Preparing for LGBT History Month - our top tips

Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans History Month 2016 - logo

LGBT History Month - which is celebrated in February in the UK – is almost upon us! If you haven’t planned anything yet, it’s not too late to pull something together! Here are our top tips, based on Liz’s PhD research and John’s experience as a trainer and writer on diversity in libraries, as well as our personal experiences as queer library users. We’ve also included some longer-term ideas so that you can plan for next year, as well as for other queer-themed events and milestones that you can celebrate in the library. These might include Pride (usually held in the summer) and the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which decriminalised (male) homosexuality.

As noted in Liz’s previous blog post, the acronym ‘LGBTQ*’ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer and/or questioning. The term ‘trans’ is an umbrella term for transgender and/or genderqueer people. And the asterisk on the end signifies inclusion of other queer identities which are sometimes overlooked, such as intersex and asexual people. 

Firstly, a quick summary of the aims of LGBT History Month:

“The overall aim of LGBT History month is to promote equality and diversity for the benefit of the public.

This is done by:

  • Increasing the visibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (“LGBT”) people, their history, lives and their experiences in the curriculum and culture of educational and other institutions, and the wider community;
  • Raising awareness and advancing education on matters affecting the LGBT community;
  • Working to make educational and other institutions safe spaces for all LGBT communities; and
  • Promoting the welfare of LGBT people, by ensuring that the education system recognises and enables LGBT people to achieve their full potential, so they contribute fully to society and lead fulfilled lives, thus benefiting society as a whole.”

Our top tips follow!

You can interpret ‘history’ broadly

Some organisations – such as archives and academic libraries – will possess a wealth of historical resources that are relevant to LGBTQ* concerns. Similarly, school librarians can work with teachers to locate learning materials relating to famous LGBTQ* people from history. But some libraries will likely find themselves in the situation where they want to create a display, but have few titles on ‘LGBT History’ available, and little time left for purchasing (at least for this year!) What do you do?

In fact, many LGBT History Month events around the country focus on queer art, literature, culture and inclusion more generally – see the programme of events for 2016. A more general display will appeal to a broader range of people with different tastes and interests. Alternatively, the theme for LGBT History Month 2016 is 'Religion, Belief and Philosophy', so you could theme your displays around these topics.

Something is better than nothing

There isn’t much time left before February for planning and marketing an event – but a themed display of books and other materials sends a positive message about inclusion, as well as drawing library users’ attention to an area of stock that they may not have previously been aware of. A study on LGBTQ* provision in school libraries found that displays and other promotions were frequently suggested by young people as a way of improving provision (second only to stocking the materials in the first place). Similarly, in the higher education context, research has found that LGBTQ* students welcomed symbolic acts of inclusion, such as flying the rainbow flag.

Make sure your display is visible

The clue’s in the word ‘display’ – don’t hide it away in a dark corner! A display sends a positive message about inclusion and draws people’s attention to the fact that the library provides materials for everybody. It should be out, proud and up-front! If you are worried about library users’ privacy, make sure that information on finding LGBTQ* materials is available and accessible (through flyers and on the library website) so that people can find materials for themselves all year round. One librarian who participated in Liz’s research tackled the privacy issue by locating the LGBT History Month display next to the self-issue machine; this made it visible, while simultaneously making it easy for borrowers to quickly take a book from the display without being overlooked.

Don’t forget about children and young people

In Liz’s PhD research, nearly all of the participating public library authorities celebrated LGBT History Month to some extent. However, only one of them included anything for children and young people in the month’s events and promotions. Many LGBTQ* people become aware of their sexuality or gender identity before they reach the teenage years. Moreover, an increasing number of children are growing up in families with LGBTQ* parents, following recent changes in legislation which have made it easier for same-sex couples to adopt and secure parental rights. It’s therefore very important to provide books and resources for these young people and families, and to ensure they are visible and accessible – LGBT History Month is a great opportunity to promote them!

Be inclusive of different groups under the LGBTQ* umbrella

Ensure that promotions include materials of interest to different ‘groups’ under the LGBTQ* umbrella, including those that are sometimes overlooked (e.g. bisexual, trans and/or genderqueer, intersex and asexual people). This may involve a little more research on your part, but materials do exist! Some useful resources are linked from Liz’s previous post. In addition, make sure that displays, events and promotional materials are inclusive of multiply-marginalised communities, e.g. queer people of colour and queer people with impairments. The Proud Trust (formerly LGBT Youth North West) has produced this fabulous resource on Black LGBT people, which can be used in both LGBT History Month and Black History Month (in October).

Furthermore, don’t assume that religion and sexuality/gender identity are necessarily in conflict. As noted above, the theme for LGBT History Month this year is ‘Religion, Belief and Philosophy’. In the programme for the launch event, Tony Fenwick, CEO of Schools Out UK, explained why this theme had been chosen, noting among other things that:

“lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans people are also Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, pagans, agnostics and atheists.”

Future planning

Once this year’s event is over, it is time to start thinking about next year’s! One good reason for planning ahead is that LGBT History Month falls towards the end of the tax year – so organisations which work on an April-to-March financial year may be running low on budget by then. If you are wanting to arrange an author visit or other event, there may be some costs involved, so early planning is beneficial! Moreover, LGBTQ* books and resources are important and relevant all year round, so you don’t need to wait for a special month to order them. Make links with local LGBTQ* networks, youth groups, student organisations and so on – find out their needs and market your events to them. The library could consider having a stall or running an event to tie in with your local Pride celebration, or local groups may be delighted to be asked to take part in an event in the library.

LGBTQ* provision is not just for LGBT History Month!

This is perhaps the most important point! LGBTQ* provision should not be relegated to a ‘special’ month; materials and information should be available and accessible all year round. LGBT History Month provides a fabulous opportunity to promote your collections, but quality provision doesn’t end there. Our previous blog posts provide lots of additional hints, tips and resources on improving your services to LGBTQ* library users and on tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.

Useful resources

As well as the resources linked within the blog post, here are a few other useful sources:


Image source: LGBT History month / image resized


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