Welcome back educators! This is Rosa, director and co-founder of Diverse History UK. We hope you all had lovely and restful summers and are feeling fresh for another year of inspiring and engaging young minds.
We are very excited to begin working once again with all the amazing educators across the UK and can't wait to collaborate with more of you over the next 12 months.
Co-founders of DHUK Wendy and Rosa Legeno-Bell
with their friend Nia Jones at Norwich Pride 2022.
In order to highlight the importance and power of amplifying individual experiences, we would like to start the new academic year by sharing some personal stories of a few LGBTQ+ people who attended Norwich Pride over the summer and who bravely agreed to be interviewed and have their stories published by DHUK.
Celebration and Activism
In July 2022, Diverse History UK went out to celebrate LGBTQ+ pride in Norwich. As always, it was a fabulous event. It showcased both celebration and political activism,reminding us of the brave and passionate people who have fought and sacrificed so much for the LGBTQ+ community whilst also cautioning us that thestruggle is still far from over. To date, we live in a country in which '1 in five LGBTQ+ people have experienced a hate crime... because of their sexual orientation or gender identity in the last 12 months,'(1) and a world in which 69 countries across the Americas, Africa and Asia continue to criminalise homosexuality (2), 11 of whom class same-sex intercourse as a capital crime.(3) It is the responsibility of all of us to make sure LGBTQ+ people have the same rights as every other citizen in the UK. We begin to think about this here through the personal stories of people we spoke to at Norwich Pride 2022.
A sportscar displays its support for pride, Norwich Pride, 2022
The Power of Pride
We began by speaking to a friend of ours about their experiences in the LGBTQ+ community and why they believe pride is still so relevant today .Nia Jones, who is pictured above, identifies as non-binary and lesbian/gay. We asked Nia why they had come out for Norwich Pride, and they stressed how important it is to them is to feel like part of the LGBTQ+ community and to feel the love that emanates from thousands of LGBTQ+ people and their allies when they're all together. Nia went on to say that Pride remains a very political event, arguing that although it seems like leaps and bounds have been made in terms of attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people, it often feels like it is 'one step forward and one step back.' They opined that the government gets away with more than they should do in terms of damaging policies or apathy. For example, the refusal to ban conversion therapy for trans people. Nia felt that only through a group voice could the government be held to account for its anti-LGBTQ+ policies.(4)
DHUK co-founder Wendy Legeno-Bell shows off her pride stickers, Norwich Pride 2022.
'The Proud Dad of a Smart Ass Son, Who's Gay'
When we first arrived at Norwich Pride, we noticed a family of three sitting on a bench in the middle of the Chapelfield Gardens. The youngest of the family was a young man called Callum, there with his father Daniel and his mother, simply referred to herself as 'mum.' They were talking happily and watching the world go by. We approached them because the father of the family, Daniel, was wearing a proud dad t-shirt. In his thick Norfolk accent Daniel read the t-shirt to us, declaring that his shirt read 'the proud dad of a smart ass son, who's gay.'
We were interested to hear the family's story and to hear why they had attended Norwich Pride. Their account was both heartwarming and tragic. Callum's mother and father told us that they were there because they felt strongly that their gay son should have the same rights as everyone else, and in their experience, he had not. They attributed this to Callum's sexuality and his diagnosis of autism, which Callum's mum described as a 'double whammy.' She said, 'Callum has been applying for jobs for ages and hadn't been successful in getting one.' She knew it was not provable that his sexuality and autism were the reasons behind his lack of success, but said it was 'always in the back of her mind.' Callum agreed with his mum, saying it made him feel like he 'wasn't worth much.' However, happily, Callum had recently been offered a job he was looking forward to starting in the near future.
