Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Truancy with the C'lebs

Invitation to the launch - click to enlarge

Although, yesterday was Monday, I didn't attend Chorus rehearsal last night. Instead, I played truant and stuffed Slightly in one of my pockets and went to the "pre-launch" of LGBT History Month 2007 at the TUC's headquarters: Congress House, off Tottenham Court Road.

I remember attending the first of those events, three years ago in the cinema of Tate Modern and the one last year at the Met's Empress Building in West London. Every year, a series of speakers are invited who make very interesting contributions.

The highlights for me, this year, (out of the 10 speakers present last night) were the interventions by "Dame Ian McGandalf" (aka Sir Ian Mckellen), Allan Horsefall, Ann Marriott and Stella Duffy. Paul Patrick (one of the organisers), who was hosting the event, is also always good fun to listen to.

Apart from being the major screen star that he is, Ian McKellen has been a gay activist for many years and he knows what he is (eloquently) talking about. He warned us that although was had now more or less won the legislative battle (bar a few tweaks of the law, here and there), we were get to what is perhaps the most difficult moment of our struggle where we need to show people, ordinary people, who we are and that we are not as horrible and dangerous and whatever else as they may sometimes think.

First part of extracts of Sir Ian's elocution -
Clip courtesy of Slightly (view part 2).

Allan Horsfall is also a veteran campaigner and a part of of collective history. In 1964 he co-founded the North-West Homosexual Law Reform Committee with Colin Harvey which later became the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE). He briefly told us how, at the publication of the Wolfenden Report in 1957, he decided to start challenging the Labour Party's prejudices against doing anything about gay rights because Labour MPs at the time thought the working class (their supporters) were homophobic at heart. This was not his experience (as was indeed that of Rex Batten, whom I heard speak at the launch of his autobiographical novel, last year I think)

He also explained how he found that the (limited) decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967 sometimes actually made things worse for gay men with the police showing their displeasure at the new law by making more arrests than before it happen. Regardless, Allan Horsfall took the (for us) bold step to use his personal address to run the campaign. Surprisingly (again, from our perspective), there was no backlash from his local community, although his address was "outed" in the papers.

In his view, the current homophobia rampant in working class minds at the moment is all the doing of the press and particularly the tabloids. I think he may be on to something. Allan Horsfall has his own website: The Gay Monitor.

Having moved some years ago from Nottingham to a tiny Scottish island with a population of 63, Ann Marriott felt a little isolated as a lesbian. Today, she is the Scottish Executive's special appointed (for 2 years) coordinator for LGBT History Month in Scotland. And yes, this year, half of her island's population have to committed to come and organise to an LGBT event! They all seem to be so progressive up there (and I am not just talking about gay rights). As Paul Patrick said after her speech: it almost makes you want to move to Scotland.

A little inconguously perhaps, we then took part in a minute of silence to mark National Trans Day of Remembrance. I say incongruously because it is a US event not a UK one. Still, it was good to remember that we have very cushy positions here in London and that there is still some work to do.

Finally, Stella Duffy wound up the evening before a few drinks. I had already seen Stella "in action" during a Big Gay Read event and she also graciously attended a meeting of my reading group where she held our attention for a good two and half hours.

She is a fiesty, passionate, stirring, articulate, intelligent, funny speaker and because of this, the only book of hers I have read (Parallel Lies, her latest, I believe) was rather a disappointment and a (negative) surprise: a fairly good read, I suppose but a flawed one in need of a good editor and more depth, I think. Still, she must be doing something right: she has about a dozen books published under her belt.

Stella spoke about the need for closeted lesbians (and any LGBT person, really) to come out and testify, get involved, make themselves visible so that people stopping seeing us) as "that interesting lesbian woman" or "that original gay man". A way to reclaim our humanity, I think.

The tag line on a flyer given out at the event said: "Claiming our history, celebrating our past, creating our future". History Month is indeed probably more about our future than our past. It is about visibility but a visibility that, like Stella Duffy said, will in the end giving us annonymity and possibly a new kind of invisibility, where we don't stand out any more because people know about us and have stopped being afraid, defensive and aggressive towards us.

As Ian McKellen said there is not much (if anything) left, for the LGBT people in this country, to march about in the streets (which does not mean we should not remain vigilant) and it is, I think, time to change our attitude.

Things have moved on so fast in the last 10 years (or even less) that, quite understandably, people who have been in fighting mode for several decades seem sometimes to be finding it difficult to realise that the time of struggle is, thanfully, behind us, that the younger generations are taking things in their stride much more than we are, and that it is now time to live our lives for ourselves more, show we are quite ordinary human beings and reach out.

This is what History Month is about.

Slightly has video clips of several of the speakers, he will be posting them piecemeal on his blog over the next few days.

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