When progress makes history
31 January 2023
When I was asked what LGBTQ+ History Month meant to me, there was one memory that came to mind straight away. I was volunteering with an organization that provided LGBTQ+ history education year round, but especially focused on LGBTQ+ History Month. We were running an event at a museum during the school holidays, and as part of our event we had a timeline of LGBTQ+ history in the UK from around 200 years ago up until the present day. I was chatting to a child about the timeline when they pointed to one of the markers for Section 28 and asked me what it was.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Section 28 was a law in place from 1988 until 2003 that prevented any local authority or its employees from talking about LGBTQ+ rights or identity, or providing any education that would have helped people struggling with their identity. It was proposed to stop the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality but, due to vague wording and a hostile social climate, was often understood to mean LGBTQ+ people couldn’t be spoken about at all, especially in schools. This law was in place through most of my school years and had a huge impact on my life and coming out process.
Talking about the past with this child who was questioning their identity, I was thankful that times have changed in a relatively short period of time. This generation won’t be suppressed by Section 28 and experience the same toxic environment it caused. I was in my late 20s at the time and had never really thought about my own experiences as being a part of LGBTQ+ history – or as history at all! But they were, because times were changing.
I’ve spent time working with LGBTQ+ people of all ages right up into their 90s. Hearing the stories about how much things have moved forward gives me a real sense of hope. I think LGBTQ+ history shows us how far we’ve come. It also highlights the areas where we still need to move forward – and some of the things we’ve lost. Particularly looking at how ancient cultures treated variance in gender identity, and the burning of Magnus Hirschfeld’s library of research in the 1930s which could have massively advanced acceptance and understanding. But overall we see the great strides being made, and it can be an encouraging reminder to us that when things feel tough, we have overcome worse and are moving in the right direction.
Consistently over time, things do get better. Awareness is increasing, acceptance is rising, and the law is coming around gradually more and more to our side. Knowing our history also ties us to a community so we don’t lose sight of the hard work and contributions of those who have come before us. It is a reminder of what has been done, and the strong foundation that has been laid for our future.