Every November Schools Out, the charity which founded LGBT History Month, has a showcase event to launch the following year. I’m not entirely sure why it is so far in advance of February, but I’m guessing that in January people are busy with preparation and the weather is bad, while in December everyone is tied up with Christmas, so late November is about the earliest they can do it.
This is my first year attending the event. It took place at Queens’ College in Cambridge, which is very nice. During the afternoon there was a marketplace where various LGBT-friendly organizations had stalls. Then in the evening there was entertainment. Being a hopeless party girl, I was mainly there for the latter. The theme of this year’s event was religion, belief and philosophy.
The evening was bookended by Rev. Razia Aziz. While her family background is Muslim, she’s a non-denominational minister, making her an ideal person to do the blessings. She’s also a singer and voice coach, which was very obvious from her performance. Sufi mystics have produced some of the best poetry ever.
There was a fair amount of civic stuff to get through. The university, city and county had all signed up to the following Equality Pledge:
We believe in the dignity of all people and their right to respect and equality of opportunity. We value the strength that comes with difference and the positive contribution that diversity brings to our community. Our aspiration is for Cambridge and the wider region to be safe, welcoming and inclusive.
There was a variety of speakers on religious and philosophical issues. Robert Brown (proudly wearing his King’s Cross Steelers rugby shirt) talked about equality in Nichiren Buddhism. My friend Surat Knan gave a great talk about being trans and Jewish. Terry Weldon took on the near impossible task of representing Catholicism to LGBT people, which he did best by regaling us with scandalous tales of gay popes. Dr. Lucy Walker played us some of Benjamin Britten’s church music. Dr. Alison Ainley, from Anglia Ruskin’s philosophy department, talked about some of her favorite LGBT-friendly philosophers.
We had a little bit of film, in the form of two really great animations produced by Bobby Tiwana. They don’t appear to be online anywhere, so if you do see Bobby advertised for an event locally go along and see his films.
Another South Asian contributor was Manjinder Singh Sidhu who became an internet celebrity all over the subcontinent thanks to this amazing YouTube video in which he talks to his mum about how parents should deal with a child who comes out to them as LGB or T.
Music was provided by Mark Jennett who sang “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”, a Rogers & Hammerstein song from South Pacific. Take a look at the lyrics. It is rather depressing that people could write such things in 1949 and we don’t seem to have learned anything from it.
Topping the bill was Labi Siffre, who performed his massive hit, “So Strong”. It is as much about being gay as it is about other types of civil rights. Labi also gave a short talk from a rationalist point of view, asking religious leaders who condemn LGBT people to provide evidence that we should believe in their invisible friends, and that they speak for such beings.
What a trooper too. When I was chatting with Sue on email earlier in the week she told me that Labi was unwell and had needed to go into hospital. She wasn’t expecting him to be able to make the event. And yet there he was.
Thanks are due to Sue Sanders, Tony Fenwick and the rest of the Schools Out team who put on the evening. Thanks also to Tony for starting off the evening by stressing the importance of intersectionality to LGBT rights. As he said, if you suffer from intersecting oppressions, difficult choices do have to be made. I have some sympathy with Terry Weldon, because there are times when I have to defend feminism to trans people. I can’t not be a feminist, but sometimes what is done in the name of feminism by others is utterly abhorrent.
After the event a bunch of us headed back to the hotel where the Schools Out crew were staying for a drink. And that’s how I ended up in a hotel bar chatting to Labi Siffre about science fiction. It turns out that he was a huge fan as a kid, and read just about everything that was going. These days he’s more into song writing and poetry, and doesn’t have much patience for long, rambling novels, but I shall hit him up with some recommendations anyway.
To finish up, here’s Labi, doing pretty much what I saw him do last night (except that I think last night was better).