As part of LGBT History Month, which celebrates and commemorates the history of gay rights in the UK, we’re inviting UAL staff and students to reflect on this year’s theme – Peace, Activism and Reconciliation. Here is colleague Andrew Slatter’s reflection.
I was 16 years old when Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 was made law by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government. The clause stated: ‘A local authority shall not— (a) intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality; (b) promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. The use of the word homosexuality with its medical connotations amplified the stigmatisation and demonisation of LGBT people. This egregious legislation was, rightfully, repealed in 2003 by Tony Blair’s New Labour government.
I remember the lesbian activists who disrupted Sue Lawley while reading the Six O’clock News on the BBC, but I can’t recall what I thought about it at the time. I was still living at my parental home in rural Suffolk until 1993, I wasn’t ‘out’, I was – as author of Epistemology of the Closet Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick suggested – ‘remaining in the closet [which] is a performative action – I choose not to speak’. This was the only way I could ‘perform’ for fear of being different and excluded.
A fateful moment
I reflect on my past, trying not to regret being politically active. It’s only within the last ten years that I can say I have begun to be at peace with myself. I started teaching in 2009 and, for me, this was, as sociologist Anthony Giddens termed, a ‘fateful moment’. Teaching allowed me to reconcile the anonymity and ghost-like presence I endured as a pupil and student, with the ability to have a voice and champion those who have a protected characteristic.
Recently, a student who is transitioning emailed me to say thank you for calling her by her name and for wearing the rainbow badge. This feedback makes me think that maybe I am an activist – not an NGO-affiliated or card-carrying, placard-waving party political supporter – more of a foot soldier who is grateful for the opportunity to advocate and encourage students to find their voice – their truth.
Andrew is Senior Lecturer and Year 1 Coordinator in Contextual and Theoretical Studies at LCC’s Design School.