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Sheffield Children’s is marking LGBTQ+ history month with a range of education sessions, opportunities to chat and discuss, and a whole host of suggestions for books and films to delve into and learn more, all thanks to the LGBTQ+ Equality Network at the Trust.
February marks the start of LGBTQ+ History Month, a month long celebration of the history of the beautiful and diverse lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community. It is a time to celebrate and reflect on the importance of civil rights movements in progressing gay rights, and over the years has evolved into a national collaborative effort to bring extraordinary figures from the LGBTQ+ community into the spotlight.
The theme of this year’s celebration is ‘Politics in Art’. In the fight for equality, art has often served as an emotive communicator, and a representation of the LGBTQ+ community’s struggles against homophobia.
You can even test your knowledge with a quiz – see a version for anyone outside of the Trust on our Instagram highlights.
We’re grateful if you take the time to learn about LGBT+ history.
A reflection on LGBTQ+ history month from Alexandra, co-chair of the LGBTQ+ Equality Network at Sheffield Children’s.
Somehow it is February again! Which means that it is LGBTQ+ history month again. Which in turn means that I start thinking – again – about our history, and why it matters.
In fact, a lot of LGBTQ+ history month events are nothing to do with history – it is a wonderful opportunity to run anything from diversity training to film nights. But as the LGBTQ+ Network we do always try to do at least one session which extends before 1969.
Which again begs the question of why. Part of my personal reason is just that it is fascinating – (im)properly told, LGBTQ+ history is an endless source of dramatic stories, with triumphs and betrayals, tragedies and comedies, heroic heroes and some truly dreadful villains. Or less entertainingly, it’s how we got to where we are, and a long series of warnings about what can go wrong along the way. I usually just end up muttering “those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it”; no further thought required.
But this month I’ve been thinking along slightly different lines. I’ve been prompted by one of the events that the Network are running this month, a session at Grand Round (an educational session run for colleagues at the Trust with different themes each session) on the history of psychiatry, psychology, and their treatment of LGB people. Pun intended. We’ll be talking about the shift from defining homosexuality as an illness or insanity, through to how modern mental health services largely try to repair the damage that can be done by other people.
On one level, there’s plenty of potential for dramatic stories, one being the battle for how to define us. In 1952, the American Psychiatric Association largely followed the wisdom of its time in defining homosexuality, in the first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, as a “sociopathic personality disturbance”. (Depressingly, branding homosexuality as a mental illness was considered by some LGB people to be a humane advance, since at least if you were found to be insane you were unlikely to be hanged). Things stayed largely unchanged for the next 20 years, although in 1968 the DSM-II was at least kind enough to drop the sociopathic label.
However, then came 1969 and the Stonewall Riots; suddenly gay men and women found a louder voice, and began to argue that they were perfectly sane, thank you. In 1970, 1971 and 1972 groups of activists disrupted APA meetings, and met with the leaders of the Association to put their case.
The tipping point, however, came in 1972 when John Fryer, a member of the APA, became the first American psychiatrist to openly admit to being gay.
At this time Dr Fryer, if he had been identified, would have lost not only his job but his medical licence: so he attended the APA annual meeting wearing a tuxedo, a wig, a rubber Hallowe’en mask, and a voice distorter. From behind this cover he stated: “I am a homosexual. I am a psychiatrist” – a statement which began a landslide. The following year the APA voted to amend the DSM, to state that homosexuality was not in itself a mental illness.
It wasn’t that simple (it took until 2017 for the World Health Organisation to decide that experiencing distress over one’s sexual orientation was not itself a pathology; and some psychiatrists split off from the APA in the 80s to form an organisation that still offers ‘cures’ for homosexuality today). But a line was drawn.
In thinking about this, I was wondering why I felt it needed telling. It’s not just the drama, although John Fryer in his rubber mask and wig makes a wonderful story. Partly it is that the story is incomplete; a friend of mine in London can no longer teach her students a seminar on LGB people and psychoanalysis, because other clinicians have raised objections.
Mostly though I think it is because it cheers me up. After 1987, the APA became one of the most influential voices in LGBT rights. Their statements on employment, legal protections for LGBT people, and equal marriage, have been fundamental in supporting the civil rights of people in the US.
