LGBT history month launched in east London

Pic: Milennial Myth

Tower Hamlets activists will kick off LGBT History Month tonight with a talk held at the Tower Hamlets Local History Library & Archives on Bancroft Road.

Author and human rights campaigner Roz Kaveney will share a platform with Jack Gilbert, co-chair of local forum Rainbow Hamlets, which is hosting the event.

The talk will begin a month-long celebration of lesbian, gay and transgender history. LGBT History Month is a annual event that began in 2005 after the abolition of Section 28, a controversial statute forbidding local authorities to “promote homosexuality”.

Gilbert said the talk would not only bring activist together but be “a prime opportunity for the general public to learn about the untold stories of the area.

“The press is often full of stories about problems between communities in Tower Hamlets, but the point about what we’re doing is about building community life and building understanding between communities.”

Kaveney, who at the event will describe her involvement with the Gay Liberation Front in the 1970s and time as a deputy chair of human rights group Liberty, said east London played a key but often neglected role in LGBT history.

“People often forget the working class roots of parts of the LGBT community – it’s always been a place where the more impoverished sections of the queer community lived. I ended up in the east end when I transitioned – because I was poor!”

The author, who has lived on the border of Hackney and Tower Hamlets for 40 years, writes on her website: “I was reared Catholic but got over it, was born male but got over it, stopped sleeping with boys about the time I stopped being one.”

Robert Thompson, chair of the Lesbian and Gay News Media Archive, will also give a speech. LAGNA compiles articles and news clippings to keep track of the changing perceptions of gay and transgender people through time.

Management committee member Peter Kelley said: “The purpose of LGBT history month is to celebrate histories that have been outside of mainstream of history and hidden. It’s just as much about the present as the past.”

Gay rights groups clashed with the EDL and Muslim activists last year over stickers posted across Tower Hamlets that read “Gay Free Zone”. 18-year-old Mohammad Hasnath was fined £100 in June for a public order offence in relation to the stickers.

Kaveney told EastLondonLines such conflicts were regrettable but distracted from the question of “the real enemy”, which she identified as fascist groups.

“East End residents were prominent in the fight against Mosely and his fascists throughout the 40s and the 50s. Even when they haven’t been able to rule the streets of the east end, east enders have remembered that they are the enemy and fought them elsewhere.”

Gilbert believes there is still work to be done, citing many homophobic incidents that are reported without leading to police action, but said the situation had improved in the last 20 years.

In January Tower Hamlets council ranked first among London boroughs and 16th in the country on a list of gay-friendly employers compiled by gay rights charity Stonewall.

For more information, visit the Rainbow Hamlets webpage. The talk begins at 6pm and continues until 8:30.

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