LGBT+ History Month is an annual event which takes place every February. Mark takes a personal look at what this means to him.
This event came in the wake of the abolition of Section 28 of the Local Government Act in 2003 and the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations in the same year. The month is intended as a means to raise awareness of, and combat prejudice against the LGBT+ community while celebrating its achievements and diversity and making it more visible. The first celebration was in February 2005.
In February each year, I always ask myself, is an LGBT+ History Month really necessary? There’s no ‘Straight History Month’ is there? It’s now 2021 and surely things have moved on and we’re a caring, tolerant, accepting society? Sadly, the conclusion I always reach is how important the month is for LGBT+ people and our wider society.
I’ve always been an active community member. I sing in an LGBT+ barbershop quartet and was chair of the Pink Singers (Europe’s oldest LGBT+ choir) for many years. Living in London for over 30 years, I’ve also been at the heart of a vibrant, safe and supportive community. I’m also lucky to work somewhere where sexuality, religion, gender or race have equal standing and acceptance.
Maybe I’ve been lucky but one look at my Twitter feed tells me that lots of other people aren’t as fortunate. High profile LGBT+ commentators such as Owen Jones from The Guardian are still subjected to a torrent of daily homophobic abuse. I also remember a few years ago that the National Trust, in celebrating LGBT+ history month at its properties, was swamped with outraged members threatening to cancel their memberships. And, I believe there are still no openly gay professional footballers and very few rugby players or high-level cricketers. Really? In this day and age?
Societal change takes a long, long time, with generational (and religious) prejudices well ingrained in our cultural fabric. If you think back, homosexuality was decriminalised back in 1967 – that’s 54 years ago! It took another 34 years before an equal age of consent was finally secured in 2001 (and a further 7 years in Northern Ireland). The first same-sex marriages only took place as recently as March 2014.
Even modern workplaces are evidence of this slow pace of change and acceptance. In 2018, Stonewall produced LGBT in Britain – Work Report, based on YouGov research with 3,213 LGBT+ employees. It found that more than a third of LGBT+ staff (35%) had hidden that they are LGBT+ at work for fear of discrimination. One in eight trans people (12%) had been physically attacked by customers or colleagues (?!) in that year because of being trans. And, one in eight lesbian, gay and bi people (12%) didn’t feel confident reporting any homophobic or biphobic bullying to their employer.
We can surely do better.
Now I know that many, many employers are making huge, huge efforts on inclusivity and acceptance, but the research tells me that there is still such a long way to go (Stonewall provide some great employer resources). And that’s why for me, LGBT+ history month is so important in getting us to a place where we accept people without exception.
Rome wasn’t built in a month, but bits of it were.