Fundamentally, then, that is why I like to tell stories from history. They are rarely straightforward, but they remind me that sometimes things improve. They give me hope.
Thank you for taking the time to listen, learn and maybe even educate others this LGBTQ+ history month.
Cinematically stunning, Moonlight follows a young African-American called Chiron as he grapples with his identity and sexuality while experiencing the everyday struggles of childhood, adolescence, and burgeoning adulthood. It won an Oscar for best picture, amongst a slew of other well-deserved awards.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
Feature film adaptation of the musical about a teenager from Sheffield, England who wants to be a drag queen.
Strike a Pose
In 1990, seven young male dancers – 6 gay, 1 straight – joined Madonna on her most controversial tour. On stage and in the iconic film Truth or Dare they showed the world how to express yourself. Now, 25 years later, they reveal the truth about life during and after the tour. Strike a Pose is a dramatic tale about overcoming shame and finding the courage to be who you are.
The Watermelon Woman (18)
Cheryl is young, Black, and lesbian, working in Philadelphia with her best friend Tamara and consumed by a film project: to make a video about her search for a Black actress from Philly who appeared in films in the 30s and was known as the Watermelon Woman.
The Handmaiden (18)
From visionary director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy and Stoker) comes The Handmaiden, a sumptuous and exhilarating period thriller inspired by Sarah Waters’ best-selling novel ‘Fingersmith’.
All About my Mother
Pedro Almodóvar’s comic melodramas are filled to the brim with delightfully absurd characters, and his Oscar-winning All About My Mother offers some of the best. After the death of her son, Manuela seeks out to find his father—who now goes by the name of Lola.
Call me by your name
Nominated for three Golden Globes, two BAFTAs and two Academy Awards (including Best Actor and Best Picture), Call Me by Your Name is the film that made Timothée Chalamet the global sensation he is today. Based on André Aciman’s novel, Chalamet is Elio, a teenager living in Italy while Armie Hammer plays Oliver, an older student who stays with Elio’s family while working as the teen’s father’s temporary assistant.
With a completely fresh perspective to many other LGBTQ+ films out there, Tangerine follows two transgender sex workers working in Hollywood who are played by two transgender women (Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) who weren’t even professional actors before joining the project.
A fantastic woman
This Golden Globe-nominated and Academy Award-winning Chilean film tells the story of Marina (Daniela Vega), a transgender woman whose older partner, Orlando, dies suddenly of a brain aneurysm.
A Pakistani Brit and his former lover, who has become a fascist street punk, reunite and run a family laundromat. The characters deal with the materialism and anti-immigrant furor of Thatcher’s England—elements that feel just a little bit too relevant at the moment.
The world to come
In a similar vein to Brokeback Mountain, the narrative focusses on two couples who are neighbours – played by Katherine Waterston, Vanessa Kirby, Christopher Abbott, and Casey Affleck. As the foursome deal with isolation from the outside world, Waterston and Kirby’s characters soon find themselves falling in love with each other.
Can you ever forgive me
Melissa McCarthy got an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Lee Israel, a caustic celebrity biographer who turns to literary forgery when her career stalls. Richard E. Grant is wonderful as her co-conspirator, but it’s McCarthy’s attempt at romance with Dolly Wells’ shy bookstore owner that gives the movie its heart
Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin
“masterfully written, heartbreaking.” It’s a book that has resonated with so many queer people since first being published in 1956, speaking to issues of identity even now. “Giovanni’s Room is not really about homosexuality,” said Baldwin in a 1980 interview about queer life. “It’s the vehicle through which the book moves. Go Tell It on the Mountain, for example, is not about a church, and Giovanni is not really about homosexuality. It’s about what happens to you if you’re afraid to love anybody.”
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
A revelation when it was published in 1982, Alice Walker’s novel delves into the intersections of race, gender, family, and sexuality in Georgia circa 1930.
The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith
An encounter Patricia Highsmith had with a New Jersey socialite while working at a shopgirl at a department store became the seed for 1952’s The Price of Salt.
