younger generation.

Over the years, white gay men have become more visible, but the rest of our community, especially those who are disabled, are still underrepresented in schools or in the media.

Certainly, many museums in 2017 made a particular effort to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, but there is a long way to go before the full diversity of our community is represented.

LGBT History Month is passionate about being fully representative and consistently strives to both educate institutions and ensure that our resources reflect that passion. We chose February for its school half term in Britain, and we hoped that libraries museums and theatres, among other institutions, would also embrace the month and give teachers the confidence to celebrate the month in their schools.

Under the 2010 Equality Act, there is a requirement to protect pupils from discrimination on the basis of their sexuality. Last year, the government announced it would include tuition on gay relationships as part of the national curriculum.

It is critical that teachers ensure the rich diversity of LGBT+ people and their contributions are made visible. Shining a light on discrimination is the best way to fight prejudice.

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