Embracing LGBT+ History Month helps everyone understand our past. With so much of LGBT history unrecorded, there is a real danger it gets lost, and we repeat the mistakes of our past. Unless you know where you've come from, it's tough to plan where you're going.
Last year I was asked to speak at an event in Sackville Gardens (which lies in the heart of Manchester’s gay village), called “Be Proud” for the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. Whilst talking to one of my friends about what I was going to say, he told me about Bayard Rustin. It made me think about how Stonewall couldn’t really have happened without the civil rights movement in the US.
Standing on the shoulders of giants
Rustin spent his life fighting for the rights of others and was part of the inner circle of Martin Luther King Jr. He organised the march on Washington, where hundreds of thousands of people were bussed to the nation’s capital. There they heard the “I Have a Dream" speech, which Rustin had input into. LGBT History Month is an opportunity to appreciate what people like Rustin have given us and how their legacy continues inspiring us to move forward.
I celebrate LGBT History Month by trying to make sure my friends and people in my network are aware of our history. Strengthened by this knowledge, we are creating new alliances and support systems to sustain positive change. Those of us with privilege can recognise this and work as allies to support others. Having an inclusive work environment allows people to have the creative freedom to be, think, and work to their best capability.
Commemorating history with poetry, prose and plays
This year, LGBT+ History Month has a theme of Poetry, Prose and Plays, and I was reminded of a piece I wrote about Sackville Gardens. Manchester Pride always ends with a vigil in the gardens, and in 2016, I was lucky enough to read the piece on stage in front of thousands of people. It was incredibly scary, and I’m proud I was able to do it. I want to share it as part of history month.
Twice a year, I stand in Sackville Gardens
Twice a year, I stand here in this park. Once in the summer at the end of Manchester Pride – partly in commemoration, partly as a celebration. Then in winter, I stand here again for World AIDS Day, remembering and celebrating the friends who lost their lives while fighting for a better future forged from the lessons of history.
Forged from the lessons of history
Our past connects to the present and present connects to the future. I remember the people we’ve lost. I hug the people around me and keep an eye out to make sure they’re safe. I hope for the future of my friends living with HIV, including those I may not have met yet.
I’ve stood here in the fading summer sunshine, dancing to Fat Boy Slim, waiting for the fireworks. I’ve stood here in a downpour as the rain tried to wash away my tears and soaked me to the skin. I’ve stood in the winter snow, magical winter snow, each flake drifting back to Earth, unique, like each of the people we remember. They are as complex as any mathematical equation, possessing a ‘supreme beauty—a beauty cold and austere,’ as the quote from Bertrand Russell nearby says.
Radiating love and hope
Yet in the park, there is warmth, love, and hope. Candles get lit and stretch out across the years through to 2015 when Sir Ian McKellen added his voice to ours as well as the volunteers and staff of George House Trust and the LGBT Foundation. We’re still making history here.
The Beacon of Hope, a national memorial to HIV and AIDS, shines out each night into the gardens and across the Rochdale canal. It spills out onto Canal Street, where some say Pride began all those years ago, as a jumble sale for the guys in Monsall hospital with HIV.
Radiating out across the listed warehouses and cotton mills is a guiding light across to Shena Simon College. The college’s namesake, Shena Simon, fought for women’s rights in our city; she believed in life, liberty, education, and public spaces. The tree of life bends and sways in the wind close to the National Transgender Memorial.
And all the while, the statue of Alan Turing sits, watching us all impassively. Apple in his hand as we picnic and party, rest and reflect, whilst we continue to fight and educate driven on by the lessons and the memories of the past.
Twice a year, I stand here in this park
Standing there and saying those words was something I didn't believe I could do. Each one of us can make a difference, but coming together as a community with a shared sense of history makes us stronger.
"Sometimes it's the very people who no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine." ― Alan Turing