LGBT History Month, as an official annual event, was begun by Sue Sanders in 2004. Since
2015, LGBT History Month has also been accompanied by a National Festival, which is hosted by different towns each weekend in February. This coming weekend, the 25th – 27th February, the People’s History Museum (part of the Imperial War Museum North) in Manchester is hosting, a museum with the truly wonderful mission statement “‘to engage, inspire and inform diverse audiences by showing ‘There have always been ideas worth fighting for’”.
For those History Rioters in the North, we strongly encourage you to go to the Museum on the 27th for an incredible programme of family-orientated events!
Across February, brilliant events have taken place across the country, in universities, schools, theatres and museums. There have been talks, rallies, dance pieces, archive viewings, theatre shows, walking tours and music performances. Where interpretation and participation in LGBT Month has been less visible is at Britain’s historic buildings and homes.
This, we think, is a great shame, but there is a very strong beam of hope shining into the heritage world.Both our interviewees this month, Claire Hayward and Sean Curran, have worked to introduce, encourage and include LGBT history into the heritage industry (to learn more about their projects, have a look at their interviews on our Interviews page). Heritage sites are full of fascinating stories of LGBT people from the past, and the potential to explore these stories is vast, and the ways in which these stories can be told and present are as varied and exciting as the histories they can tell.
In The West Wing, there was a scene in which two characters (Sam Seabourn and Ainsley Hayes for you Sorkin fans) debated the Equal Rights Amendment – a proposed amendment to the American Constitution which was designed to legalise equal rights to women. Ainsley, a woman, was against the amendment, arguing:
“A new amendment that we vote on declaring I am equal under the law to a man – I am mortified to discover there’s reason to believe I wasn’t before. I am a citizen of this country, I am not a special subset in need of your protection. I do not need have to have my rights handed down to me…The same Article 14 that protects you, protects me, and I went to law school just to make sure.”
(Want to see more of this brilliant scene? Check it here.)
LGBT historical figures should not need to have the right to have their stories told handed down to them; they should not have to fight to be visible and present in any form of heritage interpretation. LGBT history should be an integral part of any piece of interpretation at a heritage site, as much as the history of straight, white men. Historical sites fascinate and draw in tourists because they are filled with the history of people. These centuries-old people were as varied, passionate and individual as we are today – just because we don’t hear about them does not mean they were not present in these societies. Absence of evidence of these histories is not evidence of absence of these histories.
This is not to undermine the work of LGBT History Month. Whilst these histories are marginalised and forgotten, LGBT History Month is very very necessary, just as Women’s History Month and Black History Month are. The myriad of different events celebrating LGBT History that have taken place across the country demonstrate how useful a dedicated month can be in inspiring and showcasing art, theatre and histories of the LGBT community. But, “if I had my way, February 2016 would be a glorious swan song for LGBT History Month”, as Sean Curran says in his interview.
In her interview, Claire Hayward echoes this thought, saying that one of the most important changes that needs to be seen at heritage sites “will be incorporating LGBTQ histories the year round”.
As brilliant as LGBT Month is, we can’t help but feel it will be even more brilliant when LGBT histories are celebrated all year round, consistently and clearly, and LGBT Month can exist as well as daily heritage interpretation, not instead of daily interpretation for 28 days (29 if we’re lucky) once a year.
Want to read more about LGBT History Month? Why not check out this discussion with Claire Hayward about Pride of Place or our interview with Sean Curran about whether this month should even still exist!