Canal Street Online Manchester

The Fight for LGBT+ Rights

The Fight for LGBT+ Rights

Never Going Underground will open at the People’s History Museum in Manchester on 25 February marking 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexual acts in England and Wales (1967 Sexual Offences Act).  This major exhibition developed by nine community curators will examine the events that took place leading up to the Act, when it was illegal for men to have sex together, lesbianism was condemned as sinful or seen as a medical misfortune, and trans rights were non-existent, and the journey to present time.

The exhibition takes visitors through the major themes behind the movement and stories of diverse LGBT+ communities, drawing upon the slogans and campaigns that pushed forward the progression towards equality.  Protest, representation, visibility, solidarity, a shared voice and creativity have been the driving forces behind the vision for LGBT+ rights, and these form the backdrop for the exhibition.

Visitors are reminded starkly of how society has oppressed and treated individuals for their gender identity or sexuality over time.  The story reaches back to 1625 and the court appearance of Elspeth Faulds and Margaret Armour as the only surviving record of a conviction for female sodomy in the UK. Persecution often continued after death, as in the case in 1833 of actress Eliza Walstein whose body was discovered to be biologically male, whereupon the inquest recommended that her body be disposed of in such a way to mark the “horror of the unnatural conduct.”

The exhibition’s timeline serves to narrate the story and to give visitors the opportunity to reflect on how long and slow the progress towards equality has been. For example, it was only in 2003 that lesbian and gay people were protected from workplace discrimination and in 2012 that hate crime on the basis of sexual orientation was recognised in England and Wales.  There is also the chance to have your own ‘where was I’ experience, with moments recorded such as the time campaigners protesting against Section 28 (of the Local Government Act 1988 banning local authorities from ‘promoting homosexuality as a pretented family relationship’) invaded the studio where Sue Lawley was reading the BBC Six O’Clock News.

The issues and stories behind the protests that have driven the fight for LGBT+ rights are told through photographs, media reports and personal memories.  From the largest of the protests against Section 28, which took place in Manchester on 20 February 1988, to the delivery to Downing Street in 1997 of a petition signed by 10,000 people to press for greater transgender rights.  The evolution of the movement is also presented for discussion, such as the politicised nature of Gay Pride when it was founded in 1972 to the involvement of large corporations in recent years.

Pride is also one of many examples of where the visual and creative contribution of LGBT+ people is showcased.  As is the use of impactful slogans, such as We’re Here, We’re Queer and We Are Everywhere; highly memorable and succinct ways of recalling the many different challenges the LGBT+ community has had to address.

As well as artefacts that are from personal collections visitors will be able to see pieces that are instantly recognisable; such as the iconic red anorak worn by actress Julie Hesmondhalgh playing Hayley Cropper in ITV’s Coronation Street and posters from Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, as featured in the film Pride.

The trials and tribulations faced both past and present are a reminder that this is an ongoing crusade, with statistics illustrating the fact that in 2017 LGBT+ young people are more likely to attempt suicide, trans people face waits of up to four years to be seen by Gender Identity Clinics and lesbian and bisexual women are less well informed than hetrosexual women about health issues which affect them.

The nine community curators are: Adrian Smith, Heather Davidson, Jenny White, Kirsty Roberts, Kirsty Jukes, Lu Tolu, Sarah Wilkinson, Stephen M Hornby and Vivien Walsh.

Catherine O’Donnell from the People’s History Museum says, “This is an exhibition that we hope will educate, inform and pay respect to the LGBT+ community.  There are so many dimensions and layers to this fascinating story and movement, which the exhibition seeks to capture and reflect in as many ways as possible.  It’s also a very personal story, which is something that we’ve been very mindful of in our approach. It’s a journey through ground-breaking social and political history that we’ve tried to tell in a ground-breaking way, led by nine community curators who have done an amazing job.  The result is something that we are very proud to be exhibiting at the People’s History Museum.”

Four partners are working with the People’s History Museum on Never Going Underground: The Proud Trust, LGBT Foundation, Proud 2 b Parents and Manchester Lesbian and Gay Chorus.  The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  The exhibition forms part of a year long programme of events, talks, community projects and a schools learning programme; all of which will discuss, explore and navigate the LGBT+ movement showing the struggles and the social and historical context of decades of activism.

For further information on the People’s History Museum visit www.phm.org.uk and follow @PHMMcr

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