Queer Erasure in History

Ever heard phrases like “LGBT+ is a new thing” or “back in my day, there weren’t as many gay people around”? This perception obviously is not reflective of reality, but it’s also not completely wrong.

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back in my day, there weren’t as many gay people around

Ever heard phrases like “LGBT+ is a new thing” or “back in my day, there weren’t as many gay people around”? This perception obviously is not reflective of reality, but it’s also not completely wrong. 

The first explanation is visibility. Societal norms have kept LGBT+ people in the closet, leading to the impression that they either didn’t really exist or represented a tiny percentage of the population. 

The second explanation is queer erasure. We can make a parallel with the saying "History is written by the victors” and say that history is written by cisnormative and heteronormative (the assumption that everyone is cisgender and heterosexual) people. This means that LGBT+ people were either left out of history books or that their sexual orientation and/or gender identity was. The most famous example for this is probably Joan of Arc: we know that they dressed and presented as male to enrol in the French army. While we cannot affirm that they were trans or gender-nonconforming, we also cannot affirm that they were a cisgender woman. 

In the UK, queer erasure was furthered by Section 28. Section 28 was a law banning the “promotion of homosexuality,” which was enforced from 1988 to 2003 (2000 in Scotland). This meant LGBT+ topics could not be broached in schools or in the media and caused many groups such as student societies to close or limit their activity and visibility.

The damage caused by Section 28 is widespread and long-lasting. Its most obvious facets include access to sex education and healthcare and the high numbers of discrimination and hate crimes recorded each year.

It also has less obvious effects. For instance, in pop culture: Cam from Tracy Beaker was written as a queer character but closeted due to Section 28 and was only finally able to come out in My Mum Tracy Beaker more recently! 

If you’d like to find out more about the topic, check out these lectures from last year’s Campus Pride!  

Crisis in Community: Key Events in Queer History 

Trancestry 

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