Uncovering the Labour Movement’s Seminal Role in LGBT+ History

Pride, the recent film about Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners (LGSM), has highlighted to a wide public audience that the history of the last fifty years of LGBT campaigning has been one of individual bravery and autonomous self-organisation, as well as one in which the labour movement played a seminal role. However, a major problem in our attempt to get this history written and popularised is the lack of access to source material detailing this often heroic campaign and the important contributions of the labour movement. Without this evidence, any new history, which can challenge the imbalance in the established history taught in schools and colleges, will be hard to authenticate. 

LGSM activists recently depicted in the film PRIDE.

The OUTing The Past (OTP), the National Festival of LGBT History, seeks to address this problem. The goal of the OTP Festival is to provide a hitherto ‘hidden’ reading of LGBT History to a public that has been robbed, by existing schools’ exclusive/narrow curriculum, of such fascinating and invaluable insights. Part of its showcase project is to encourage the labour movement, and in particular the trade unions, to help establish evidential source material which will enable historians to write an as yet largely unwritten and fascinating chapter of our collective past. 

Schools OUT (UK), the campaigning education charity that established LGBT History Month and OTP, has long established links with the teaching unions, with a past president of the NUT and a full-time official of the ULU on our management board. Beyond the education sector, our links to the trade unions are weaker, but a small number of trade unionists have presented some fantastic insights at OTP ‘Festival Hubs’, showcasing their individual and their trade unions’ involvement with LGBT workplace issues. A growing number of the world’s leading scholars are committed to addressing the marginalisation of LGBT studies, including the seminal role of the labour movement in advancing that agenda, but hard archival evidence is required if that history is to be written and promoted. Indeed Peter Purton’s book, Champions of Equality: trade unions and LGBT rights in Britain (Lawrence and Wishart, £20 is as yet one of the rare histories available historicising the remarkable contribution of the labour movement to LGBT+ achieving Human/LGBT Rights.


OUTing The Past is developing a growing relationship with archives that are keen to expand their evidential base on LGBT issues, as oral historians are endeavouring to capture oral testimony before death catches up on all the 50s & 60s activists. Unions especially should encourage members to volunteer oral testimony, donate past LGBT-related campaigning material to a local archive and encourage support, presentations and the annual OUTing The Past Festival Hubs celebrated in cites and town throughout the country. Parents should be encouraged to enquire about and demand to know how diverse the history that their children are being taught is. The goal is to counter narrow elitist history of the few and provide a celebratory showcase of the many: to showcase a previously marginalised and even denied history.


–Jeff Evans
Coordinator, OUTing The Past



This article was originally published by Labour Briefing at: http://labourbriefing.squarespace.com/home/2018/5/11/the-labour-movement-and-lgbt-history-1.

Sincere thanks to LB for permission  to republish!

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