February is LGBT History Month – a chance to celebrate LGBT lives and culture in order to challenge prejudice and build equality.
This year sees the 30th anniversary of the UK government passing Section 28, the notorious piece of legislation that prohibited local authorities from “promoting homosexuality” in schools.
It left teachers unable to help distressed young people – and not even knowing whether they could mention Oscar Wilde.
Section 28 had no legal effect in itself, but what it did have was a chilling effect, creating confusion and uncertainly and playing into the hands of those who opposed lesbian and gay equality. There were lots of successful campaigns overruling attempts to block lesbian and gay information and education.
Forty years ago Harvey Milk, the first out gay councillor in the USA, was murdered. On a brighter note, the rainbow flag is also 40 years old, while Sarah Walter’s lesbian classic, Tipping the Velvet, is 20.
This year’s theme for history month is Geography: Mapping the world.
If those anniversaries provide us with a snapshot of progress in a short time, then there is no shortage of information around to remind us that, while equality is spreading – from marriage to adoption and much more – there are also large parts of our world where LGBT people live in fear.
Being LGBT is criminalised in 72 states, In eight of those, it is punishable by death.
There are plenty of resources to help you start a conversation this month.
On LGBT global equality, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association publishes a series of maps showing sexual orientation laws around the world.
Two new books, published in December and Janaury, look at the struggle for LGBT rights within the context of trade unions.
Both Champions of Equality: Trade unions and LGBT rights in Britain (Lawrence & Wishart) by Peter Purton and Trans Britain: Our Long Journey from the Shadows by Christine Burns (available here) feature UNISON.
UNISON has produced a presentation for branches – updated to include the anniversary of Section 28, it has extensive notes, enabling anyone to present it. Download here.
Finally, The Proud Trust has an education and resource pack that, while aimed specifically at young people, but is great for everyone.
You can find that at the trust’s website.