What I Learned From LGBT History Month

01/03/2017 16:21 GMT | Updated 02/03/2018 10:12 GMT
Jamie Grill via Getty Images

We stand on the shoulders of giants.

I've long known this, but nothing drove it home more than this month. On 1 February, I realised that it was simultaneously LGBT History Month in the UK and Black History Month in the US. I decided I would tweet an inspirational Black American and an inspirational LGBT Briton every day of February. I thought it would be good for my followers to know the people who fought for the rights we now so often take for granted. What I didn't expect is how moved and humbled I would become.

I did my undergraduate thesis on Section 28. I'm well-versed in queer British history. People like A.E. Dyson, Peter Tatchell, and Christine Burns are figures I'm intimately acquainted with, if only through scholarship. Tweeting inspirational LGBT people would have been too easy. So I challenged myself to find people I wasn't so familiar with.

Boy, am I glad I did.

In learning about the people who blazed the trail I walked confidently down, I have a newfound appreciation for what it means to be queer. Every movement has its heroes - Martin Luther King, Jr., Harvey Milk, and the like - but for each one of them there are countless unsung heroes whose work was just as vital.

These heroes deserve recognition too. Linda Bellos OBE, the former leader of Lambeth Council and one of the foremost Black LGBT and feminist activists in Thatcher's Britain, is still changing the world through diversity consultancy. Dirk Bogarde might be best remembered as a BAFTA-winning actor, but he was a gay man who decided to star in a film about a blackmailed homosexual that was actually sympathetic to the victim. Victim, as it turns out, is one of the most important LGBT pictures in film history.

Maureen Colquhoun became the first openly gay Member of Parliament when she was outed in 1975. She fought deselection and contested that her "sexuality has nothing whatever to do with my ability to do my job as an MP." Michael Dillon, a physician, became the first British man to undergo phalloplasty and was an early trans rights activist, publishing Self: A Study in Endocrinology and Ethics in 1946.

If it weren't for Linda Bellos, we might not have UK Black Pride today. If it weren't for Dirk Bogarde, films like Beautiful Thing and Get Real might not have been made. Maureen Colquhoun blazed a trail followed by Chris Bryant, Angela Eagle, Justine Greening and Ruth Davidson. Michael Dillon made it possible for people like April Ashley, Paris Lees, and former EastEnders star Riley Carter Millington to break the barriers they have.

We stand on the shoulders of giants.

In 2017, it might not seem so important to recognise this. After all, same-sex partners can be legally wed in England, Scotland, and Wales. LGBT representation is at an all-time high (though still woefully low). Kids are coming out to their parents and not being kicked out of their homes. The Conservative Party, which passed Section 28 to ban the promotion of homosexuality in schools and local councils, now has an out-lesbian Education Secretary (the aforementioned Justine Greening) and a Conservative Prime Minister delivered equal marriage.

Our fight is not over, though. After all, while most British queers can marry, our Northern Irish siblings still cannot - and the Democratic Unionist Party has promised to continue to stonewall any efforts to equalise marriage. Many same-sex spouses still can't claim equality in survivors' pensions. Prominent public figures are still denying transphobia exists, whilst others are excluding trans people from their feminist theory and praxis and attempting to thwart even the most basic vernacular inclusiveness. And, as the Washington Postreported late last year, homophobic hate crimes have risen 147 per cent since the Brexit vote last June.

We must continue to advance the rainbow banner of equality. The work of our forefathers and foremothers is not over, and we must pick up where they left off. This means taking to the streets of Belfast, Derry, and other Northern Irish cities to demand our rights. It means pressuring Westminster MPs to for same-sex inclusive and compulsory sexual and relationship education (SRE). It means continuing to claim our spaces in the national dialogue, whether on Coronation Street or Question Time. It means demanding inclusion, visibility, and equality.

Our forebears brought us farther than many of them could have imagined, it is our job to go farther. We must persist. We must continue to fight for those who come after us. Many queer Millennials had an easier road because of them. It is time for us to take up the mantle and ensure that progress continues so that someday, thirty or forty years from now, our queer descendants are writing about us.

We stand on the shoulders of giants. Now it's our turn.