Every February it’s LGBT History Month, and this year the theme is Coded Lives.
LGBT people have existed throughout history, but often in a not very visible way. After all, groups who are systematically oppressed by a heteronormative, gender-normative patriarchy rarely have sufficient voice to be heard in a point in time, let along enough voice for that voice to linger in records.
So, instead of me writing about my hero (Alan Turing) I thought I’d be even more obscure and introduce some of the people of whom you might not immediately think. Many of these are featured by LGBT History Month
Anne Lister was a lesbian living in the early nineteenth century, at a time when the words “homosexual” and “lesbian” hadn’t even been coined. She was an inveterate diarist, and wrote about a sixth of her diaries in code, including about her relationships with other women. Her isolation as a gay woman was reflected in her phrase, “Alas, I am, as it were, neither man nor woman in society. How shall I manage?” (26 Jan 1830)
I’ve mentioned Polari – the language used mainly by gay men in the twentieth century – before on the blog, but it’s worth remembering two of its best recognised speakers, Kenneth Williams and Hugh Paddick, who became best known as Julian and Sandy on BBC’s Round the Horne in the sixties. Polari fell out of common use after the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, but it remains significant as a way of gay men identifying themselves and communicating safely in a hostile world.
Frida Kahlo is one of Mexico’s best known artists, known for her iconic self-portraits in which she refused to comply with physical ideals, and painted herself with heavy eyebrows and moustache. She married and was romantically linked with other men and women, including Georgia O’Keefe and Leon Trotsky.
“Thomas Stewart – Chevalier d’Eon” by After Jean-Laurent Mosnier – Philip Mould. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
The Beaumont Society has provided help and support to the transgender community since 1966, but what’s less well-known is that it’s named after the snappily named Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont, better known as the Chevalier d’Eon. A notorious character of the eighteenth and early nineteeth centuries, the Chevalier d’Eon lived as a man until 1785, from when she lived until her death as a woman. With roles in the military, diplomatic corps and in espionage, Chevalier d’Eon has been one of the most colourful – and confusing – characters in trans history.
It’s important to remember that the LGBT communities are, themselves, diverse, and this is highlighted in this wonderful list of great black LGBT britons from 100 Great Black Britons. Their list reminds us of these often overlooked characters and their contributions to LGBT life in modern Britain, including Justin Fashanu, David McAlmont and Linda Bellos. Spanning sports, music and politics, people from black and minority ethnic groups have challenged stereotypes, opened people’s eyes and changed society.
Finally, a quick mention of Pride, which comes out on DVD in March. This award-winning deeply moving comedy follows the impact of LGBT activists on a Welsh mining community during the strike of 1983/84. Mike Jackson, one of the founders of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, reminds us that “prejudice cannot withstand proximity”.
And this, ultimately, is what LGBT History Month is about. The LGBT communities are still not part of every day life in Britain, and this has an impact on the health and well-being of young LGBT people growing up. Without visible, strong role models, both contemporary and historical, it’s easy to think that you’re the “only gay in the village”, and a society which is heteronormative – which privileges straight people, their love and their relationships – makes those of us who don’t conform feel pressured to fit into a mould we don’t fit.
LGBT people are disproportionately represented in mental health diagnoses, suicide attempts, homelessness, low educational attainment and in poor pay. As a union, Prospect joins with LGBT History Month to support the decoding of hidden lives to support better futures for LGBT people, both younger and older.
More information about events during LGBT History Month is available on the LGBT History Month website, and events being organised by the trade union movement are available on the TUC website.
If you’re a member of Prospect, and you’re concerned about any aspect of homophobia – or other forms of discrimination – in the workplace, please contact a rep.