An introduction to the National Festival of LGBT History

In February of 2015, Schools OUT UK held the first National Festival of LGBT History and the second What is LGBT History and How to Do It conference in Manchester.

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In February of 2015 we held the first National Festival of LGBT History and the second What is LGBT History and How to Do It conference in Manchester.

There were many highlights as we had over 80 presentations in the People’s National History Museum and the new Manchester Central Library. The academic conference had 100 participants from across Europe, North America and Asia. Harvey Milk’s nephew Stuart Milk not only spoke at both the popular presentations and the academic conference, he also went into four local schools and inspired over 500 students.

Our Stonewall

We also produced the premiere of a new play, A Very Victorian Scandal (commissioned for the festival and generously supported by Russell T. Davies). The play portrays the circumstances and consequences of the largest police raid known in British history upon LGBT people, where men were arrested for the ‘crime’ of dancing with men dressed in women’s clothing (September 1880 in Hulme, Manchester).

A Very Victorian Scandal includes scenes inspired by Victorian music hall and documents the extraordinary events both in the back-rooms and courtroom where the story unfolds. The raids that inspired the play had many parallels with the Stonewall raid in the USA, although preceding it by almost 100 years, and have appropriately been dubbed by Tony Fenwick as ‘our Stonewall’.

Discovery and diversity

The intention of the festival is ambitious – nothing less than providing the general public and our community with the education denied and kept hidden from them in mainstream education. To enable everyone – LGBT and heterosexual alike – to discover the contributions and experiences of the LGBT community in all their diversity. We at Schools OUT UK are passionate about Educating OUT prejudice and making all LGBT people visible and safe.

The success of the festival has inspired us to repeat the festival in February 2016, but this time in six Regional Festival LGBT History Hubs: London and York (5-6 February), the Midlands (12-14 February), Bristol and Newcastle (19-21 February), and Manchester (25-28 February, which includes the Festival Conference).

Exciting headliners

You will find further information in this magazine about the Six Regional Festival Hubs and the Festival Conference. We have some very exciting headliners, including Ian McKellen, Professor Susan Stryker, Roz Kaveney, Stuart Milk, Ros Asquith, Peter Tatchell, Professor Sue Sanders, Professor Jeffrey Weeks, Phyll Opoku-Gyimah and Tom Robinson.

The festival will happen every weekend and will have a launch on the Friday evening with an activist and an academic speaking, as well as local politicians. The presentations will cover a variety of subjects, including LGBT issues within unions, suffragettes, religion, the armed forces and much more.

Schools and families

Every festival hub will also have a schools and family strand, demonstrating how educators and parents can include LGBT people and issues. We feel this is crucial, as it is vital we enable young people to learn about LGBT people in all their diversity, and thus be able to question stereotypes and prejudice.

The festival was the brainchild of Jeff Evans, who will again be losing sleep to help ensure we’re all ‘coordinated’. The fact we once more have a festival – this time nationwide in 6 different locations – is a glowing testament to the excitement the idea has generated, together with the endeavour it has facilitated among ourselves, our wonderful festival coordinators and delivery teams thought-out the country, and a wide range of festival sponsors.

The reality of past LGBT lives

Another feature of the festival has been the number of people that have come forward offering to share their remarkable work investigating the reality of past LGBT lives. Over 70 submissions were submitted over so many topic areas and subjects that will be showcased by the festival and all previously vetted to ensure the presentations are original history and are based on reliable evidence.

Our academic panel of professional historians have also been preparing for the festival conference, with a two-day event featuring cutting edge research presented by world class scholars. Susan Stryker (Arizona State University) and Charles Upchurch (Florida State University) will be among the leading historians presenting at the events.

Prestigious venues

We are grateful to many prestigious venues including Town Hall Islington, The V&A, The Museum of London, The Mshed, The Discovery Museum, Manchester Metropolitan University, The National Peoples Museum, St Johns University, The Guildhall Shrewsbury and The Imperial War Museum.

We are grateful for all the voluntary work done by the hub teams and the support from MMU, Unison, and The Ben Cohen Foundation.

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