A groundbreaking festival is shining a light onto the history of an entire community. And for the whole of February, it will be ‘outing the past‘ of a group often marginalised or excluded by mainstream education, the media and the official history books.
“We’re Queer and we should be here”
The fourth OUTing the Past festival has been running up and down the UK since 3 February. The self-titled “National Festival of LGBT History” hosts 12 events across the country. And each hub has unique speakers, debates, activities, performances and presentations:
The Canary spoke to Dr Jeff Evans, who is OUTing the Past’s Joint National Coordinator. And he told us about the festival, its conception and why LGBTQ+ past still needs to be ‘outed’.
This year’s festival has a full-to-brimming programme in its 12 hubs. It covers a multitude of topics. One event gives a potted history of the first lesbian newsletter founded in 1964. And another is a talk called We’re Queer and we should be here: LGBT supporters and football:
But Evans says that was always the intention with OUTing the Past, the origins of which go back to 2005 when the organisation Schools OUT UK named February as LGBT History Month.
A “clarion call”
Evans said that the creation of LGBT History Month was a “clarion call” against the “dominant and ongoing political agenda”. It’s one that he says “marginalises or simply denies the history” of human rights movements. And OUTing the Past was born from this. He told The Canary:
The OUTing the Past festival was born on the 10th anniversary of LGBT History Month. It was created as another way to bring LGBT history to a wider public audience. But it also had a specific focus. The first was to encourage the wonderful advance of grassroots LGBT history, and to showcase the voices of veterans of the post-WW2 activists, whose old age is rendering them silent.
The second goal was to advertise the fascinating and hard-won new history that is being researched and written by a new generation of scholars. A third and most welcome feature is giving the supporters of LGBT and human rights a very public forum.
But Evans and the festival’s history is almost as fascinating as the stories the project tells.
He told The Canary that he lost his job as a history teacher after he blew the whistle. Specifically, Evans reported the “serial physical and verbal abuse, including prima facie homophobic hate crime, against children and staff over many years”. And at the time, he accused the school and local authority of failing to act. The upshot of this was a court compensating Evans. This gave him the opportunity to return to his own studies; but specifically, researching an area that he loved: LGBT history.
Evans conceived the idea for OUTing the Past while studying for a PhD. He was working with his local archive office to showcase prominent LGBT history and activists. And from there, the idea flourished:
In 2012, Schools OUT UK and the Lancashire Record Office held the first OUTing the Past event. To our surprise and great pleasure, 200 people attended. The archive staff also arranged an exhibition of their LGBT-related documents. We appeared to tap into a popular demand for LGBT history. But we also found a rich vein of untapped activists’ oral testimony and history.
After the success of the Lancashire project, Schools OUT UK formally adopted it. And OUTing the Past held its first festival in Manchester in 2015.
Education, education, education
One of the main aims of OUTing the Past is to broaden education surrounding LGBTQ+ history. September 2018 marks the 15th anniversary of the repeal of Section 28. It was a law introduced by Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1988. And as BBC News reported, it made it illegal for councils and schools to:
intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality.
And while the education system has made progress, Evans thinks it still has work to do. For example, he said:
In 2010, myself, Professor Ian Rivers of Strathclyde University, and two unions completed the largest survey of classroom teachers in England; over 3,000 teachers participated. The report, ‘The prevalence of homophobia in the English state school sector’, detailed how the rates of homophobic abuse were a daily experience for many teachers; as was their demand for proper whole school training. We shared the report with all the major political parties. We still await even an acknowledgement!
The report is available here. And Evans also noted of state education more broadly:
The narrowing of the function of ‘education’, from preparing young people for a fulfilling and happy adult life to simply exam factories, impoverishes the students’ life chances and society at large.
Outing the past, into the dragon’s den
But OUTing the Past aims to begin righting this wrong. The programme of events is fascinating, whether you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community or not. Evans notes his personal highlight is:
The Festival Hub in Belfast, on 17 and 18 February, will hopefully shed light on the appalling discrimination faced by citizens in Northern Ireland compared to the rest of the UK; like women refused local access to NHS abortion services and the banning of equal marriage!
And after the festival officially ends in February, the Festival Conference of LGBT History and Activism in Liverpool is running between 16 and 18 March. It will bring together national and international LGBT/human rights activists, academics and the public. The idea being to simply share experiences and learn from them. Evans says the festival overall is giving the public:
Access to a history that will rarely have seen the light of day anywhere else. It is one of the few public showcases of LGBT history in the world. In many countries, such a festival would not only be unimaginable – it would be criminal.
Ignorance: a tool of inequality
Evans is resolute in why OUTing the Past is still so relevant and needed:
Ignorance and fear are powerful tools of inequality. Conversely, education and especially the validating effect of connecting and showcasing a people and/or political cause to its own past; a history of inequality/struggles is dangerous to any establishment that is built on institutional inequality; run for the super-profit of the few at the expense of the many.
OUTing the Past is groundbreaking. At best, society marginalises the history of the LGBTQ+ community; at worst, it intentionally excludes it from public discourse. But this overarching festival aims to right those wrongs. And it does so in an accessible, innovative and colourful way.
Featured image and additional images via OUTing the Past