Callum was also very clear that he wanted it on record how supportive his parents were. He said that when asked by people when he came out, he can reply 'I haven't had to, not in this family... I have parents of the modern age.' However, not everyone is so accepting of LGBTQ+ relatives and friends. Exemplifying the very real physical and psychological trauma that many LGBTQ+ British people go through, Callum's mum went on to explain the roots of her own tolerance and passion for fighting for LGBTQ+ rights... She remembered growing up in the 1980s at the height of the AIDs epidemic with a gay uncle, recalling a terrible moment when she saw him being brutally beaten because people had discovered that he was gay after knowing him for 40 years.(5)
Changing Relationships with the Police
Historically the police force have been considered by many as an enemy of LGBTQ+ people as they have often been in charge of enforcing horrific anti-LGBTQ+ imposed by intolerant government. However, thankfully, attitudes from the police force are beginning to change in the 21st century with many officers being members of the LGBTQ+ community. We spoke with Julie, who was on the Norfolk Police stand. She explained more about why they were supporting Norwich Pride. She wanted it to be known that the Norfolk police wanted to support all diverse communities and felt that every citizen in Norfolk deserved support from them. She also went on to say that for her Norwich Pride was one of the most important events in the county's calendar and that their LGBTQ+ network would be marching alongside all the other protesters.
We asked Julie about the position of LGBTQ+ people in Norfolk and she said that comparatively there is not much hate crime against LGBTQ+ people in the county, but recognised that any is too much and knew that there would be many incidents that were never reported to the police. She said that not all LGBTQ+ people trust the police to this day because of the force's historical relationship with the LGBTQ+ community, such as enforcing Section 28. She said gay men have had a particularly challenging history with the police and explained that there is still mistrust and fear of the police from some in the community, especially with older LGBTQ+ people. She acknowledged that it was the responsibility of the police and the government to build bridges and make amends to the LGBTQ+ community so that the police can more effectively support their 'diverse,' citizens. (6)
In 2022 the Norwich police force came out to support Norwich Pride and it was fantastic to see them outwardly advocating for LGBTQ+ rights. However, the police and the LGBTQ+ community have a tumultuous history with homosexuality only becoming legal in England in 1967. Later in 1988, Margaret Thatcher introduced the Tory policy known as Section 28 which prohibited 'the 'teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationships,' (7) which wasn't abolished until 2003.
The Politics of Drag
We bumped into the fabulous Norwich-based Brummy drag queen, Davina Divine. We spoke with her about the role of drag in furthering LGBTQ+ rights and discussed how humour can be an important way to get serious political messages across to the public.
Davina first began her drag career because she realised she had a passion for entertaining people but quickly realised it could be used as a platform for good, becoming involved in lots of charity work. She said that now 'a lot of her drag is done for charities to raise awareness and to give me people a laugh.' The increasing popularity of shows like RuPaul's Drag Race highlights the growing political influence that many drag queens now have, showing why it is so important that drag queens are a part of the struggle for LGBTQ+ equality as well as other social issues.
Norwich based drag queen,
Davina Divine, Norwich Pride 2022
We asked Davina about her reasons for attending Pride and she argued that many people had forgotten that Pride was about continuing the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, saying that she liked to remind people of the Stonewall Riots, a clash between the LGBTQ+ community and the NYPD in a New York gay bar which was raided by the police in 1969. This clash erupted after decades of police terrorisation of and brutality towards the LGBTQ+ community. On this particular night, the LGBTQ+ community decided to take physical action against the police, which led to weeks of rioting across the USA.(8) Davina said she wanted her drag to represent an older era of drag queen such as Lilly Savage and Danny La Rue to remind people of the historic struggles faced by those that came before us. She added that the issue with progression is that 'the more we move ahead, the more the history is forgotten.'
Religion and Sexuality
We were also lucky enough to be introduced to a friend of Davina Divine's called Tim, who shared his experiences of being a gay Christian and the struggles he has had reconciling his religion and his sexuality, as well as the attitudes of others who share his faith.
Tim shared that he had come out for Norwich Pride firstly because he believes that the LGBTQ+ community needs to continue a visible display of unity against anti-LGBTQ+ bigtory but more specifically because he has struggled to find a Christian community that welcomes his sexuality. Tim explained that he had worked hard to make the two aspects of his life work in harmony, saying that in previous years he had helped out at the Christians of Pride stall in an effort to make other young LGBTQ+ Christians feel accepted by their faith. He argued that Pride was important not just because of its politics but because it stands for love, uniqueness and inclusivity regardless of sexuality, religion, race or anything else. He believes that 'God loves all his children equally.' But regardless of his own inclusive beliefs, he has felt alienated by the church he had been going to and forced into finding a new church that is more accepting of him.
