For LGBT+ History Month 2018, we’ll be posting a series of blogs from LGBT+ people across our network and beyond. We asked the question, ‘what does LGBT+ History Month mean to you?’. Rob Berkeley advises the BBC on accountability and audience engagement, and leads the editorial team of community journalism platform, BlkOutUK.com.
We all love a good story. There’s something primal in our need for stories to make sense of our selves, our worlds, and each other. From the comfort provided by a parent’s calming voice regaling a familiar fairy tale at bedtime, to the clever fable that passes on wisdom, to the bestselling, page-turning, bodice-ripper that you just can’t put down, or the don’t-care-if-I-oversleep-and-am-late-for-work final episode of that boxset, stories are important to us.
Working in broadcasting, I’m in the story business. It’s a business in which media companies fight each other for our attention so that the stories they have to tell (or sell) are heard. This battle for our attention rages around us with such relentless intensity that we soon start to tune it out as just so much white noise. The media entrepreneur undeterred, quickly understands that we are overwhelmed by choice, slightly lazy, not as clever as we think we are, and wary of being conned; consequently she tells us stories that we want to hear in ways that are simple, and in formats that are least challenging to us or our worldview. Having given up on sharing their stories with everyone as simply too difficult, the media entrepreneur speaks to a niche, while seeking to maintain an appearance of unconcerned, aloof neutrality to convince us not to look elsewhere for our stories.
In our modern economy, responding to an essentially human demand for stories has created a means of including and excluding our fellow citizens. Some stories become privileged over others – either through sheer numbers or disproportionate access to influence – we are limited to hearing the stories of the powerful, from the perspectives of the powerful. Stories that either confirm or deny a belief widely held by the powerful are the stories that receive undue prominence. Those who are on the margins, the minoritised, the less powerful can struggle to be heard, and since they are likely to be addressing a smaller audience, are less likely to be able to monetise their storytelling. Story creation and distribution almost inevitably becomes a site for the maintenance of structural inequality.
It is for this reason that I really appreciate LGBT+ History Month (and Black History Month, Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month, International Women’s Day int. al.). It creates spaces for us to hear and share stories that disrupt the logic of mainstream media that makes minorities invisible. It privileges LGBT+ stories – stories that build empathy among diverse LGBT+ people, as well as between LGBT+ people and others. It gathers and creates audiences that can in turn drive demand for a greater range of stories delivered in innovative, entertaining or provocative ways.
Highlights for me this month have been the launch of an anthology of new writing by same gender loving, women of colour Sista! by Team Angelica and UK Black Pride, the inspirational Rainbow Noir celebrating their 5th birthday in Manchester, Brick Box Gallery in Bradford hosting a photography exhibition by LGBTQ people of colour, Gaysians UK meeting to ask, ‘where are all the South Asian lesbians?’, Opening Doors London presenting Three Brixton Stories, Rainbow Pilgrims capturing the experiences of LGBTQ migrants, Black Gay Ink sharing new writing by Black Gay men in Brixton ,and Duckie QTIPOC Collective hosting ‘Legacy’, a night of fierce arts. I’m sure that I’m just scratching the surface of the many ways that LGBTQ people of colour are using LGBT History Month to challenge the unequal structures that can leave us without a platform from which to tell our stories.
Ben Okri wrote;
Nations and peoples are largely the stories they feed themselves. If they tell themselves stories that are lies, they will suffer the future consequences of those lies. If they tell themselves stories that face their own truths, they will free their histories for future flowerings. (Birds of Heaven)
LGBT+ History Month is a chance to correct the stories that are lies; to face our own truths. A moment to take the opportunity to celebrate those we admire, and to remember those giants on whose shoulders we stand. We all love a good story; let’s use this LGBT History Month to tell our History/Herstory/Theirstory with pride, so that we can create a future that includes us all.
Take a moment to nominate a Black LGBTQ hero by 31st March http://www.100greatblackbritons.com/
Rob currently plies his trade advising the BBC on accountability and audience engagement. Impatient with injustice and exasperated by wasted potential, he volunteers on the boards of Baring Foundation, Doc Society, and the Collaborate Foundation, and has previously served on the boards of LGBT rights charity Stonewall, the Equality and Diversity Forum, and been Chair of Naz Project London. He was Director of the racial justice think-tank Runnymede 2009-14, and now leads the editorial team of community journalism platform, BlkOutUK.com. Dr Berkeley was awarded an MBE in 2015 for services to equality.