With LGBT+ History Month upon us once again I want to pre-empt comments that I know are lurking out there, both inside and outside the community.
“Do we still need to do this?”
“You’ve got marriage equality now, what else do you need to complain about?”
“The problems that they faced are different from ours, we need to focus elsewhere!”
Yes. Don’t get me started. Only partly, and no. Let me tell you why.
In the West over the last 60 years or so it would be no exaggeration to say that there has been a seismic shift in the way people who don’t fit the heteronormative cisgender model are received. Some see this crystallised in the form of marriage equality, but more simply it is the opportunity for us to be intimate with who we want in public. The fact that nearly within my parents’ lifetime homosexuality was considered a criminal offence is almost incomprehensible.
But this didn’t just happen. It took the effort and lives of unnumbered activists, changes in intellectual discourse and interaction with numerous social and cultural trends and factors. It is important that we are aware of how lucky we are to live at the time we do, lest we succumb to a historical myopia born of entitlement. Understanding how things were and how they changed can give us insight into how and why things are the way they are within the movement, and in other areas like feminism and women’s rights. How did the community become so focussed on marriage? Why is Stonewall called Stonewall and why was it so anti-trans? Why are the representatives of our community white, middle-class, cisgender males? Why can I as a sexually active gay male not donate my blood? More importantly it can give us an idea of the trajectory that we might take in the future.
For the community to change minds in society, and to keep itself coherent, for better or worse we need a narrative. For just the same reasons, our opponents try to do the same thing. Knowing the facts and understanding the complex causal links and context to events is necessary so that we can distinguish history from narrative. It dangerous to fall into the indolent line of thinking that the end is in sight, we can get married now- what else is really left? Tell that to trans people. Or asexuals. A quick read of the survey Get Real. carried out regarding queer student experiences of this liberal, youthful university is saddening reading. Indeed in this time of introspection it is also worth looking further afield and realising that picture is far from rosy in other parts of the world. Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia to name but a handful. Lest we forget that the majority of countries in Commonwealth have an atrocious stance towards LGBT+. Or the murders and suicides of transpeople across the world that makes the Trans Day of Remembrance such a painful time for some.
Ultimately the problems that we face now are still daunting. The resistance to unpacking the gender binary and compulsory sexuality amongst other things is deeply ingrained and more insidious than the overt hatred that we have received in the past. It cuts to the core of humanity. We need to listen to the older members of our community for whom all I have talked about is their personal history. We need to use those experiences to inform and inspire us to tackle contemporary challenges. Now more than ever we need unity in history. That is why we have history month.
Tom Meadows (Comment Contributor)