The labour movement and LGBT+ history
The recent film about Lesbians & Gays Support the Miners, Pride, has highlighted to a wide audience that the history of the last 50 years of LGBT campaigning has been one of individual bravery and autonomous self-organisation, but also one in which the labour movement played a seminal role. However, a major problem in our attempt to get this history written and popularised is the lack of access to source material detailing this often heroic campaign and the important contributions of the labour movement. Without this evidence, any new history, which can challenge the imbalance in the established history taught in schools and colleges, will be hard to authenticate.
OUTing the Past (OTP), the National Festival of LGBT history, seeks to address this problem (www.outingthepast.org.uk). The goal of the OTP Festival is to provide a hitherto ‘hidden’ reading of LGBT history to a public that has been robbed, by the narrow curriculum of schools, of such fascinating and invaluable insights. Part of its showcase project is to encourage the labour movement, and in particular the trade unions, to help establish evidential source material which will enable historians to write an as yet largely unwritten and fascinating chapter of our collective past.
Schools Out (UK), the campaigning education charity that established LGBT History Month and OTP, has long established links with the teaching unions, with a past president of the NUT and a full time official of the ULU on our management board. Beyond the education sector, our links to the trade unions are weaker, but a small number of trade unionists have presented some fantastic insights at the OTP festival hubs showcasing their trade unions’ involvement with LGBT workplace issues. A growing number of the world’s leading scholars are committed to addressing the marginalisation of LGBT studies including the seminal role of the labour movement in advancing that agenda, but hard archival evidence is required if that history is to be written and promoted. Peter Purton’s book; Champions of Equality: trade unions and LGBT rights in Britain (Lawrence and Wishart, £20) is a rare history of the remarkable contribution of the labour movement to achieving LGBT+ rights.
OTP is developing a growing relationship with archives that are keen to expand their evidential base on LGBT issues and oral historians are endeavouring to capture testimony before death overtakes all the 1950s-60s activists. Unions especially should encourage members to volunteer oral testimony, donate past LGBT-related campaigning material to a local archive and support the annual OTP festival hubs celebrated in towns throughout the country. Parents should enquire how diverse is the history that their children are being taught. The goal is to counter narrow elitist history and provide, together with women’s, BAME and working people’s history, and other emergent insights, a more reliable and very often empowering history of the many, not the few.