Curating LGBT History Month: Lessons Learned

Organising LGBT History Month at the University of Nottingham has been a very challenging and rewarding experience. As one of the postgraduate directors for the Rights and Justice Research Priority Area (RPA for short), I had a responsibility to create a diverse programme of events and collaborate with as many scholars and postgraduates as possible across the university, as well as forging new connections with people within the local community. Formed of 20 research centres spanning all 5 faculties at the University of Nottingham, the RPA focuses on human rights, civil rights, criminal justice, minority rights and all forms of equality. The RPA has over 700 staff members and 250 postgraduates, making it the largest cluster of Rights and Justice scholars in the world. I was lucky enough to receive generous funding from the RPA, which meant this year saw the largest number of events for LGBT History Month at the University. In this post I reflect on what I needed to organise this ambitious programme of events as a postgraduate, as well as the challenges I faced.

You will need

To identify your audience, and have a clear set of aims

Originally, I had organised seven events for the month but ended up with five, a much more manageable number. I started organising in August, sending constant emails to staff members and people outside the community to check their availability to host events or speak on campus or in the city.

EVE-LGBT-Film Festival 169-FINAL RRO-180116One of the main things I wanted to concentrate on was to involve the local community as much as possible in these events. Out of the five events I organised, only one was on campus, which aligned with the RPA’s desire to hold more events away from the university. The first of these events was an LGBT film festival at the Nottingham Contemporary, screening three films: Brother Outsider, a documentary focusing on the American Civil Rights activist Bayard Rustin; Out in the Night, concentrating on four African American lesbians who were convicted of assault charges after defending themselves from an attacker one night in New Jersey in 2006; and My Prairie Home, an abstract and surreal glimpse into the world of Canadian singer and songwriter Rae Spoon. This was a great way to kickstart LGBT history month in the city, and we had roughly thirty people in each film, some of whom stayed for the entire day.

Funding

It may seem obvious, but funding definitely made the month easier as I knew I had sufficient financial support behind me. It is still possible to create a fantastic programme of events, but funding goes a long way in allowing us to reach individuals and venues that charge high fees.

A flexible administrative team

I learned an important lesson with the design team. The difficulty of planning several events for one month is the availability of information: speakers and venues can often change or require further confirmation, which trickles through in dribs and drabs. It felt like I had the design team at the University on speed dial (or the equivalent for email) as I constantly emailed them updates and changes from December right through to February. One grave mistake I made was signing off on two of the posters without getting them checked by another member of staff who suggested edits, and I had to carefully approach the design team and create more work for them. Their patience was incredible, and the quality of the posters speaks for themselves.

Supportive academic platforms, and supportive academics

It also helps when you’re surrounding by a team of great postgraduates (and my supervisor Professor Zoe Trodd) who helped me advertise the events. The people behind C3R, the RPA, and ACS were infallible and put my events on all forms of social media throughout the month, sharing the Eventbrite links and using Mail Chimp to email hundreds of members of our centres. It is never wise to work alone in academia, and their generous support helped make February the most successful LGBT month the University has ever seen.

Lessons learned

Check, and double check, your timings and schedule

I asked everyone to leave some feedback after the LGBT film festival and every single one was incredibly positive, such as “the event was engaging and a wonderful day” although I should have left longer for lunch! Leaving only 20 minutes was definitely a mistake, and in hindsight I should have left a lot longer for breaks in between films, particularly because I miscalculated the duration of My Prairie Home, which finished much earlier than I expected. A panel discussion afterwards solved this problem, but next time the structure of the day should be planned much more carefully. Most people seemed keen to make the festival an annual event however, and considering this year was heavily focused on American and Canadian history, I would like to focus more on the British and European LGBT experience.

Expect bumps in the road

One of the biggest lessons I learned from LGBT History Month was that sometimes, things don’t quite turn out the way you want it to. Since August, I had been planning an event with the London Gay Men’s Chorus at Nottingham Playhouse, and this was to be the main event for the month. After a performance by the Chorus, I wanted to hold a short panel focusing on the Chorus’ educational outreach programme to local schools in London, with Dr Max Biddulph from the University of Nottingham contributing his expertise about teaching LGBT rights and history in schools. After countless emails and numerous meetings via phone and in person at the Playhouse, the Chorus unfortunately had to back out of the performance (as well as a workshop in a secondary school) in the second week of January. This was a learning curve for me as, to put it bluntly, I did not have any experience with organising a performance in a theatre, and negotiations at times were a headache. I was especially concerned that once the Chorus cancelled their performance the Playhouse would be well within their rights to cut all ties and never work with me again, but luckily they were fantastic and very understanding. This was incredibly kind considering they had already advertised the event in their brochure. So despite months of planning, it turned out I had not planned for the possibility of cancellation. Valuable lesson learned.

Practical issues will limit any programme, anticipate blindspots

Before the film screening event began, I had a complaint from a member of the public asking why I had labelled this film a ‘LGBT’ event when it appeared there was not a film solely concentrating on bisexual individuals. This was valid criticism, and something I also want to take into account next year when choosing films. The difficulty is, with the hours of hiring the Space in the Nottingham Contemporary between 11-5pm, there are only so many films to show. Perhaps the solution to this would be hiring the Space for two consecutive days. Suggestions on films or how to combat this would be most welcome!

Engaging with the local community is key, but difficult to achieve

Lastly, if this was to be made an annual event, more advertising needs to be conducted in the local community. Although I emailed several LGBT groups via email or Facebook (and several were kind enough to post the event on their pages) I need to find further ways of spreading the information within the LGBT community.