Tim said that, unlike many, he found faith after he had come out as gay. He came out at 21 following what he called 'an interesting journey,' because at the same time his parents split up because his dad had also come out as gay, which he described as a 'bombshell.' Up until this point Tim had been expecting to meet a woman and settle into a stereotypical family life, and an 'easy journey,' but his dad's news shook up everything that he thought he knew. He also discussed the fact that his first experience of homosexuality was seeing the hurt that his dad's revelation had caused his mum, so his own coming out was a very complex experience for him. A couple of years later, he was taken to church by an ex-partner and he said that initially he was very skeptical about religion, having been brought up in a secular family, arguing that challenging his faith, ironically, made it stronger. However, despite the strength of his own faith, the treatment from others in the church because of his sexuality has been challenging for Tim. In Tim's experience a quote he often hears from other churchgoers is 'we love you for who you are but we still believe in a biblical [heterosexual/monogamous] marriage,' which led to him feeling ostracised and judged by his community. Tim said his own research into theological scripture leads him to disagree very much with this interpretation of Christianity. Tim is so passionate about spreading love and acceptance within the Christian church that he has considered going into a career in the clergy, which would allow him to spread the message to other Christians who may feel, like he does, that 'we see you, we hear you and God loves you the way you are.' For Tim, anything other than spreading a message of love, inclusivity and acceptance goes against the teachings of Christianity.(9)
Liberation through Education
Finally we spoke with 8-year-old Alex and family. Alex told us that he was at Pride because he 'really likes how it makes everyone feel welcome.' Alex introduced us to his mum Kayleigh, who explained that she feels it is very important to bring her sons to Pride from a young age to show them that society isn't as heteronormative as we are sometimes led to believe by mainstream society, in particular their school.
Kayleigh went on to say that she also fees a personal connection with Pride as she identifies as pansexual and is a youth worker, largely with young LGBTQ+ people. Both of these experiences have led her to more a personal understanding of the struggles faced by the LGBTQ+ community. In her role as a youth worker she strongly feels there are not enough resources for young LGBTQ+ people and this is something she is passionate about remedying. Part of her reason for attending Pride was to become more connected with the community and to feel more able to point her young people in the direction of useful resources and support. She recommended the books of Olly Pike, who she feels does a fantastic job of representing the LGBTQ+ community in fictional 'fairytale,' style stories for young children. Alex added to his mum's comments saying that 'everyone is a great person and no one should be excluded!'
Next, we spoke with Kayleigh's partner Jo, who is a transwoman and a lesbian. She said she was visiting from Hertfordshire and that being at Pride with Kayleigh and her family is a 'very touching moment,' for her. She believes that Pride is very significant because it 'is such a special event - a time for a community to come together and remember that we are one solid community, trying to work against a system that wasn't built with us in mind.' She also opined that it is in the whole of the community's best interest to 'lead the way forward.' Jo said right now is a 'concerning time, and time for people to pay attention whether you are allies or LGBTQ+ yourself.'
We asked Jo what she felt were the biggest challenges for trans people in 2022, to which she replied, 'Misinformation - from the media in particular, who are very anti-trans which then feeds into government policy and attitudes.' Both Jo and Kayleigh argued that the best way to combat this misinformation is by educating students from a young age about the LGBTQ+ community, using resources created by the community themselves. (10)
(4) DHUK interview with Nia Jones in Chapelfield Gardens, Norwich Pride 2022.
(5) DHUK interview with Callum Strange and family in Chapelfield Gardens, Norwich Pride 2022.
(6)DHUK interview with Julie, Norfolk Police Employee, Norwich Pride 2022.
(9) DHUK interview with Tim, Theatre Street, Norwich Pride 2022.
(10) DHUK interview with Alex, Kayleigh and Jo, Millenium Plain, Norwich Pride 2022.
Further Reading Suggestions