Now Reading
This is why young people need to learn their queer history

This is why young people need to learn their queer history

Pride LGSM Miners Marching shot

I try to be as woke as I can in my life.

But spending a glorious day inside the hushed halls of the British Library made me question: how good is my LGBTI history knowledge?

You may exclaim ‘who needs the library when you can just Google it?’

But as the UK marks 50 years since the partial decriminalization of gay sex – a new exhibition ‘Gay UK: Love, Law and Liberty’ sees the library collate almost the entire history of homos in the UK.

The collection of queer history and culture is easily the biggest I’ve seen. It is probably all out there online, but there is a power in seeing it all in one place.

However, beyond fan-girling over the Bronski Beat vinyl album and recognizing the classic LGSM Pits and Perverts t-shirt, the extent of this exhibition made me realize my queer history knowledge doesn’t extend too far beyond the 80s:

What should we know more about?

Steven Dryden who curated the exhibition, believes the work of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) is something we should all know more about.

‘The gay liberation set up communes, they shared money and clothes – so men would experiment with wearing women’s clothes.

‘They were far more interested in radical ways of living and being than traditional archetypal ways of living and being.

‘I think that’s when it became about embracing the spectrum of difference, rather than trying to make things better. ‘

But as the anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act in 1967 comes round, I wanted to know more about the change in the law.

Before the partial legalization happened in England and Wales, a group called the Homosexual Law Reform group did pioneering work.

This happened at a time where they risked everything.

Unlike the activists of today, they would fear arrest just for being a member.

‘They were still able to be punished under legislation from 1855.

‘So even people like Tony Dyson the founder of the homosexual law reform society never came out and said, I’m a homosexual until after 1967 because it would have been detrimental to his career and he would have been criminally liable for something potentially.’

And yet the group worked to enable the change that we mark in 2017.

We have so much to thank them for.

Schools could do more too

When we are growing up gay, confused, awkward and hormones a rush – the power of knowing that queer people exist is immeasurable.

Talking about LGBTI people across the curriculum validates to the gay kids in classes across the world questioning their identity, that they are OK, just as they are.

When I was at University, I pitched to a staff forum that everyone should include mentions of LGBTI people in their lectures because of this.

Though most understood my case, some questioned – why should we deviate from what we need to teach, to tick boxes?

That would be fair, if there weren’t hundreds of amazing LGBTI people you could talk about.

In most cases, it’s not a stretch – just a case of finding a new way of teaching your lesson.

We often hear Alan Turing’s stories, an excellent example in Maths, History and Information Technology.

In literature, you could speak about Oscar Wilde.

In media studies, you could speak about the lesbians who created a zine in the 60s to cater to their underrepresented audience.

Then when it comes to sex, LGBTI inclusive education is immeasurably powerful.

I could go on.

This is why history counts

I asked Steven what his message to young people was.

Worrying he’d been hearing this line of questioning a lot while working on the exhibition – his message sunk right into my psyche.

‘History is not static; you can go back to it and interrogate it in a multitude of ways.

‘Until you do that, and examine where you’ve come from – you can’t project yourself forward and think ahead.

‘It’s as basic as knowledge is power.’