By Hannah-Rose Murray, organiser of LGBT History Month at the University of Nottingham 2016


Reviews of LGBT Month Events by postgraduates in the Department of American and Canadian Studies at the University of Nottingham

EVE-4x3screen-LGBT-HateCrime-NJT-JAN16Olivia Wright reviews ‘Hate Crime’, Five Leaves Bookshop

On the 11th of February, members of Nottinghamshire Police, David Edgely of Rainbow Heritage and local activist Sam Hope came together at Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham for a discussion on LGBT Hate Crime in the city and surrounding area. Each representative briefly spoke on topics ranging from the history of ‘coming out’, to personal accounts of experiencing and handling hate crime. The talks were followed by a question and answer session that quickly transformed into a frank and open discussion, facilitated by the openness and honesty of members of the LGBT community and the candidness of the Nottinghamshire police. Whilst there might have been an air of reservation and doubt as several attendees voiced dissatisfaction at their past experiences with the police over issues of hate crime, Community Protection Officer Julian Best and Police Community Support Officer Zoe Wade emphasized their genuine desire to help and work with the LGBT community in order to make Nottingham a safer place. The discussion even progressed to devising ways in which hate crime can be targeted in the future, such as the creation of educational courses for those convicted of committing hate crime. Ideas such as this, as well as the very existence of the discussion itself, made the event a great success that can hopefully be replicated in some form in the future.

Hannah Jeffery reviews ‘LGBT Rights are Human Rights’, University Campus

LGBT RIGHTSLGBT History Month was punctuated by an on-campus event featuring guest speaker Emma Day from the University of East Anglia, and two Nottingham PhD students, Ibtisam Ahmed and Juan Anzola. Speaking on the topic of LGBT Rights as Human Rights, the topics ranged from the U.S. Supreme Court decision on marriage equality, to LGBTQ rights and representation in South Asian Culture, and violence towards LGBTQs in Colombia. The audience of around 35 individuals (comprising of students, academics, and the general public) listened intently as speakers wove their way through the intricacies of the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the lexical loopholes of India’s Section 377, and abhorrent Colombian hate crimes. The three detailed presentations sparked a rich dialogue between audience and speaker, bringing to the fore important questions such as, “How much influence did the US Court decision have in India and Colombia?”, “How safe is it in India for homosexual artists to release their artwork?”, “Are there any countries in the world that are leading the way on LGBTQ rights, and if so, is a transferable model being created that is applicable to alternative countries?” and “Are LGBTQ groups choosing marriage for protest because it’s a conservative issue that could garner favour with the government and public?” The event was a great success as the 45 minutes of thought-provoking questions, combined with the three enlightening talks, offered audiences a fascinating, original and accessible introduction to LGBTQ Rights.

MojisolaRosemary Pearce reviews ‘Mojisola Adebayo’, Nottingham Writers Studio

Mojisola Adebayo’s retrospective event on 19th February turned out to be a surprising, thought-provoking Friday evening. By turns funny and poignant, Moj’s talk was interspersed with short one-woman performances extracted from her shows, Moj of the AntarcticMuhammad Ali and Me and I Stand Corrected. While the retrospective was as part of LGBT History Month celebrations, her talk dealt with a great range of issues, such as the domestic horror of slavery contrasted with the harsh beauty of Antarctica, violent patriarchal control of the queer body, black celebrity, and even the very nature of Britishness. She spoke honestly and wisely on all of these topics and more, interacting with audience members with an openness that created sincere warmth between performer and audience. One of the most fascinating parts of the evening was hearing about the origins of her collaborations with other artists: her Antarctic photography project with Del La Grace Volcano and her play co-written with South African choreographer and activist Mamela Nyamza. Moj is a multi-talented writer and performer with a unique and brave outlook; I hope this won’t be her last visit to Nottingham.

Timo Schrader reviews ‘London Spy’, Broadway Cinema

EVE-LCD16x9-LGBT-LondonSpy-NJT-FEB15On 28 February 2016, the Rights and Justice research priority area at the University of Nottingham hosted a screening of the first episode of critically acclaimed BBC show London Spy at Nottingham’s Broadway Cinema. Professor Zoe Trodd (Centre for Race and Rights) chaired a discussion with show creator, producer, and writer Tom Rob Smith following the screening. Discussion topics included the process of writing for the screen, the dynamics of working with BBC in the creative process, and the position of London Spy in a tradition of movies and shows that depict gay or non-heteronormative relationships. It was particularly fascinating to see how the show kept the relationship between Danny and Alex at the foreground despite the fact that Alex is found dead at the end of the first episode. In the Q&A, Tom mentioned that this was always his intention. He did not want the spy-thriller story strand to overshadow the relationship between Danny and Alex; he wrote Danny as someone who continues to explore his relationship even after Alex’s death. As well, Tom talked about a fairly lengthy sex scene between Danny and Alex. While being one of the most explicit sex scenes between two men shown in any show or movie to date, Tom actually said he felt the scene was rather “safe.” More interestingly, there were never any discussions about cutting the scene or making it less explicit, neither with BBC nor the Head of Drama. The event, which filled the screening room at Broadway, was a great conclusion to a stellar LGBT History Month at the University of Nottingham.

About Hannah-Rose Murray

Hannah Rose Murray completed her BA History at University College London in 2011 and the following year, she studied for a Masters in Public History at Royal Holloway University. Hannah started a project on Frederick Douglass in 2012 and after two years research on his impact on Britain, she is due to start a PhD in American Studies at the University of Nottingham in September 2014. Check out her website at - https://sites.google.com/site/frederickdouglassinbritain/
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