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History teaches us what?

With a special showing of the film Milk at the Plaza, Mike Homfray explains why Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History month can teach us all important lessons

Published on February 20th 2009.

History teaches us what?

THE Daily Mail and other mainstream media aren’t all that enthusiastic about the fact that February is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History month, an annual event which “celebrates the lives and achievements of the LGBT community.”

But then other similar events focusing on the histories of black people, disabled people, or women aren't exactly making the headlines either.

The problem with history is that the history we tend to hear about, and which makes the history books, hardly touches upon the lives of those on the margins. It may be something of an exaggeration to talk about conventional history as being that of “dead, straight, white men”, but it is certainly the case that without the painstaking efforts of people from within minority communities, much of their lives and experiences would have been forgotten, indeed, discarded as ‘unimportant’.

Yet we can learn much about the way society was – and, indeed, ensure that some events do not happen again – if we have the insight of the way many people were oppressed and discriminated against in the past, and the way that they began to fight back and call for equal treatment.

LGBT History Month has already featured a range of events across the country, and their website includes details of all of these. Locally, I have been involved, as co-chair of EMBRACE, Sefton’s LGB network, in helping to organise a free showing of “Milk”, on Monday 23rd February, starting at 7.30pm at the Plaza in Waterloo.

The days when Hollywood shied away from any portrayal of gay people have not disappeared altogether, as the presence of almost permanent closets for a number of prominent actors suggests. I won’t spoil the showing of the film for you by saying too much about the plot, but essentially Milk is the story of the first openly gay legislator ever to be elected to a public position anywhere in the world.

Harvey Milk was a supervisor – the equivalent of a councillor – for the area of San Francisco which includes the Castro, an area where many gay and lesbian people have made their home. During his short time in office he brought the issue of lesbian and gay rights to the fore and, in both life and death, highlighted the many areas of institutional discrimination which existed in even one of America’s most liberal cities.

We can certainly learn from his example that sometimes battles do have to be won from the inside – and the work of Stonewall, in conjunction with the countless number of local initiatives, have seen huge changes in the UK since the mid-nineties: The introduction of civil partnerships, anti-discrimination legislation, in both employment and receiving goods and services, the equalisation of the age of consent.

There are openly gay people in Parliament and on councils across the country, with Angela Eagle, lesbian MP for Wallasey is likely to be joined by Stephen Twigg, selected for Liverpool West Derby, at the next election.

But if we cast our eye across the pond, it is interesting that the place where the gay rights movement was born has achieved far less, owing in large part, to a combination of Right-wing and religious forces. While some states have either marriage or civil partnership available, the US has no federal recognition, and, similarly, the patchwork of localised laws with regard to discrimination are no substitute for the far more comprehensive approach we have been able to see applied here.

Gay rights remain part of America’s ‘culture wars’ . Not that the entire population of Blighty have become convinced advocates for gay equality, but there are few who see it as their life’s work to crusade against it.

So we have reason to be optimistic. However, as we look back into history and recognise that the gay rights movement has made great achievements, and this is certainly at least partially due to those pioneers willing to speak out and work for change, even with legal equality, homophobia has not gone away.

As I write, a court case is taking place of a young gay man on Merseyside killed as a result of an alleged homophobic attack. Newspapers can still mount campaigns about the “evils” of lesbian and gay couples bringing up children, even when they know nothing about the cases they highlight. And every day, people still suffer discrimination and hate crime because of their sexual orientation.

The war may have been won, but there remain daily battles to fight – and having knowledge of the past gives strength and encouragement to every one of us who wants to actively support them in achieving a fair and equal society free of prejudice and discrimination.
“Milk” will be shown at the Plaza Community Cinema, Crosby Road South, Waterloo, Liverpool, at 7.30pm on Monday 23rd February.

Mike Homfray is author of ‘Provincial Queens: the gay and lesbian community in the North-West of England’

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Nah, its all just liesFebruary 20th 2009.

Here goes....more politically correct sob stories from the militant pink and pinko press.Homosexuality has brought the scourge of Aids close to our schools. Campaigning gays are trying to lower the age of consent (for sexual abuse) to 13.These unnatural people support abortion (murder to most decent people).Homosexuals are sinister because they live in shadows, dress as women, and indulge in filthy sex acts with men.Dont watch this filthy film - it should be burned..burned ..burned.

red foxFebruary 20th 2009.

Thank Goodness that there's a community cinema showing this stuff -maybe the Allerton Odeon (now shut!) could become a community cinema and be more socially reflective too!

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