LGBT History Month is an opportunity for all of us to learn more about the histories of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Britain and Northern Ireland.

Until recently, most LGBT people preferred to avoid attention. Many still do. Even today, the penalties for those who refuse to conceal themselves, or fail to do so, can be severe. They can range from ostracism and victimisation to assault and even murder.

In the past, the silencing of LGBT people was often reinforced by legislation. The most recent example was Section 28, passed in 1988 and repealed in 2003, which was intended to restrict debate on homosexuality, particularly in schools.

The L.G.B.T community has been uniquely disadvantaged by not being taught its history at home, in public schools or in religious institutions.

 L.G.B.T History Month helps teach our unacknowledged history, provides role models and celebrates contributions made by L.G.B.T individuals.

An end to silence

Since 1997 the position of LGBT people has improved as a result of human rights legislation. Section 28 was repealed in 2003.

Now it’s time we began to deal with the legacy of silence. This is not only in the interests of LGBT people but of our whole society. Silence breeds ignorance and distorted imaginings. From these come, at best, embarrassment; at worst, hostility and hate crimes.

Together, we can break through the silence that surrounds the lives of people who do not conform to conventional notions about sexuality and gender. We can help to end the sense of isolation and bewilderment felt by so many LGBT people, particularly the young. We can make bullying unacceptable. We can also help to dispel the anxiety and confused rage that drive some people to aggressive behaviour.

Understanding who we are

Throughout history we can find many examples of people who, for one reason or another, refused to conform to the outward signs of the sex to which they were born. We also find many stories of people who loved their own sex. Some of these people were famous; some of them obscure. Some of them experienced serious persecution; others were luckier. Some are remembered for the contributions they made to our culture and society. Their personal lives are usually suppressed or censored, except in specialist publications.

To understand our present and imagine our future, we must first gain insight into our past. This is true of us as individuals; it is also true of societies. LGBT History Month is a time when we can explore and share some hidden aspects of our country’s past, both recent and remote. This hidden history belongs to all of us; it is part of our inheritance.

A grass-roots initiative

LGBT History Month has been welcomed by the government. However, its origins lie with the grass roots.

The idea came from School’s Out!, a campaigning organisation of LGBT people involved in education. They took their inspiration partly from the US, where LGBT History Month has been celebrated since 1994. They also make respectful acknowledgement to the example of Black History Month.

LGBT History Month isn’t something the government will organise for us, nor is it just for Londoners, or people living in big cities. It is something in which we can all take part.

If we want it to have a major impact, we must share the responsibility for making it happen.

As LGBT lives have been hidden from history we will on some occasions make assumptions of LGBT status for which we only have circumstantial evidence. However we believe this to be infinitely better than the current general practice of assuming heterosexuality for all, which has made us, our lives and achievements invisible, and has distorted human reality. Given the conspiracy against the proper recording of our lives we may end up assigning a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender identity erroneously. Only those that consider such identification offensive, should find such an honest mistake unacceptable. We will of course reclassify anyone on clear proof that such an honest mistake was made.
Part of the development of this project is to assign an LGBT identity to famous historical figures, who have had it robbed from them. This is an activity fraught with difficulty, for what we would now consider an LGBT identity is a very modern construct and is therefore not always appropriate to assign to people in history.