At the House of The Speaker

Every year Schools Out runs a launch event for the following year’s LGBT History Month festivities. The actual month is in February, but the launch event usually happens in November. This year, because 2017 will mark the 50th anniversary of the decriminalization of male homosexuality in the UK, the launch event was held in Parliament. I was one of a small group of people lucky enough to have an invitation to an exclusive soiree in the House of the Speaker, which is inside the Palace of Westminster.

It really is the Speaker’s house, by the way. He does live there, though he wasn’t able to be in attendance that evening. As you can see from the photos, it is a rather splendid residence.

It was lovely to catch up with Stuart Milk and have a brief chat with him about the situation in the USA. I have no doubt that he and his Foundation will be doing everything they can to protect LGBT+ Americans from Trump, Pence and their ilk. I also got to have a brief chat with Ben Howlett, the MP for Bath, who told me of his plans to speak in the trans equality debate the next day.

A special hour out is due to my pal Adam Lowe who looked absolutely stunning for the evening and read a great poem. Adam tells me that he’ll shortly be shopping around a couple of science fiction novels. I know his short stuff is great and I’m looking forward to seeing what he produces in the longer form.

Photo by Janna Funke

The only sour note of the evening came from Anna Eagle who had the cheek to try to claim that all of the LGBT+ rights legislation passed by the Blair & Brown governments were Labour initiatives. The Gender Recognition Act was only passed after years of fighting the government in the courts, and finally getting a European court ruling in our favor. Thankfully Christine Burns, who got an OBE for her part in getting the Act passed, got to make a speech later in the evening, and she politely but firmly put the record straight.

Christine was also very candid about the current political landscape. She, like Stuart, noted how all LGBT+ rights are currently under threat in the USA, and noted that the same could happen here. “None of my life’s work is safe”, she said.

Probably the best speech of the night was made by Lord Michael Cashman. As well as being a Labour Peer and former Member of the European Parliament, he’s also an actor. He’s been in Doctor Who, but he’s most famous for his time in Eastenders during which he was one half of the first gay kiss on British television. He talked about the importance of the Human Rights Act, and the fact that human rights are intended to be universal. What little we know of the Tories’ oft-aborted attempts to replace the HRA with a “British Bill of Rights” suggests that those replacement rights will not be universal, and in some circumstances will only apply to British people. Trump’s threat to revoke the citizenship of anyone who burns the US flag is a reminder of where such selective rights can lead us.

Me with Lord Cashman

It was a splendid evening, and many thanks to Schools Out for the invitation. It’s a shame that not all of the LGBT History Month hub organizers could be there. (Missed you, Jen and Kit.) However, I did get to meet some lovely people from London museums. That led to my visit to the V&A which I wrote about yesterday, and may lead to things happening in Greenwich in the near future.

I loved this mirror, though judging from the non-Euclidian angles in the photo I may have consumed too much of The Speaker’s nice red wine by the time I took it.