After a few nibbles and drinks, people moved towards the end of the hall to take a seat and listen to the various speakers. After a quick word of welcome by the co-chairs of the Month, Sue Sanders and Paul Patrick, the Attorney General, Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC took the stage for a speech where she retraced the legal history of gay rights since 1967, highlighting the work done by Labour in fighting discrimination (read more here).
The next speaker was Dru Sharpling, Chief Crown Prosecutor London who chairs the London Criminal Justice. She highlighted the work of her organisation on prosecuting homophobic hate crime. She then received from Peter Burton (TUC) the silver plate which is passed on each year to the hosts of the pre-launch event. The list of the different hosts is engraved on the plate.
left to right: Patricia Scotland, Dru Sharpling, Barbara Follett, Richard Kirker and Stephen Whittle.
It was then the turn of Barbara Follett to take to the lectern. She is the MP for Stevenage and the Minister for Equality and for the East of England. Although a politician herself, her speech felt much less formal than the two preceding ones and she felt more sincere in the way she expressed herself, highlighting issues of discrimination and pledging her commitment to fight against those.
By then, the hall was getting a bit cold and some people were starting to leave, probably to catch a train to get home but also perhaps because on the whole the speakers were not as inspirational as they could have been.
The night was also sponsored by Channel 4 who sent two cameramen and provided footage of Quentin Crisp alternative message from the Queen which was shown at this point of the evening.
The next speakers were the Reverend Richard Kirker, chair of the Lesbian Gay Christian Movement and Professor Stephen Whittle, founder and vice-president of Press for Change.
The next speaker was playwright, director, actor, singer songwriter, Rikki Beadle-Blair. He explained his work tackling homophobia in schools through his plays, drawing the conclusion that "the children want to know". Something he also found held true in his encounter with grown men when he went to Jamaica for Radio 4 a few years ago to investigate homophobia there or for himself as a growing child. He explained that homophobia comes mostly from ignorance and that most people are ready to change their mind if someone comes and talks to them. "The children need to know", he added, praising the effects of LGBT History Month.
Elly Barnes and Rikki Beadle-Blair
This was very clearly examplified by what the next speaker had to say. Elly Barnes is a music teacher in the London Borough of Hackney who decided that LGBT History Month would be celebrated in her school with very positive and impressive results. She was a great speaker and an obviously inspirational teacher. Her work has been noticed it seems and will now be taken to other schools in the borough. An article about her work is available in the Socialist Worker of 17 March 2007.
To close the event, the Diversity Choir sang a song by gay composer Leonard Bernstein and another one by lesbian suffragette and musician Ethel Smythe.
It feels like that History Month has passed an important landmark after last night's event, a little like it has come of age. The audience was by far the biggest so far and the speakers also provided acknowledgment of the Month's work from the highest levels of society. It was I think a slight shame that the historical side of things had been a little lost. In previous editions of the event, there had been historians or witnesses at hand to provide us with some insights in particular episodes of the LGBT past experience. What the event had gained in gravitas and prestige, it probably lost in fun and human interest. Still last night represents an incredible achievement we should be proud of.
A selection of my pictures of the event can be viewed here.
Slightly posted some of his pictures on his blog.
The official report of the event can be read here.
The full text the Attorney General's speech is available here.