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Reflections on LGBT+ History Month

23 February 2022

6 mins

I grew up in a small place half the size of Loughborough and, since I was 13, I used to keep a note in my bedroom where I would cross out the months I had left until I could leave that town. I wanted to move to a bigger city on my own.

I spent my teenage years dreaming of Barcelona. I hoped, like many members of the LGBT+ community do, that leaving my hometown for a bigger place would change everything. At the age of 18, I managed to move to Bilbao to study at a university, and that was my first experience with (sexual) mobility and migration. Like many individuals from our community, I also felt like I needed to leave my town to try to find my place in a bigger city.

My second migration occurred in 2014 quite unexpectedly. I travelled to Brighton to visit a friend and right from the start, I was amazed by this seaside town. Those little streets in The Lanes, the pebbled beach in the interminable seafront, the elegant houses with plants and flowers in their front gardens, the parks with squirrels, the extraordinary views, the hills, and the cliffs. And then, something happened that really made me want to stay there.

I walked into the public library, and I saw a very big rainbow flag hanging from the ceiling. Not only that, but there was also a selection of LGBT+ novels welcoming every visitor at the entrance, and a whole section of LGBT+ books further in the room – yes, it was LGBT+ History Month! I’d never seen anything like it. Certainly not in a public space. I was astonished and all I wanted to do in that moment was to learn English well enough so I could read those books. I wanted to live in a place where these kinds of public libraries existed.

My first months in Brighton included a great number of hours entering whole sentences into Google translator and searching for innumerable words in online dictionaries. I would go to the library every day after my shift. Ali Smith’s brilliant retelling of Iphis and Ianthe’s myth, Girl Meets Boy, was the first novel I managed to finish. Then, Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion, James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, Patricia Highsmith’s Carol, Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Anne Lister’s diaries, Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues, Alison Bechdel’s graphic novels, and many others, followed.

These books not only accompanied me during my most challenging months, but they still provide me with understanding, hope, and strength now. These accounts of reality and fiction have the power to bring us closer to our histories and stories, and to transgress and thus transform our reality.

Fortunately, Brighton did not just provide me with literature. Soon I learned more about its historical uniqueness for queer people and the rest of the LGBT+ community and I found all kinds of spaces and events. This seaside town had been a refuge for historical figures such as Oscar Wilde and Anne Lister, and for hundreds of others who still migrate there for similar reasons. There were performances, poetry, reading groups, music gigs, drag shows, remembrance days, parties, the trans pride movement, research groups, film nights, stand-up comedies, and plays that brought us together and remembered our stories.

In 2020, I left this colourful bubble with ever-rising housing prices and tricky connections to pink capitalism – yep, Brighton isn’t perfect – for what has been recently called the least LGBT+ friendly country in the EU.

I moved to Poland with my partner, who is Polish, to finish writing my PhD thesis there. We arrived in the middle of the tumult. The President was basing his campaign on attacks aimed at the LGBT+ community, and around 100 municipalities had declared themselves ‘LGBT (ideology) free zones’ in the southeast of the country. The Education Minister (Przemysław Czarnek) had said that ‘deviants don’t have the same rights as normal people’, and there were constant attacks from the government-aligned media, the Polish Catholic Church, the far-right, and some citizens towards LGBT+ individuals and communities.

We participated in every event and demonstration organised by the LGBT+ community and met people who struggled with their families and neighbours and can’t even imagine a reality in which we are not second-class citizens. These were months of being even more afraid of being an openly lesbian couple in the street. We needed to recalibrate our knowledge on how to navigate the public spaces as LGBT+ individuals. As the philosopher Paul Preciado pointed out in the taking down of colonial statues from the public spaces, it is a bourgeois fiction that the public space is neutral and egalitarian.*

But these were also times in which numerous people showed solidarity, support, hope, and resistance in their speeches, by hanging flags and signs in their windows, wearing rainbow bags on public transport, and joining big demonstrations. I will always remember the defiant teenagers dancing and shouting in the streets of Poznań.

Looking back to my teenage years, I am surprised by how things have changed for our community in so many places, including my hometown. This gives me the strength to carry on fighting for equality and reminds me of how important LGBT+ History Month is.

LGBT+ History Month and similar initiatives give us the opportunity to connect with other people, groups, and communities, and with those from the past whose lives and loves were nearly impossible but managed to leave us traces that sometimes took the shape of artworks.

A shelf with books, a talk, a performance, and celebrating LGBT+ History Month has the power to make someone feel that they are not alone, that there is a space for them, and that their lives are possible. They have the transformative potential to create different realities.

Dr Itoitz Rodrigo Jusué (she/her)
Graduate University Teacher, School of Social Sciences and Humanities

*“What has until now been called public space is in reality a space segmented by lines of class, race, sex, sexuality, and disability, where only the white, male, heterosexual, abled, and national body may circulate as a full-fledged subject” – Paul Preciado (2020), When Statues Fall.

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