LGBT History Month 2014: Your definitive guide to celebrating diversity in Manchester through music

By Sean Butters

Manchester has long been the spiritual home of Britain’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population.

Over the coming month people from far and wide will descend on the city for LGBT History Month, an annual celebration of the LGBT community that takes place in February.

Coming at a time when gay rights are a much debated issue, particularly Russia’s decision in June to pass a law banning ‘propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations’, a raft of events will be taking place to promote LGBT rights.

Of course, don’t expect the month to be a series of seminars and serious debate as although the fight for equality is far from over, as with any festival, it’s a time for celebration.

Dr Caroline Yorston, Policy and Research Officer for the Lesbian and Gay Foundation (LGF), considers the Month to not just be about raising awareness among the mainstream population, but also in the LGBT community itself.

“It’s about helping the LGBT community celebrate themselves,” she said. “It’s not just good for raising awareness among the general population, but it’s also great for showing the LGBT community who Alan Turing is and how amazing lesbian women have done.

“The fact that a whole month gets given to it shows how important people consider it to be and how much is going on – I think it is getting bigger every year.”

This year’s theme is music, an art which is universally appreciated and one that the groups behind the organisation of LGBT History Month hope will spread its appeal to people from all walks of life.

“It’s very interesting that music has been picked as the theme this year,” said Dr Yorston. “It’s not just about the production of music but fashion, the club scene and all things associated with that. 

“That helps affect the mainstream and wider population, possibly without them even realising it. In the music industry things are often hidden so there aren’t a great deal of role models.”

Supplying the entertainment is Manchester-based organization Queer Contact – an off-shoot of creative arts group Contact – who from February 6-15 will be showcasing the best in music, theatre, cabaret and workshops at their Oxford Road venue.

Producer Barry Priest is the driving force behind the wide range of events, where all tastes will be catered for.

“We hope we’ve got something for everyone,” he explained. “From fantastic jazz from the beautiful Joey Arias to a dark musical journey with The Tiger Lillies and Opera North, and some brilliant theatre, comedy, dance, spoken word and visual arts in-between.

“There’s something for every pocket too, with evening tickets starting from just £3 and some free workshops and exhibitions.”

LGF will also be hosting a show of their own at Eden Bar in Canal Street, with an acoustic night featuring various acts, including one of their own staff, rounded off with quizzes and a raffle. 

Tony Fenwick is co-chairman of Schools OUT, one of the driving forces behind LGBT rights – he decided to join the organisation in the 90s after experiencing discrimination first-hand.

“I was a gay teacher whose head didn’t want me to come out to the children,” he said. “I did some homework and found out that you could still be sacked from school for being gay or lesbian as there were no laws to protect us in the workplace.”

Having been born in a time when homosexuality was illegal, he believes that huge steps have been taken since the 60s and that Manchester has been crucial to that progress, with the city being home to some of the front-runners of LGBT rights and a variety of companies dedicated to the cause.

“Canal Street was the first example of liaison between the local authority and the local LGBT business community to clean up an inner-city area and make it a good place for LGBT people,” he said.

“It was the birthplace of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, and is home to LGF, LGBT Youth North West and The Albert Kennedy Trust.”

Barry also paid tribute to the wider Manchester area, he said: “It’s been incredibly important. Manchester has a long history of promoting equality and diversity across all equalities groups.

“It has been at the forefront of promoting the rights of LGBT people worldwide, including being a UK leader in the national campaign to repeal Section 28 [1988 outlawing of ‘promoting homosexuality’] and most recently opposing the anti-LGBT laws in Russia.”

However, it has not been a straight-forward journey.

“It does have its dark side of course,” sighed Tony. “Alan Turing was arrested here in 1952 and those of us of a certain age will never forget Manchester Police Commissioner James Anderton saying that gay people had AIDS because they were ‘swirling in a cesspit of their own making’.”

Home-grown views regarding the LGBT community have improved significantly over the years: a British Social Attitudes survey shows that in 1983, 50% of people who took part thought that same-sex relations between adults were ‘always wrong – in 2012, this number had dropped to 22%.

Although, while this is a major societal advance, Barry says that there are still those with more entrenched outlooks.

“There is no denying that much has improved to promote LGBT cultural inclusion, particularly in the West,” he said. “But homophobia is still rife in schools with bullying affecting over half of those questioned by Stonewall, and suicide rates for gay youngsters is up to three times higher than for their heterosexual peers. 

“There have been great strides forward in recent years but there’s still a long road ahead.”

Britain and the western world may have grown more tolerant to their LGBT communities, but elsewhere the fight for equality is still on-going, with fresh debate raging over the government’s stance in Russia and India’s decision to reinstate a law banning gay sex.

Russian president Vladimir Putin in particular has drawn criticism for the treatment of LGBT icons Pussy Riot and the recent implementation of the law making ‘gay propaganda’ illegal ahead of the country hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The games will take place at the same time as LGBT History Month – a coincidence which Dr Yorston believes will prove beneficial when it comes to changing attitudes.

“It is definitely a way of raising awareness of what is going on in Russia which is incredibly timely,” she said. “Not just in Russia but things going on in India as well, where homosexuality has been recriminalized.

“Things might have changed but now in some places it has taken a step back. It really is a shame if things are going to start regressing.”

This is a view which Barry agrees, he added: “Any wider examination of the issues affecting LGBT people worldwide is a positive step forward.

“There is a spotlight on Russia right now but we also shouldn’t forget that it’s illegal to be gay in over 70 countries worldwide and people throughout the world live in fear for their lives simply because of who they love.”

So while the fight for equal rights rages on in other parts of the world, both the LGBT and wider community in Britain can take heart from the progress made in the last few decades and continue to fight the cause with renewed fervour.

The full Queer Contact festival programme can be found here:

For more details on happenings in Greater Manchester and around the UK, visit:

Pictures courtesy of Tracy Apps, Ian Pattinson and LGF via Flickr, with thanks

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