Now in its third year, the LGBT History Month starts this week. The calendar of events across the country is filling up as never before.
There are over 300 events throughout the nation with more being announced every day.
Tony Grew explains why gay history is so important and takes us through some of the diverse range of things to do, see and enjoy in this month-long celebration of our gay past.
LGBT History Month is an excellent opportunity for all of us to learn more about the histories of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the UK.
A recent poll of over 5,000 gay people found that Kylie Minogue is their goddess, and that the gay community seems to worship straight women who can hold a tune more than the real heroes that have made their lives better.
50 gay icons were chosen, and down the list after the pocket princess came David Beckham, (6) his delightfully common wife, (12) and a couple who make Posh and Becks look like the Greek royal family, Jordan and Peter Andre at 9.
Guess where the first homosexual on the list appeared?
19th place. And it was Will Young.
Dolly Parton is the number two gay icon. You know Dolly, out on the streets marching for gay rights. Oh no hold on.
Sorry – Dolly sings songs. Sometimes she walks around while she sings. I do not recall her ever expressing public support for gay rights.
That nice young man Will Young is followed on this list of gay icons by Sir Elton John at number 20. They only narrowly beat a plastic doll. (Barbie at number 21).
Overall there were only nine gay men on the list, either as individuals or as members of a band. (Young, John, Wham!, Rupert Everett, Westlife, Boy George, The Village People, Steps, Scissor Sisters).
There were no lesbians on the list. That means only 18% of “gay icons” are in fact gay.
A depressing statistic.
Had any of these people heard of Chris Smith, the first MP to ever publicly come out of the closet?
What about Sir Ian McKellen, who helped found Stonewall and went to 10 Downing St to talk to Prime Minister John Major about gay rights?
Or Harvey Milk, the former San Francisco city supervisor who showed that the gay community could be galvanised into an effective political force?
What about Quentin Crisp, who by his tenacity and simple refusal to be anything except what he was, made middle England consider their prejudices as well as making them laugh?
A person ignorant of their own history cannot really know themselves.
How can you be proud of how far we have come if you don’t know how we got there?
For those of you unaware of the lives of people like Alan Turing (without him you would not be reading this) LGBT History month is a useful opportunity for you to learn about your history.
You might even be proud of some of it, of the people who came out and stayed out when it was social suicide.
The people who marched and publicly displayed their sexuality at great risk to themselves.
Until recently, most LGBT people preferred to avoid attention. Many still do.
Even today, the penalties for those who refuse to conceal themselves, or fail to do so, can be severe.
They can range from ostracism and victimisation to assault and even murder.
In the past, the silencing of LGBT people was often reinforced by legislation. The most recent example was Section 28, passed in 1988 and repealed in 2003, which was intended to restrict debate on homosexuality, particularly in schools.
As in the previous two years LGBT History Month features exhibitions and displays, film shows, history tours in Soho, Camden, Hampstead, Nottingham and Stockport, poetry and story workshops, talks about local histories, places and people and LGBT quizzes.
This year there is even more. A talk on computer wizard and Enigma code expert Alan Turing (damn, I just told you who he is).
A film on the life of black and gay American civil rights campaigner Bayard Rustin, as well as a host of other important characters who seem not to have made the textbooks; or who have made them but in a sanitised form.
There are conferences on faith and another on anti-fascism – on the same day!
There’s a conference on LGBT issues and their impact on primary school children. Sir Ian of McKellen is scheduled to be at that event, this Saturday at the Drill Hall in London, which is the official launch of LGBT History Month.
This year, the UK’s first out lesbian singer/rapper Mz Fontaine will be raising the roof at the Drill Hall.
And there’s a screening of Sci:dentity, which deals with where gender comes from.
Moreover, there are enough weird-and-wacky-sounding events to suit every taste. Here are just a few:
· Drag King lessons in Portsmouth
· A tribute to 60’s gay hippies ‘The Cockettes’
· Queer cooking in Manchester
· A Queer Cinderella London
· Something about Uranians
· Camp Royal Navy Stuff
· A gay and lesbian fancy dress walk in Manchester
· Dave Lynn’s drag queen workshop
· An international lesbian football match
· A tribute to disco star Sylvester and the Disco Divas
· A gay ghost walk in Southsea Castle
· Lesbian and gay jazz
· LGBT samba
· Strictly Bona Ballroom
If you want to know more about these events and when they are happening, go to http://www.lgbthistorymonth.org.uk/events/calendar.htm and seek them out for yourself.
If you want to organise an event and these ideas inspire you, hurry up and do it; and put it on the website.
Whatever you do, try to learn something about the people who are responsible for the freedoms we enjoy today.
And for God’s sake, stop holding aloft Katie Price and Victoria Beckham as icons of anything, except conspicuous consumption and the triumph of bad taste over talent.