Celebration or segregation?

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Gay Pride Parade in Toulouse, 2011. Image by Guillaume Paumier

LGBT Month introduces a month-long observance of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender history as well as recognition of other important events in LGBT history such as the abolition of homophobic laws and the establishment of gay rights.  But with equality historically closer than ever, is this event simply opening the eyes of the general public to the achievements of LGBT individuals or is it allowing the divide to widen once again?

February sparks the reoccurrence of a number of definitive events in the annual calendar; the final month of the sordid British winter time, the dreaded Valentines Day and the beginning of LGBT month.  The relatively new event, launching initially in Great Britain in only February 2005, coincides with the abolition of Section 28; a law which prohibited discussion in schools of LGBT issues and even counseling. The first national recognition of the month was instigated by Sue Sanders and Schools Out and since its launch, the number of events within schools and across the United Kingdom during the month have proliferated year after year.

The initiative received incredible support; from Government backing with Gordon Brown hosting a reception on Downing Street in the month’s honor, to huge support coming from openly gay celebrities such as Ian McKellen and Labi Siffre. However, even with support from a vast array of sources, the event managed to receive extensive criticism. Sections of the press began to question the month’s political correctness and argue as to whether the sexuality of a historical figure really is a compulsory factor in learning.  It could be argued that the sexuality of some historical figures can never be explicitly known and that the sexuality taught is more a matter of speculation than truth.  As positive as the month seems, once again there is a divide occurring between straight and LGBT sexualities. For years, individuals have fought for equality through the legalization of marriage and adoptive rights so one begins to question why in the 21st century we are still setting individuals apart based on their sexuality. Is this really the only successful way of raising awareness?

I can clearly see the grave importance in challenging heterosexist attitudes in today’s society and perhaps with the acknowledgement and introduction of homosexuality at a younger age, bullying will be minimized as the terms will not be misunderstood and used in derogatory tones, but rather recognized as an admirable characteristic of a historical figure.  For example, Florence Nightingale had numerous relationships with women documented with her own hand and a vast number of Shakespeare’s sonnets are actually talking about a relationship with another male; two figures that are adored by both young and old. The most advantageous factor of the month for me is the effect on current students. Gay teenager Josh remarks that the event  ‘is a good thing as it will allow pupils in schools to be more confident in their own sexuality and not repress their true selves.’ Race and more recently women’s place in history has been recognized, and now I along with many others feel its LGBT’s time.

Bisexual Lancaster University student Becky comments that ‘all areas in life tend to head towards a hetrocentric society as it is the way the majority of people are brought up and therefore individuals are not open to the alternative concepts.’ If children are taught about the different sexual paths and choices, they will become common knowledge and perhaps aid those who even at a young age are feeling curious about their own sexuality.

Whether a label is truly relevant or not, LGBT history month aims to serve the important purpose of combating prejudice. By raising awareness and opening children’s eyes to the various sexualities, we can attempt to remove the sense of isolation surrounding those LGBT and break through the social silence that surrounds their lives. It is vital to remember that LGBT people belong to all races, faiths, classes and age groups; no different from you or I.

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