The Price of Salt’s dizzyingly erotically charged prose also telegraphed her signature sense of an ominous “menace” (in this case, the threat of being caught or found out just as the Red Scare hit the United States). Highsmith went on to write more queer-tinged fiction, including The Talented Mr. Ripley and all of the Ripley novels to follow.
The Price of Salt, of course, became the critically acclaimed Todd Haynes-helmed 2015 film Carol ,starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.
Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
Jeffrey Eugenides won the Pulitzer Prize for his 2002 coming-of-age story about intersex protagonist Cal Stephanides. Inspired by the 19th-century memoirs of Herculine Barbin, Middlesex incorporates elements of Greek mythology as well as Eugenides’s Greek-American upbringing to tell a groundbreaking story about gender identity in the 21st century.
Zami, by Audre Lorde
This 1982 autobiography by the iconic queer black poet Audre Lorde is an experience of intersectionality, in a genre of intersections. Lorde classified it as biomythography, which combines history, biography, and myth.
Tales of the City, by Armistead Maupin
Gay literature was forever changed the day Mary Ann Singleton first met her transgender landlady, Anna Madrigal, when she moved to San Francisco’s 28 Barbary Lane. What began as serialized stories in the San Francisco Chronicle by writer Armistead Maupin became a 1978 novel. It was followed by a Tales of the City series of books, which chronicled decades of queer life in the Golden Gate City, including the AIDS crisis.
Also a channel 4/Netflix series
Fun Home, by Allison Bechdel
You might not expect to see a graphic novel in this list, but iconic cartoonist (and Bechdel test namesake) Alison Bechdel always takes the less traveled road. Off the success of her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, she created the deeply personal Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, which touches on her dysfunctional relationship with her father through a lesbian lens.
Under the Udala Trees, by Chinelo Okparanta
“This lyrical book is a wonderful story with a background of a civil war and a love story between two young girls on the frontlines. Wonderful book,” gay refugee activist and columnist Danny Ramadan raves about the global-minded story.
The book unpacks the emotional life of a young girl displaced by the Nigerian civil war who begins a gut-wrenching affair with a fellow refugee. These girls are from different ethnic communities, forcing them to face not only the taboos of being queer but the prejudices of surviving in a nation that is eating itself alive.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson
Jeanette Winterson’s first novel, published in 1985, is a semiautobiographical coming-of-age story about a girl growing up in a Pentecostal family in England’s industrial Midlands region.
Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters
Sarah Waters’s 1998 page-turner is the coming-of-age story of Nan, a Whitstable “oyster girl” (talk about a euphemism) circa 1890 who, upon taking in a show in her local theater, becomes smitten with the charismatic masher (male impersonator) Kitty. Waters’s heroine follows Kitty to London, where the more experienced woman schools Nan in the ways of impersonating a dapper dandy onstage.
A Boy’s Own Story, by Edmund White
A Boy’s Own Story is comparable to another literary classic, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The 1982 book by Edmund White, which begins with the first sexual encounter of a 15-year-old boy, is based on his own experiences coming to terms with his gay identity as a youth in the Midwestern United States.
Detransition baby, by Torrey Peters
When her ex calls to ask if she wants to be a mother, Reese finds herself intrigued. After being attacked in the street, Amy de-transitioned to become Ames, changed jobs and, thinking he was infertile, started an affair with his boss Katrina. Now Katrina’s pregnant. Could the three of them form an unconventional family – and raise the baby together?
Tomorrow Will Be Different, by Sarah McBride
Informative, heartbreaking, and profoundly empowering, Tomorrow Will Be Different is Sarah McBride’s story of love and loss and a powerful entry point into the LGBTQ community’s battle for equal rights and what it means to be openly transgender. McBride weaves the important political and cultural milestones into a personal journey that will open hearts and change mind.
The Other Boy by M. G. Hennessey
This touching novel is about an ordinary boy. It’s the boy you have met 100 times. Shane enjoys basketball, graphic novels, and spending time with his best friend, Josh. Shane is hiding a secret from his best friend. He’s transgender and was formerly a girl when his family moved to San Francisco in 2003. Shane suddenly finds himself in a situation where his classmates threaten to tell the truth. The other boy is a touching story about being true to yourself and the importance of having people in your life who are there for you no matter what.
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