The new year is often a time for reflection and making resolutions. We are living in particularly trying times. The weather frequently reflects the dark, stormy times; the news is predominantly gloomy with a few patches of sunlight. Progress, as so many great thinkers have warned us, is not gained in a straight line. We frequently go backwards or sideways.
My desire to know LGBT history was based on my need to know who had gone before, how they fared, coped, and celebrated their reality. Next year we mark the 30th anniversary of Section 28, a vile and viscous attack on our community that came 31 years after the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality. The fact that the Section stayed in place for 15 years, during which we had a Labour government for a significant time, shows the power of the discriminatory forces.
We have not gained our human rights in parts of the UK by being idle. It has required a patchwork of movements, activities, campaigns, involving ordinary people determined to make a positive difference and to leave the world a better place than they found it.
OUTing the Past is a unique festival that offers us the chance, across the country to meet with and learn from each other how about the LGBT community has faced our difficulties, celebrated our lives and changed the landscape of our country for the better.
Back in May we asked for contributions, and we were so excited to receive over 60 applications for OUTing the Past and 30 for SEXing the Past. Of course, the downside of this means that many will not get an airing as 11 hubs can only use so many. We will therefore offer their authors the chance to blog them on these pages so you don’t miss out on the wonderful facts and stories uncovered.
We have a very special team that have worked hard, unpaid, to ensure that the festival happens. Jeff Evans is the mainstay who has brought together the academic and administrative team that ensures it all happens. We have striven to be representative of the whole diversity of our community, and it has been a joy to see how the lesbian contributions have grown. We are not complacent and we will next year build a team whose job it will be to encourage and ensure we have a wider representation of our community.
This year we have seen some very vicious attacks on the trans community, and we are pleased that we have a trans presentation in every hub, including from one of ourPatrons, Christine Burns, talking about her brand-new, important book Trans Britain: Our Journey from the Shadows.
I am proud that we have 2 chapters in the book written by members of our Schools OUT UK committee (Kate Hutchinson & Sue Sanders).
Given that our theme is Geography: Mapping the World, we are thrilled that one of our regulars was Rainer Schulze, chosen by the hubs to enlighten us on the forgotten life of a Roma Holocaust Survivor who was also transgender.
Among the many various presentations, I have spotted Helen Graham, who will inform us on how a gay man fought in the Spanish Civil War. Many of the hubs have chosen to showcase local stories that demonstrate how history has been made by so-called ordinary people. One such story of love between soldiers in WW2, which was uncovered due to one of the OUTing the past local coordinators at Shrewsbury last year, has been picked up by the Belfast hub, and has made it to the national stage, thanks to the BBC and the Arts
Council. It maybe even become a major film! Jane Traies and Hilary McCollum have proved popular covering as they do the often uncharted waters of past lesbian life.
There are several presentations on Section 28, including one on how it affected Disabled LGBT people.
This is the power of the festival, individuals working away, uncovering precious jewels of stories of humanity, love, determination, which of course grab the heart strings and imagination. The stories can take flight and inspire not only hungry LGBT people wanting to know their history, but also gain a wider audience, as everyone loves to hear of true stories that witness positive growth in society. That give us hope, and show triumph over adversity. I can only mention a few, here so please explore the website, read the blogs and even if you cannot make it to a hub you will find gems a plenty to warm a January heart!
SEXing the Past has been moved to March this year, as we responded to the desire of participants to be able to get to OUTing the Past. In true Schools OUT UK style, we are starting the conference with a presentation from Tom Robinson, so in our fourth year we have highlighted all four of the aspects of LGB and T. Tom is a wonderful ambassador and has done much to educate his audience about the amazing influence of the LGBT community on our culture through music. He is both a wonderful songwriter and broadcaster.
We have made a conscious effort to gather many activists from round the world to enable us to explore how we can develop links and share ideas. Thus we can learn how we can support LGBT people who find themselves having to deal with laws that put their lives at risk, often due to the legacy of the colonial era of Britain, or more recently countries copying Section 28.
To that end, we will have presenters and panellists coming from the UK, US, France, Germany, Portugal, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Ukraine, and Bulgaria. The activist panels under development will address activism in and among diasporic communities from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Germany.
One such writer is Chike Frankie Edozien who will share with us his knowledge of African people who are working to carve a safe space in hard times (see here).
February is often a dark month, full of rain, and storms. This year, as every year for the past 14 years, the Schools OUT UK team has worked hard along with so many people round the country to bring a little light and warmth into our lives and enlighten us all.
I look forward to meeting many of you at the hubs round the country so we can: claim our past; celebrate our present; create our future!
Be sure to follow @LGBTHM for more Festival updates!