LGBT History Month boss on Salford talk storm

Following a storm of online protest about a talk for LGBT History Month with a high-profile biphobic and transphobic speaker, the organisers behind the Month have issued a public statement.

In the past we have seen bi, and indeed trans, issues erased or marginalised in most LG/LGB/LGBT events and bi groups and activists have worked to challenge or supplement those events. LGBT History Month has been one such, with little bi representation in the official events in past years and indeed in 2017 compared to the cacophony of voices recalling gay, lesbian and trans history.

But the talk in Salford at the centre of the controversy is not part of the official events programme. Like most of the bi-positive events for the Month in years past it is an outside “add-on”, organised independently, and any such events can be held and may ask to be listed on the national website. Those listed there are no more officially sanctioned by LGBT History Month than the worldwide events listed on BiVisibilityDay.com are organised by that website’s team.

It’s a serious dilemma in recording social history. Should we silence the stories of those whose gay rights work also championed transphobia and biphobia – or is it important that the stories of some sections of the community are given voice even if the people representing those histories also have opinions that run against the spirit of an LGBT event?

In response to the protests, Tony Fenwick MBE, the CEO of Schools OUT, today says:

As the creators of LGBT History Month and the owners of the website and associated social media, we wish to make clear that the only events for which we are responsible are OUTing the Past: The National LGBT History Festivals taking place in fifteen venues around the country throughout the month of February. These are run locally and we provide much of the wherewithal, rather than taking responsibility for their overall management. We have no responsibility for the organisation of any other events during the month, whether or not they are promoted on our calendar; including this one.That said, we recognise that this event is on our calendar and we have the editorial power to remove it. We have chosen not to and we wish to explain why.

Let’s consider Julie Bindel herself. As the blurb in the calendar says, “Julie has been active in the global campaign to end violence towards women and children since 1979, and has written extensively on topics such as rape, domestic violence, prostitution and trafficking”. This is hardly stuff that should cause objections. We gather she will be discussing what it was like to be a working class feminist lesbian in the 1970s, about which, as a middle class gay teenager in the 70s, I for one would like to know more. Her views are valuable and need to be heard. She made the comments that questioned the existence of trans women in 2004 and has said she would have phrase things differently now. But when the event went up on the calendar we were bombarded with demands that it be removed and threats to ‘withdraw support’ from LGBT History Month. Now a protest is being organised and petitions have been presented on social media to ban her from the event and attempt to remove funding from the Working Class Museum; as if shutting down the only museum of its kind in the country would be to anyone’s benefit. The struggle for equality is everyone’s struggle and the working classes need more visibility; not less.

There’s no denying that Julie Bindel will say things people don’t want to hear and that she will upset people. I was disappointed at an article she wrote challenging medical intervention to forestall puberty in trans children; especially as the organ that published it was that enemy of equality and human rights The Daily Mail. She has a right to speak just as we have a right to challenge what she says. That is the nature of debate and it allows us to make change happen in society.