It's LGBT History Month. I'm sure you're all excited about this.
I always feel slightly conflicted about the Month. I have written repeatedly that the lack of avenues for younger gay people to learn about their history is a major problem. Because of political, social or religious constraints, teachers simply aren't comfortable talking about gay rights as one of the major civil rights movements of the last forty years.
This is changing – schools are being encouraged to be more open and accepting of gay students. Just acknowledging the complexity of human sexuality in schools is a major start to opening up the curriculum to examining how things have changed for gay people over the years and why it is important to continue to be vigilant. After all 36% of people still believe that homosexuality is almost always wrong. That number will only change if people of all ages are exposed to sexual diversity and encouraged to be comfortable with their own desires.
LGBT History Month should be an opportunity to fill in the blanks for gay people of all ages. To learn that their story is not just about oppression and discrimination but also about bravery, generosity and conviction. That there are other heroes apart from Harvey Milk and Oscar Wilde. And more importantly, to educate both gay and straight people that human sexuality is something far more malleable than we like to admit, and that this is something which be encouraging people to explore their sexuality, rather than repressing it.
However, looking over the programme of events in London for this year,. I can't help thinking how parochial, unfocused and small-scale the entire endeavor feels. In past years, I have tended to forgive this. Everything has to start somewhere and I have enjoyed a couple of the events in the past. But I guess I keep on waiting for the Month to step-up and develop into something more ambitious.
This year there are a couple of really interesting looking events – I am particularly looking forward to the programme being offered by THT and the British Library. But the rest of it is seems rather haphazard. Without a strong centralising force, the month just feels like a collection of small scale, quite esoteric little events without any attempt to tell any kind of larger narrative. While I think its a good thing that individual boroughs have the freedom to create their events, you do end up with a much more atomised and diffuse programme. It also leaves very little space for telling less mainstream stories.
If LGBT History Month is ever going to grow, I think there needs to be a stronger, more centralised approach to planning a programme which can run on a larger national or regional basis and which the smaller, more local events can link in to. Pick an overall theme and ask organisations, community groups and individuals to try and link their efforts into this. It would provide a more cohesive programme, which would also provide a clearer focus for larger scale media activities.
A quick example. Gareth Thomas, the Welsh rugby star who recently came out, is the new patron for LGBT History Month. There is also a major event during the month about homophobia in sport. It seems like there is an opportunity here to get a conversation going about areas of modern life which still retain an suffocating accommodation of the closet. Indeed, once you dig around their site, you realize that sport is going to be their major theme in the next few years. But you wouldn't know that from the website, which is the main promotional tool for the Month. It's flat, cheap-looking and exceedingly difficult to navigate around. I realise this is a funding issue, but I find it hard to believe that this is the best that they could come up with (I have worked on a variety of web projects and there are lots of cheap ways of getting decent design and programming).
I don't doubt the hard work that many have done to make the programme as diverse and interesting as possible. But the whole thing stills feels a little half arsed - and that is a real shame