March 4, 2016, by Michael Jennings

Reflecting on LGBT History Month 2016

Hannah-Rose Murray, PhD Student in the Department of American and Canadian Studies and LGBT History Month Director, Research Priority Area in Rights and Justice, reflects on events organised by the RPA during February 2016.

Over the last few weeks, the Rights and Justice Research Priority Area at The University of Nottingham has supported the University’s largest ever LGBT History Month, and each event was successful in sharing new and interesting insight into the world of performance, cinema and television, history, LGBT rights and hate crime.

The month got off to a great start with Out in Education organising a Year 8 assembly at Ellis Guilford Secondary School. The group – all students from The University of Nottingham – focused on the damaging affects of homophobia and how phrases such as “that’s so gay” can be harmful to the people around us. The group outlined what it meant to be LGBT and obviously created a great impression on their audience, so much so that a few pupils waited until after the assembly to ask questions and even come out! It was a rewarding and inspiring experience to watch a fantastic organisation such as Out in Education have such an impact just in one day. These assemblies continued throughout the first week of February. For more information about Out in Education, read their blog post for LGBT History Month 2016.

On Saturday 6 February, our first LGBT History Month film festival was held at Nottingham Contemporary. The first documentary film focusing on Bayard Rustin, Brother Outsider, and was introduced by The University of Nottingham’s Sharon Monteith, who did a fantastic presentation on Rustin’s role during the American Civil Rights Movement. The second film, Out in the Night, told the story of four African American lesbians who were charged with gang assault and imprisoned after they defended themselves from an attacker one night in New Jersey in 2006. The last film, My Prairie Home was a surreal and abstract look at the life of transgender singer and songwriter Rae Spoon, and the panel afterwards – with Dr Onni Gust and local activist Sam Hope – was informative and engaging. Luckily the film ended slightly early, so the audience had time to ask some interesting questions: the panel ended up being nearly an hour long with some fascinating questions. All the feedback was incredibly positive and comments such as “it was a wonderful and engaging day” inspired the Contemporary to make this film festival an annual event.

On Thursday 11 February, Five Leaves Bookshop hosted an evening of rich discussion on hate crime. David Edgely from Rainbow Heritage gave a short presentation on how barriers to coming out affect the rate of hate crime, and Sam Hope spoke about whether trans people can or should rely on police protection, and suggested whether community-based initiatives such as support groups would be a better alternative. Community Protection Officer Julian Best and Police Community Support Officer Zoe Wade gave the final presentation on the work Nottinghamshire Police do for the LGBT community, leading to an interesting discussion in which questions were raised about the capability of the police, after one trans woman was rudely ignored by a policeman just 8 months previously. Both Zoe and Julian outlined the Police’s desire to protect all individuals, and the Chief Inspector of Nottinghamshire Police – who also attended the event – also reinforced this belief. He suggested that Restorative Justice should be used for individuals who have committed hate crime – much in the same regard as drunk drivers attend a course to convince them not to drink whilst under the influence. This is something the Rights and Justice Research Priority Area is very keen to develop, and perhaps trial run for the Nottinghamshire community.

A week later on Thursday 18 February, the RPA held an on-campus event that was global in scope. ‘LGBT Rights are Human Rights’ focused on the rights of LGBT communities in America, India and Colombia. Dr Emma Long from the University of East Anglia gave a fantastic keynote on the ways in which Americans have resisted the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold same-sex marriage. Dr Long discussed how county clerks had refused to issue marriage licences, how some judges had tried to reject the Supreme Court’s authority, and how small businesses had denied their services to gay couples (anything from wedding dress boutiques to bakers). It was clear from Dr Long’s talk that although LGBT rights have advanced in the USA, there is still substantial progress to be made. Winning marriage rights to some extent points the focus on a conservative issue, and the discrimination LGBT individuals face (including a denial of rights in housing and hospitals) continues to be a problem in many states across the United States. Doctoral student Ibtisam Ahmed gave a fascinating talk on how the anti-homosexuality laws in Bangladesh have been challenged through art, theatre and film. Art can be viewed as representative of the common or ordinary person, and films such as ‘Fire’ were incredibly popular despite attempts to firebomb theatres and protest against queer characters. Juan Anzola – another doctoral student here at the University of Nottingham – focused his interesting talk on LGBT rights in Colombia, and how individuals continue to be subjected to abuse and intimidation. The geography of Colombia together with the deeply embedded religious and conservative attitudes contribute to a disturbing amount of violence against LGBT individuals, with the government neglecting the crimes perpetrated against them.

The following night, Mojisola Adebayo, a scholar, performer, playwright and director travelled to the Nottingham Writers Studio from London to talk about three of her queerest and most successful plays, Moj of the Antartic, Muhammad Ali and Me, and I Stand Corrected. Adebayo discussed how rare it was for a black lesbian artist to find space on stage, and argued that the queer artist should first and foremost focus on collaboration and connection both within the LGBT community and outside it. The intimacy of the Studio made Adebayo’s presentation more striking, and the short extracts she performed (from Moj of the Antartic and I Stand Corrected) had a great impact on the audience.

To finish off the month in style, Broadway cinema hosted a screening of the first episode of BBC drama London Spy, and The University of Nottingham’s Professor Zoe Trodd chaired a discussion with the author and screenwriter Tom Rob Smith. Questions focused on the creative process of transferring ideas to the screen, and how Smith wrote the character of Danny for Ben Whishaw. Although the series was advertised as a thriller, the story focused on Danny and Alex’s relationship, and Smith explained how the search for love and truth remained the heart of the narrative.

The diverse events for this month have inspired me to learn more about LGBT rights and queer narratives through performance, film and television. The Rights and Justice RPA is already planning next year’s LGBTHM and will continue to offer expertise on sexuality, gender and LGBT issues throughout the year.

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