A few weeks ago I discovered that Shrewsbury – not far from me – was holding a festival in celebration of LGBT History Month. Officially called “Back In Time 2” (on account of it being the 2nd such festival held in Shrewsbury), it was a lovely mixture of formal and semi-formal presentations, informal mingling, evening entertainment and films, as well as various other events around the town and in the schools over the course of the month. Their official website – which probably explains things better than I have here – is over at shrewsburylgbthistory.org.uk/
Being my first year, and not having managed to persuade anyone to join me in attending*, I didn’t go to everything, but if/when they run another one (Next year? Please?), I’ll definitely be making my way to more of the events.
The Friday evening ‘launch night’ had some fascinating presentations, followed by ‘a taste of’ Queer Playback Theatre, who are amazing and fascinating, and omg so clever. I have no idea how they do what they do! I wasn’t sure I’d stay for that section, but ended up sat in the middle of a row, so just kept my head down and firmly stamped on my impulse to shout out answers when they called for audience contributions. I think what they do comes under the umbrella of ‘improv’, but whatever the correct term, it’s amazing and spine-tingly.
On the Saturday I skipped the ‘Young People’s Showcase’ session in the morning, arriving for the presentation about heritage, history, local museums, and the difficulty of recognising items of importance to LGBT+ history when for so many years/decades/centuries, LGBT+ people were less able to be open about their lives in the same way as possible today.
“The Oldest New Woman and her Incorrigible Welsh Friend” was a lovely piece of drama, and a nice contrast to the semi-formal presentations later. Could have been improved if there had been a stage or raised section of floor in the room so that the audience had a better view of the three women – but even without being able to see them for much of it, they certainly held my attention. Another reminder that these ideas about equality are not new!
Over the rest of the afternoon there were 6 different presentations, timetabled in three ‘pairs’. I would have loved to have gone to all of them, but in the end chose “Salop Assizes 1949”, “The Joy of Tokenism”, and “Soldiers In Love”. This last presentation was about a discovery by Oswestry Museum – of love letters between two soldiers – which has had quite a bit of publicity (I’ve definitely seen a BBC News story about it floating around Facebook, and it’s been mentioned on the radio as well, and the chap said he’s had interest from TV as well as talk of a book deal once he’s got as far as he can with the research). As one of the people I met at the weekend said: this is one of those “I was there when this first came to light” moments. For me, personally, it was also wonderful to hear evidence that the kind of relationships I wrote about in Under Leaden Skies were being experienced by gay men in the period. One of the truly wonderful things about the letters which have been found is how open the writer is about his feelings. Although he signs himself by his initial, and it was only when one letter included a rhetorical question naming himself that the museum volunteers realised the writer was a man, they are full of phrases such as “I love you, my darling”, “I can’t wait until I hold you in my arms again”. It’s great to know that life in the past was not all hiding and fear… but then, as the University lecturer said in the presentation about heritage: history isn’t about the past.
I was feeling rather drained by the fabulousness by then, so rather than head off for food and go on to the entertainment, I said “Lovely to meet you, I’ll plan to come along to more next year” to all the wonderful people I’d met.
…and then on the way out the door, I recognised (& was recognised by) a lady I’d met at the Honno event back in September!
Overall, it was a different experience to events I’ve been to which are linked more specifically to LGBTQ+ fiction and M/M Romance, but it was such a positive experience I’d definitely recommend looking out for any festivals in your local area. There were/are 50 ‘hubs’ across the UK this month, and as that’s grown from 5 last year and 1 the year before, I’d hope there’ll be a lot more next year!
*also, housework, DIY, etc., and the fact I’m running off for a weekend down in that there London very soon for Eroticon