Updated: May 30
February is a special month for many reasons. While it is Black History Month over in the US, it also marks the celebration of LGBTQ+ History Month in the UK. This month of observance and celebration was established in 2005 by Schools Out UK. This month’s theme is "behind the lens", which zones in on the representation of sexualities and genders in media, including film and TV.
While it may be hard to spark talks about individualism and self-expression regarding media and film, you may have more to say than you realise! Here's why:
If you are an avid Studio Ghibli fan, you may be familiar with the timeless animated classics Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle. If you have watched the credits for both movies, you would know that the Japanese voice actor for both Moro and the Witch of the Waste are voiced by Akihiro Miwa. This is the stage name used by Akhiro Maruyama – An openly gay man, drag queen, singer and survivor of one of the atom bombs in Nagasaki! With these already impressive feats, Miwa was also known for their strong anti-war stance and was open about his views in an era where many were afraid to be vocal about their sexuality and orientation.
It is not just old media that deserves attention; most streaming services are now offering separate sections dedicated to LGBTQ+ shows to show support. The likes of Hulu and Netflix have dedicated categories to easily access stories of self-discovery and pride - From original series' to genres, there has been a rise in popularity for these shows as more people can relate to both the stories and the creators. The same can be said for the rise of photographers and vloggers from the LGBTQ+ community that capture thought-provoking images and videos in a bid to share their own stories.
Ties to Black History Month
It may seem strange to mention Black History Month before it officially starts in the UK, but we believe every individual should be celebrated as an equal. Now, what do these two awareness months have in common?
One of the most inspiring figures in LGBTQ+ history is Bayard Rustin. Born in 1912, Rustin was an outspoken advocate for civil rights, pacifism and gay rights. He was a key organiser behind the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom - where an estimated 250,000 people gathered to draw focus on the constant challenges faced by African Americans (and also where King made his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech)!
He also worked with Martin Luther King Jr. to help organise many other civil rights protests throughout his life and was openly gay, but he refused to be silenced by homophobic attitudes and continued to fight for equality until his death in 1987. We can thank him for helping lay the foundation for modern LGBTQ+ rights movements around the world.
Even with the occasional conversation, it is easy to proclaim without action. Here are some tips for supporting the LGBTQ+ community and becoming a better ally:
1) Foster an environment in which everyone feels they can speak out
While it may seem daunting with the amount of terminology used within the LGBTQ+ community to not offend someone by accident, the best advice is to approach this topic with the empathy of understanding and the humility to know that you may not have all of the answers you require and may need to ask what others identify with.
Allow people to share their pronouns when introducing themselves or in the footer of an email to serve as a constant reminder. When in doubt, remember that:
Pronouns often reflect gender, but are not gender.
2) Take time to research the history behind this community and take note of present events happening around the world
By doing this, you may find out facts that challenge unconscious bias (how you process experiences you have had throughout life) and exit comfort zones to be able to facilitate meaningful conversations or learn something interesting.
3) Define policies and set up a safe space to create platforms for voices and visibility
Small adjustments to policies around dress codes can also help, as these can often stifle identity and expression. It may not always be possible to facilitate these changes depending on the type of industry (as it could compromise the health of an individual), but a non-binary trans person may feel oppressed when forced to present themselves in a more masculine/feminine manner, which could lead to gender dysphoria.
According to the NHS, Gender dysphoria is a known condition that describes:
"a sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity. This sense of unease or dissatisfaction may be so intense it can lead to depression and anxiety and have a harmful impact on daily life."
Discussion points for Equality and Diversity
Do you have a designated safe space?
What was the most recent show you have seen made by a member of the LGBTQ+ community?
Can you express yourself in a way that is meaningful to you?
How would you feel if you were told to act in a specific way?