Event, General, Politics, Source, Women's History

First Ever LGBT History Festival – Women & the United Kingdom: Part 1


LGBT hist month

first LGBT his fest image


Celebrating all the way, Manchester at Valentine’s weekend was the site of the path-breaking first LGBT history festival. And women were high profile in this event ‘ Uncovering & celebrating our past to enlighten our present & thereby guiding our creation of a more inclusive & equitable future.’

Organising LGBT History Month is always a miracle, each year. And organising Schools Out year around is also a feat. A festival –with all its volunteers and battles with lack of funding, is a mega-feat beyond compare. So it’s absolutely right that equalities campaigner Sue Sanders, one of the three key organisers (and the crucial force for decades behind LGBT history month and Schools Out)  has been made Emeritus Professor of the Harvey Milk Institute. Stuart Milk, the nephew of the San Francisco pioneer, was there to present it to Sue.

Sue sanders and stuart milk

 Professor Sue Sanders receives her award from Stuart Milk.

Professor Sanders said she had ‘never gained a degree and even failed … [the] 11-plus as a result of … dyslexia.’ So she was honoured to get this award for her ‘sustained and distinguished service to the LGBT community.’

One of the key venues of the festival was the Joyce Layland LGBT Centre. It’s named after the late Joyce, one of the founders of the Manchester Parents’ Group. The mother of a gay son she campaigned indefatigably for LGB rights community in Manchester.

Joyce Layland pic

The late Joyce Layland: LGBT parents’ solidarity

LGBT History month embraces the diversity of people, so women and men with every interest and identity were there. Among the women’s history events were the following.

The radical 1980s: Greenham, music, labour struggles and black rights

Prominently featured were sessions by speakers who saw the radical 1980s as the start of many revolutionary changes for LBT women:

  • Rose Bush talked about diversity in Rebel Dykes of the 1980s, using films, photos and audio interviews. She summarised that history in Britain from her perspective: ‘Before there were queer activists, before there were Riot Grrls there were the Rebel Dykes of London. We were young, we were feminists, we were anarchists, we were punks. We lived together in squats in Hackney and Brixton and at Greenham Camp (Green and Blue gates only). We went to political demos every Saturday, we created squatted creches and bookshops and Wild Women Weekends (a forerunner of Ladyfests), feminist newspapers like Feminaxe and magazines such as Shocking Pink. We had bands like Poison Girls and Well Oiled Sisters. We ran sex positive Lesbian S/M clubs such as Chain Reactions, we were trans-friendly, we worked in the sex industry. We talked politics. We fought, we made up, we created and we loved.


  • Sheila Standard’s focus was Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp 1984. In 1979 when the radio announced the First Strike, American Cruise Nuclear missiles were to be based at Greenham Common USAF Airbase, Sheila ‘was gripped with fear and a sense of inevitable disaster, and felt powerless to do anything. The worst bit was her mum lived near Greenham, and would “get it first!” However … [quickly], all over the country, people started to organise into anti-missile groups, and she joined Withington Against the Missiles, a local group in Manchester, and accidentally got involved in an NVDA (Non-Violent Direct Action) protest becoming one of the “Bunker 4”.Then something truly epic happened … Greenham … thousands of women discovering the power of working together, singing, being silly, the wit and repartee, fear and bravery, that goes with bringing fences crashing down, to the mockery of militarism. A women’s movement that conflicted and then embraced sexuality, and stood up to the hateful press, and “respectable society”, embracing freedom, and our right to struggle against the holocaust.’


  • Cath Booth’s session was Shock Horror! Lesbians and Gays Support the Printworkers. She discussed Lesbians and Gays Support the Printworkers, the London-based group who in 1986 supported the printworkers sacked by newspaper owner Rupert Murdoch, owner of the ‘virulently anti-gay’ Sun. Sun. Their story is another version of the LGSM support of the miners’ strike, now the celebratory centre of the movie Pride.linda bellos

 Linda Bellos: Black History Month founder

Veteran activist, author and broadcaster Linda Bellos gave a personal account of some of her historic achievements in community politics since the mid-1970s. ‘She came out as a lesbian and became a feminist in the late 1970’s. She joined the Spare Rib Collective in 1981 and demanded that lesbians be encouraged to be out. In the following years she helped organised the first Black Feminist and the First Black Lesbian Conferences. She argued strongly against the notion of a “hierarchy of oppression”. In 1987, as Chair of the London Strategic Policy Unit, she was responsible for introducing Black History Month to the UK. She has become a leading authority on equality and human rights law and its practical application across the public sector. [Now] Chair of the Institute of Equality and Diversity Practitioners … [she] was awarded an OBE for her services to diversity in 2007.’

(Continued Part 2)

Jo Stanley (c) February 2015

Dr Jo Stanley is a writer and historian specialising in gender and the sea. Among the seafarers she’s explored are cross-dressing women ‘cabin boys’ and GBTQI males. Her next book is From Cabin ‘Boys’ to Captains: 250 years of women at sea, History Press, 2016.


With thanks to the LGBT History Festival for the pictures –by  Nicolas Chinardet –  and press releases, from which these details were extracted, and the Joyce Layland LGBT Centre for her picture.



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