Friday, 11 February 2005

What a Glamorous Life!!!!

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Celebrating LGBT History Month

As you may recall, last week, I was at the preview for the Churchill Museum. And on Monday evening (07/02/05), I made my first ever entrance in the Houses of Parliament in style. Not with an ermine cape and a crown (that is for the other queen) but as a proud gay man. To quote the mail out sent afterwards by the organisers of History Month: "Angela Eagle, labour and lesbian MP for Wallasey hosted a reception to welcome the LGBT History Month initiative, with guest speaker Stephen Twigg, Minister for schools." Sounds rather grand does it not? I can see you imagining the flowing dresses, the tiaras... and the lesbians in tuxedo. The champagne flowing and the canapés doing whatever canapés do.... (being gobbled, I suppose).

Well get over it, right now! The event was rather well attended as far as those sort of events go, but then again, the appeal of the venue and the way the event had been sold probably did help. About 30 people were there. We all got herded into Committee Room 10. On the first floor, at the heart of the building, Committee Room 10 is like a miniature House of Commons in its lay out with wooden school desks (complete with inkwells) and chairs (upholstered in green leatherette with the famous crest on the back) instead of the green leather seats. There are large paintings at each ends, big chandeliers and a reddish velvety kind of William Morris wallpaper making it all look cosy and from another age.

When I arrived (slightly late because the venue had been changed), someone I recognised to be Paul Patrick (co-chair of Schools Out) was doing an impersonation of Churchill, Cicero, Dale Winton or whoever he thinks is a great public orator with big gestures. Several other people mostly from public bodies (DfES, unions (PCS Proud)) but also interest groups like Regard or Press For Change talked of the involvement of their services/groups with LGBT equality. There were also more transsexuals than you could shake a lipstick at. The whole thing felt a little like school too as a bell rang a couple of times during the meeting, apparently calling the MPs to the chamber for a vote. Angela Eagle, who, while talking to us, dropped several not too subtle hints that if we voted for Labour at the next election, some interesting legislation (something called "single equality body" currently being prepared would be passed, had to run back and forth each time.

Also present was a lawyer visiting specially from the Isle of Man who told us how bad the situation was for LGBT people in his country with the age of consent for gay sex (18) not equal to that for straight sex (16) and also problems with the implementation of the 2001 Human Rights laws. Although he did not expend on this he also said that the meeting we were attending would be illegal there. Angela Eagle must have mentioned something to Stephen Twigg who later on said he would try to do something about it.

All in all and although the point was made that, contrary to what has been said in the media, History Month was not just about children, we heard a lot about schools. The speakers also picked up some of the arguments made by the opponents of the Month, reminding us that, yes, the month is supported by “tax payers’ money”, but that we are after all tax payers ourselves and that it is about time that our needs should be recognised by the society to which we belong and contribute. It was also pointed out that although the media focus on the “outings” of famous people (notably Shakespeare and Florence Nightingale), which, I think, both provide an important role model to us and make a stronger point to the general public for the recognition of the value of LGBT people for society, the month is also about the ordinary people claiming their history and their sense of identity.

The thing is, this current drive to record gay history (I am not only talking of LGBT History Month but also of archives (like the Hall-Carpenter Archives) and, of course, of the LGBT Museum project (See also this article in the Guardian)), is quite important. The 19th century gave homosexuality its name and therefore allowed not only for discrimination and but also for the rise of a community consciousness amongst people of this inclination. This consciousness later turning into the gay liberation movement (arguably started in July 1969 by the Stonewall Riots in New York). This is our history; however, contrary to straight children we can not rely on our parents or environment (extended family, neighbours, school, TV) to pass this knowledge on. This means that each individual has to virtually re-invent the wheel each time. The Internet has simplified things dramatically but local history is getting lost and it is what needs to be preserved now.

Of course this event in itself is, I think, historic. I don’t think there have been many officially recognised meetings of a bunch of poofs, dikes and Trans at the Houses. And of course this is marking the first ever LGBT History Month in this country. Most importantly, however, this should remind us that we are still in pioneering times as far as gay history goes and everything that we do is a historic event.

After the “reception”, we adjourned to a nearby bar for drinks and nibbles. Everybody present proceed to frenetically exchange business cards and Lo! I even managed to get one myself. Another first I guess!

The evening finished just as stylishly as it had begun: at good old Wong Key, that old favourite...

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