Action Together celebrates LGBT+ History Month 2024

Join us as we mark LGBT+ History Month by celebrating the amazing achievements and stories of just a few of the wonderful LGBTQ+ members of Action Together.

LGBT+ History Month was founded in 2004 by Schools Out UK, and was created to bring the long history of LGBT+ people out of the shadows to claim their past, celebrate their present and create their future. 

The main purpose of LGBT+ History Month is to create a dedicated opportunity to share the rich and diverse history, so everyone could learn more. And that is exactly what we're going to do!

Each week, we will share the inspirational stories from some truly incredible members of Action Together who are making a difference in their community each and every day. 

To kick off LGBT+ History Month, we caught up with David Austin, an Oldham-based Vicar. David is a 60 year old, proud gay man, and is a and vicar of two Anglican/Church of England parish churches in Coldhurst and Lower Moor. 

Here is what David had to say...

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am open about my faith and my sexuality - both are integral to who I am. Before ordination I worked in homelessness outreach and supportive housing fields including setting up the first statutory funded LGBT mental health group in the country in 1988 entitled 'Out Take' in Hackney/Homerton Hospital as a way to combat pathologisation of a patient's sexuality. 

As a Christian priest, I am well aware of the Church's opposition to equal rights over race, gender and sexuality.  As a vicar, I am allowed to be in civil partnership but not legal marriage with a person of the same gender. Same sex marriages in Anglican churches are still illegal. I assert however that many churches are 'inclusive' - Oldham Parish Church fly the LGBT freedom /rainbow flag from its tower and hosts our Pride celebration service each July - with the blessing & participation of our bishops. My own struggle to be 'out' as a gay priest has led to homophobia and death threats in previous places but I seek to be a minister to people of all sexuality, gender and faith - including serving on Oldham interfaith forum steering group and serving as Chair of Oldham LGBT Pride this past 3 years. I walk in Pride marches wearing my dog collar and proclaiming "GAY = God Adores You". We even had an 8 foot Jesus wearing a rainbow sash walk with us in Oldham in 2022!

What does LGBT+ History Month mean to you?

Pride exists as a showcase, celebration and protest for those who identify as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Non-Binary, Asexual etc ( LGBTQI+)and importantly for their heterosexual straight allies - family, friends , work colleagues, businesses to fly the flag for greater respect for diversity and equality in our nation and overseas. This is not about 'pink washing' to get more cash from customers by showing a gay-friendly face or shop window, but about having policies in place for recruitment, anti-harassment, recognition of same sex partners, pension rights etc This is mirrored in health, housing, benefits, immigration and inheritance bills nationally - I remember the penalisation of Gay men in the late 1980's during the AIDS crisis when applying for mortgages and the insistence on higher premiums for being part of a 'high risk' group. Sadly many of my friends didn't live long enough to get a mortgage . Thankfully times have changed along with medical science. 

What would you say to LGBTQ+ people in Greater Manchester to inspire them to make a difference in the community or wider?

We enjoy many freedoms in Britain - as a result of the freedom fighters, brave resisters and courageous legislators over the past 100 years. We are not complacent though as more needs to be done and the pendulum of progress can swing backwards as well as forwards. The case of Transgender children is a case in point where schools and parents have been vilified by the media, using the same tactics that were aimed at Gay men in the 1950's when homosexuality was illegal. 

We need to look at the global picture - Oldham Pride supported a number of Ugandan LGBT people last year, to flee to safe houses in Kenya following the passing of the Family Bill by the Ugandan Parliament - leading to blackmail, homelessness, imprisonment, violence and murder. We are a local Pride group but with global influence- we are proud that Oldham is a place of safety for all those asylum seekers fleeing from areas of persecution and genocide. 

The pendulum has definitely swung back in many countries - with the rise in right wing faschism and zenophobia. Russia, Uganda, Iran, Turkey, Poland and Ghana are particularly vehement at present - many owing their homophobic legislation to our colonial past there, but now actively enforced - including the death sentence in some countries. 

And finally, What are your hopes for the future?

My hopes for the future are that Britain would not be insular and would continue to provide support to the rest of the World including resettlement of LGBT asylum Seekers and refugees. That the needs of LGBT elderly (50+) would be recognised in specific provision - including across the ethnic spectrum. That we would not give lip service to diversity whilst dis-investing in so-called 'woke' groups that campaign for change.  As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said as he led the Rainbow Nation out of apartheid, "The Arc of the Moral Universe Is Long, But It Bends Toward Justice.".

David Austin
Church of England Vicar