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Celebrating LGBT History Month

Why is it still important in this ‘liberal’ day and age to recognise and celebrate LGBT History month.

*Please see glossary of terms at the bottom of the page*

I grew up in a small town where LGBT people only really existed on TV, so I suppose that’s why teachers never challenged any throwaway remarks, or even made comments in jest. They would have no idea how hurtful their comments were to teenagers who were questioning their sexuality or gender identity. With this in mind, any sexuality other than heterosexuality was either an abstract concept or something that invited merciless bullying. If you were attracted to people of your own sex or were questioning your gender identity, you kept quiet about it.

As for sex education? Avoiding pregnancy and watching cringe worthy demonstrations on how to apply a condom was about as far as it went.   After all, thanks to the lack of LGBT+ sex and pastoral education of my school days, many LGBT+ women are filled with misconceptions that they don’t need STI or smear tests if they only sleep with women. This not only heightens stigma within the lesbian and bisexual community towards bisexual women or lesbian women who’ve dated men previously (as I’ll discuss in a later paragraph), it also puts women’s sexual health into serious jeopardy, since abnormal cells can grow on the cervix regardless of the gender of one’s sexual partners; and STI’s (such as gonorrhoea, chlamydia, genital warts and herpes) are equally as transferable through lesbian sex acts as they are through heterosexual acts.

Thankfully, there have been some positive changes politically and socially. 2014 saw the legislation of same sex marriage in the UK (BBC News 2014) and the legalisation of it by popular vote in Ireland in 2015 (Guardian 2015). Things such as same sex parenting are becoming more normalised, and people know what “LGBT” means, rather than thinking it’s a BLT with additional gherkins in it!  “Those two, next door- LESBIANS!” (as plagiarised from Miranda!) is also much less of a juicy piece of gossip than it was a decade ago.

So, why should we still celebrate LGBT History month, and what awareness still needs to be raised?

We should still celebrate LGBT History month because we wouldn’t have the rights and the acceptance that we are able to enjoy today if it wasn’t for our LGBT ancestors who bravely came out and stood up for our rights at a time when LGBT people were considerably more likely to be subjected to verbal and physical abuse, being disowned by their families, sacked from jobs, and even imprisonment or sectioning. People such as Harvey Milk, a human rights activist and one of the first openly gay elected officials in San Francisco in 1977, did so much for the LGBT+ community including setting up The Castro Village Association, an organisation of predominantly LGBT owned businesses, after some business merchants had tried to prevent two gay men from opening a store. This was at a time of intense hostility towards the LGBT+ community, and his bravery even led to his assassination (MilkFoundation.Org).  People like Harvey have paved the way for an easier life for future generations, so we need to keep their memories alive, and to remember how and why we are able enjoy the rights and privileges that we have now, so that we never take them for granted and can try to be as brave as they were in standing up against any form of oppression (regardless of how you identify).

We still have a lot of work to do in terms of acceptance and awareness. Luckily there is more media coverage and protesting in order to persuade schools to put LGBT+ based pastoral and sex education on the agenda. LGBT bullying is still commonplace in schools, with 95% of pupils hearing the word “gay” being used as an insult, over half of pupils witnessing LGBT+ bullying, and only 13% saying that this was dealt with effectively by schools (LGBT Foundation 2017). Awareness raising is of crucial importance, and is shown to be so effective by the fact that prior to watching a play which raised awareness of LGBT+ issues, only 21% of pupils would have defended someone who was being bullied for this reason, and after watching the play, this rose to 93% (LGBT Foundation 2017).

Homelessness, hate crime and mental health problems are also much more likely to affect the LGBT population. Surveys found that over half of LGBT+ youth deliberately self-harm, in comparison to between 1 in 10 and 1 in 15 of the general population (NSPCC 2017 and LGBT Foundation 2017); LGBT+ people of all ages are twice as likely to have suicidal thoughts and make suicide attempts, and are between two and three times more likely to suffer from depression (LGBT Foundation 2017).

Within the heterosexual community, misconceptions of lesbian women having “not found the right man yet” or of us thinking “I’ll date women since I have no luck with men!” are still very much alive- especially among disappointed heterosexual guys. Us being attracted to each other for no other reason that chemistry alone is seemingly unthinkable to some. (Lane-Rogans 2015- yes I do work with her, and yes this is her dissertation!)

Sadly, bisexuals, pansexuals, transsexuals and intersexed people have a tough time both within and outside of the LGBT community.  I have heard many gay and lesbian people say “bisexuals, make your mind up” and “I would never go out with a bisexual because they would cheat on me” or even “because they’re dirty and promiscuous” The loneliness and the sense of shame that many bisexuals and pansexuals have to face as a result of this is a fast track ticket to a multitude of issues with substance misuse and mental illness such as depression, drug induced psychosis and emotional disregulation.  The same goes for transsexuals and gender fluid people who have to endure staged whispers and stares about what they might have between their legs, which to these staged whisperers, determines whether someone is male or female. Little do they know that some people may identify as neither, or both on different days, and some might identify as one gender but have decided not to have genital reconstructive surgery- and who is anyone to judge or to force people into gender binaries that they do not see as applicable to them?

The same goes for same sex attraction. Some people have always and will always be attracted to both males and females, others have always and will always be attracted only to members of their own gender- some people having known this from an early age, and others having taken a while to figure this out and having had relations with members of the opposite sex during their discovery. I have experienced the hostility that other lesbians in lesbian scenes can display towards women who identify as lesbian but have been with men in the past, or towards bisexual women, and it has an extremely detrimental effect on your self-esteem. This needs to stop. LGBT clubs were not just made for those who are only attracted to and have only dated those of the same sex. They were made to be inclusive of everyone on the huge spectrums that make up gender identities and sexualities, with gender and sexuality being on separate continuums, and people falling at various places on both continuums.

In order to reduce suicide rates, to provide adequate healthcare to the LGBT community, and to have more community cohesion, LGBT history month and Pride are vital for bringing us together and raising awareness, both within and outside of the LGBT+ community.

Jennifer Jackson

Glossary of terms: (Stonewall 2017)

Please see the Stonewall website for more details.

Sexuality= Who one tends to find themselves sexually attracted to.

Gender identity= What, if any, gender, a person identifies as (they may also identify as both). This has no bearing on who a person is sexually attracted to.

Intersex = The term used for people who have ambiguous genitalia which means that their gender cannot be determined by this. They may have both male and female genitals; or they may have neither.

Pansexual =  “refers to a person whose emotional, romantic and/or sexual attraction towards others is not limited by biological sex, gender or gender identity”.

Gender fluid/gender variant/ non binary= Someone who does not identify as any gender; or someone who’s gender identity is not restricted to male or female.