February is the month of LGBTUA+ history, and it’s a month for reflection, learning, and understanding. A month dedicated to the history of the LGBTUA+ community reminds and celebrates, champions and warns, that our histories are not created equal. Initiated in 2005 by Sue Sanders, Elly Barnes, and Schools OUT UK, the event launched in the wake of the abolition of Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act – which stated that councils should not “intentionally promote homosexuality or publish materials with the intention of promoting homosexuality”. Since then, the month has drawn attention to histories which have contributed to the presence and liberties of the LGBTUA+ community.
History does more than repeat itself as the cliché would suggest; in fact, it permeates our culture and provides a foundation for society. History drives change. The stories of LGBTUA+ pain, perseverance, and injustice during the struggle for civil rights would be forgotten without a month with this in its focus. During LGBTUA+ history month, many of us are reminded of the liberties and freedoms we take for granted.
Although with attention now on the Winter Olympics in South Korea, it’s important to remember the previous games held in Sochi. The Olympics may have moved on from Russia, however this is not a luxury available to LGBTUA+ Russians. A couple of months before the 2014 Winter Olympics began, Russian President Putin signed what later became known as the “gay propaganda law”. In this, it was argued that “non-traditional sexual relations” were a danger to children and society. This welcomed a ratcheting up of homophobic rhetoric in state media, and a dramatic increase in discrimination and attacks on the LGBTUA+ community by vigilante groups and individuals. While the attention of the media has long moved on, Putin’s upholding of “traditional values” continues to hurt those left behind.
It is stories like these, of which there are so many, that are the reason why we need a LGBTUA+ history month
2017 saw the European Court of Human Rights condemn the “gay propaganda law”, ordering the Russian government to pay restitution to plaintiffs. Although Russia was obligated by treaty to respect this decision, its courts continue to punish people under the Putin’s damaging law. This is not an isolated case. It must be recognised that LGBTUA+ individuals worldwide face extreme daily oppression which goes unreported. It is shocking that engaging in same-sex relations remains a crime in 72 countries across the world, and is punishable by death it at least four of these. Just little over four months ago, in October, Human Rights Watch reported the arrest and torture of gay and bisexual men by police in Azerbaijan, with similar crackdowns reported in Egypt and Indonesia. It is stories like these, of which there are so many, that are the reason why we need a LGBTUA+ history month.
Acceptance is bred by familiarity; the more we can learn about the LGBTUA+ community, their accomplishments, and needs, the more accepting we will become as a society. Historical silences give the impression that LGBTUA+ people are recent anomalies, a false assumption which can serve to undermine their claims to equality. LGBTUA+ history month reveals that people with such identity have always been there, in every society and every culture, before the use of labels themselves.
Even though nearly everyone knows the story of Pride, where miners and gay and lesbian activists joined forces to strike against Thatcher’s policies, much of LGBTUA+ history remains hidden. This month is therefore a wonderful opportunity to unveil that history, and give people who may feel isolated and alone in their families and communities a chance to learn about those who look, live, and love like they do. With hate crime continuing across the world, reflecting on the history of LGBTUA+ community can provide individuals with a sense of significance in society. Learning about the history of the LGBTUA+ community provides roots by which to anchor the movement for equality.