LGBT HISTORY MONTH BLOG SERIES: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Why our lives matter: Introducing LGBT History Month
You may ask yourself, why do LGBT+ people get to have their own month of celebrating their history? Why on earth are they making such a fuss? Well, to misquote a famous historian I saw on television just this week, it is because history has been told by the conquerors, and it is full of lies, half-truths and vast, vast omissions. LGBT+ people have largely been absent from the history books, relegated to the margins, dismissed or overlooked, or even deliberately erased from the pages of time, because we did not fit in with the dominant social and political norms and with the agendas of the historians. Just as women’s history has been overshadowed and disregarded by a largely heteropatriarchal society which afforded recognition only to the chosen few, in which knowledge was guarded by institutions such as the Church and the first Universities (remember, it wasn’t until the late 18th and early 20th Century that women were really accepted onto university courses, and it was some time until many were allowed to gain the degrees they had earned through their own merit – see http://herstoria.com/womens-access-to-higher-education-an-overview-1860-1948/ ), so the history of LGBT+ people has been erased, hidden or overwritten, leaving us with slim pickings. Similarly, the literature, art and other works of LGBT people have been marginalised, or else their nature as LGBT+ people has been hidden. Just as famous women writers of the 19th Century were forced to submit their work under male pseudonyms to get published, queer artists, writers, scientists and activists have been either forced to hide their status or have had it stripped from them. The famous Ladies of Llangollen, for example, who both ran away from arranged marriages in Ireland to live in Wales together, still get described as companions and many sources vehemently deny that they were lovers. There are notorious exceptions, such as Oscar Wilde and Radclyffe Hall, but these remain the exception rather than the rule and can hardly be expected to represent the wide diversity of queer culture, expression and identity.
LGBT+ people and their work have been largely absent from the history books and from the education taught in schools and, sadly, in Universities. It has only been recently that such famous individuals as Alan Turing were celebrated instead of vilified. The fact that I am typing this blog on a computer, and you are reading it ‘online’ is partly because of him. When I studied literature, many moons ago, there were no queer writers included in the curricula I studied. Even in my own role, currently, sexuality, gender and queer studies is limited to a few brief sessions due to the demands of the curriculum, though I, like many other academics, am working to redress the balance.
We need our history to understand ourselves in context. We need to know who we are in relation to the lives of those who have come before us, who have helped to create a place in the world for us. The film Pride, dramatizing a key moment in British social history, reminds us that we were and are a part of life, of social activism, and that even while we were getting beaten and killed and ostracised, and being thrown out of our homes and disowned by our parents, we were still working to make the world a better place for ourselves and our communities. We were producing amazing works of literature and art, breaking new ground in science and knowledge, and transgressing every social law in order to create a world in which we could breathe freely.
Why does it matter? Because we are a part of history. History is being made, right now. And we can learn from history. We can be inspired, we can be warned, we can be strengthened. We can find ourselves, see ourselves reflected in those who came before us. We can build a world in which inclusion is the norm. We can own our history, and, where necessary, stand up and say Never Again. As one of the placards on the recent Women’s Marches and political protests marches reads, “History is Watching.” So I ask you – how do you want to be remembered? How will you go down in history?
By Dr Alys Einion,
Co-Chair, Swansea University Staff Network.
This blog series is coordinated by Dr Alys Einion of Swansea University and celebrates LGBT History Month 2017. To contribute, please email email@example.com
Alys Einion February 1st, 2017
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