It’s easy to see some of the truly important reasons why we need LGBT+ History Month – for remembering just how recently homosexuality was decriminalised, for remembering how long homosexuals were seen as second class citizens, and for remembering some truly extraordinary people who fought to ensure the LGBT+ community took step after step to equality. Equality that was hard won and could always be lost (just look at the recent Don’t Say Gay legislation in Florida).
At the NHST we believe that there is something else to remember in LGBT+ History month, something that we demonstrate many times in the large video archive we hold – and that is how the LGBT+ community can show unity, community and the most incredible kindness.
In 2023 our world seems fraught and fractured, war continues, the UK itself feels divided by politics, by our nations, and our own LGBT+ community faces division. When the AIDS crisis hit in the 1980s, the majority ‘straight’ population were quick to condemn this as a ‘gay cancer’, isolating the group it most affected, gay men, with venom, vitriol and accusation….newspapers did not worry about referring to it as the ‘gay plague’ or the ‘wrath of god’ – there were even calls to isolate victims and send them to a remote island.
It would have been easy for the groups not deemed high risk – lesbians, and our heterosexual allies – to turn their backs and leave gay men to sort the problem out. But they didn’t. The history we tell in our nearly 200 hours of filmed interviews, has both dark and tragic stories but also tales of generosity and kindness, and these stories come from all sectors of our LGBT+ minority (and from many people within the ‘straight’ majority). Across the board, people came together to fight for a group that were a minority (HIV+ men) within a minority.
This is history worth revisiting and learning from – the power of people when they join forces and fight for the general good. It seems incredible for those of us who had their formative years in the gay ‘scene’ of the 1980s and 1990s with ribbons, condoms, fear and funerals, that by now effective treatment would deliver hope to those with the virus and a pill based preventive route to avoid transmission. Even more so, as it looks as though the UK may achieve their efforts to reach no new transmissions of HIV by 2030.
This has come from the power of kindness, the power of people uniting and working together.
The stories that you can see in our archive, read in our book, or hear on our podcast or audiobook are inspiring. They tell you of doctors ostracised by their fellow practitioners for working with AIDS patients. Of nurses who pushed every rule to its limit to make the suffering of those dying just a little more bearable. Of straight friends and allies who gave up careers to found charities and raise funds, and even politicians who had to convince Margaret Thatcher to run what was then the UK’s biggest public health campaign (only recently eclipsed by Covid).
It was this politician, Lord Fowler, who said to us in his interview – ”These stories need to be told, because it’s too easy to forget. I would hope that people in the future will be able to learn from them and make better decisions as a result”.
History is important, LGBT+ history is really important. The NHST is here to keep telling these stories and ensure this history is never forgotten.