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Home > Culture and Society

Historyjism part one: shall i compare thee to a summer's gay?

9 February 2005

It hardly seems worth criticising Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender History Month, which has already been given a fairly thorough queer bashing by the press. But a browse of the website does reveal what a strange project it is.

LGBTHM has already got into trouble for claiming, with little evidence, that Florence Nightingale was a lesbian, and that Shakespeare may have been bisexual, based on (note) suggestions of homosexual love in the sonnets.

It's this sort of thing that gives gay activists a bad name. It's bad history, but it's also rather childish. In particular it smacks of doing anything to get a rise out of the audience: 'Hey bigots - Shakespeare was bisexual! He did it up the bum! (Possibly!) How d'you like that?'

Of course, gay activists regularly rely on this dubious tactic, eg. organised snogs in public and events like Gay Pride that annually demonstrate to the general public that the gay community IS indeed a mob of shrill, sex-crazed, cross-dressers, screaming queens and bondage deviants. It's like turning up at an anti-racism demo dressed as a crack dealer, a mad mullah or Shylock.

Meanwhile a list of 'events and people who have shaped the LGBT community' contains some distinctly odd entries. Julius Caesar is included, not because there's any evidence of him being gay, but for the following reason:

'Despite his prowess in war and his numerous wives and female lovers, an attempt was made to discredit him by claiming he had a youthful affair with Nicomedes, King of Bithymia... some things never change...'

That's a pretty big role in gay history. In fact, it's probably much less than the Village People.

LGBTHM is a queer beast. At one level it aims to tell the story of how gay people have suffered from (and fought against) prejudice down the ages. At another, it attempts to highlight noteworthy homosexuals from history, an idea that is strangely Pythonesque, begging a skit entitled 'Great Poofs in History'.

The problem is that unless the events in history have anything to do with being gay, does it really make much difference what the individual's sexuality was? Even if Florence Nightingale had been gay, what bearing does this have on her work? You can argue that it shows that gay people have made a huge contribution to all aspects of life down the years, but we knew that anyway. We
hadn't really expected them not to. Homosexuals may be a minority, but they fought in the same wars, made the same scientific breakthroughs and painted the same masterpieces. What were we expecting? That poor old horribly-mistreated Alan Turing would spend WWII sitting at home wearing a pink tutu, singing along to his Judy Garland records?

But the real evidence of LGBTHM suffering mission creep is the way it focuses not just on education but pushing its own PC message, offering schools such 'resources' as:

'A thorough investtiagation (sic) into how to conquer homophobic bullying', with the aim of 'ending the official invisibility of LGBT people in the school community and curriculum'.

All very worthy, but yet again, it's a cause looking for problems. By all means clamp down on homophobia in schools, but schools are primarily about sitting exams and hopefully passing them, not exploring your sexuality or learning to be liberal. More advice aims to help teachers discuss their own sexuality with pupils. The only piece of advice worth heeding on this matter is a simple 'Don't'.

LGTTHM subscribes to an idea beloved of most activists: that their own ideals should automatically be promoted by any and every organisation, whether it's schools, the NHS or businesses. Obviously bullying and discrimination are wrong, but does it really make sense to saddle organisations with anti-homophobia 'strategies' where there's no evidence of homophobia in the first place? (This view isn't restricted to liberal causes - vociferous Christians and other religious odd-bods have long been calling for harassed teachers to act as religious educators and/or moral guardians. And quite possibly anti-abortion activists.)

LGTTHM manages to be both be nebulous and monomaniacal. At its heart, it's a good, thought-provoking project, but it's hobbled by its own sloppy thinking and politically-motivated ideas, eg. the 'Shakespeare was bi' nonsense.

But perhaps its biggest problem is that school children are just not receptive to liberal social engineering designed to make them tolerant. In fact, they'll probably just think it's all a bit gay.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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