26 March 2014
CSRA volunteer Niall Goulding writes about the joint CSRA and Opening Doors London event marking LGBT History Month 2014.
As you likely know, February was LGBT History Month in the United Kingdom, and this year’s History Month was dedicated to music. CSRA marked the occasion in collaboration with the charity Opening Doors London (ODL) in a musical event hosted at the Department for Communities and Local Government. Opening Doors London is a charity based in Camden that provides information and support to older members of the LGB and T community.
The event was introduced and chaired by Baroness Barker, a Liberal Democrat peer who came out during the same sex marriage debate in 2013. To kick the event off, a video was shown of the work Opening Doors London does to connect and support the people in the LGB and T community who could become isolated without it – those who lived through times when the UK was not a country where people could always be open about their identities.
Before we heard from the speakers, CSRA Chair Ollie Entwistle outlined a brief albeit shocking history of Britain’s treatment of LGB and T people in the 19th century. Thousands of men were prosecuted and at least tens were executed for having sex with other men. Many more were sentenced to hard labour. While lesbians were exempt from these punishments, they suffered alike under the prejudices of the time. Although an early gay scene had been established in London during the interwar years, LGB and T people faced continued discrimination in the civil service, the wider work force and society in the years following.
David Mitchell, an ambassador for Opening Doors, then spoke of his experiences as a young gay man in 1950s England. He recalled a life under homophobic authorities and the homophobic harassment by the police, but also of good times had with the attractive American troops remaining stationed in London after the war, and the gradually shifting social attitudes. By the end of the 50s, the campaign to legalise homosexuality in the UK was underway.
Baroness Barker then conducted a panel discussion with ODL members Annie Southerst and Vito Ward, who discussed being out in post-1950s Britain. Vito Spoke about her experiences in the North East and how she overcome the fear of being out, before we heard her humorous song choice, “Lesbian Chic”, by Judy Small.
Writer, artiste and ODL member Peter Scott-Presland spoke about setting up the Oxford Gay Action Group in the 1970s, and his performances of LGB and T rights-themed songs and the variable reception they received from audiences at the time. Peter then performed one of his songs, “We Were In There”, aptly about being closeted and the historic treatment of LGB and T people.
CSRA members Gavin (Ofsted) and Charlotte (MoJ) spoke about their coming out experiences in the 1980s and 1990s, in a country increasingly more accepting of LGB and T people. Gavin’s chosen music was “Go West” by the Pet Shop Boys, which proved to a fittingly upbeat song on which to reflect on the progress LGB and T rights had made towards the end of the 20th Century and on to the present day.
Finally, Ollie returned to the floor to give some context to the British history of LGB and T people. We were reminded of just how many LGB and T people still live in areas where homosexuality is illegal, let alone same sex marriage – and for whom history is very much to be made.