Queer Homes, Queer Families: a History and Policy Debate

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Major changes in attitudes towards lesbian and gay men in the home and family will be considered at a debate organised by the Raphael Samuel History Centre on 17 December 2012.

We will explore the fantasy of the nuclear family and show that the idea of family is a somewhat flexible phenomenon – the reality has rarely measured up to the powerful ideological ideas that exist.

A major debate, organised by the Raphael Samuel History Centre and to be held at the British Library, will consider changing attitudes to lesbians and gay men as home and family makers. The panel, which includes Peter Tatchell and sociologists and historians, will looks at these shifts in broader historical, social and cultural context.

Dr Matt Cook, Senior Lecturer in History and Gender Studies at Birkbeck, University of London and Director of the Raphael Samuel History Centre, who will be chairing the debate, says: “We will be looking at whether recent changes in attitudes to family are really as novel as they first appear. While we shouldn’t underestimate the radical nature of some of these changes, we must realise that we are looking at them in comparison with a time during the 1980s and 90s when there were high levels of homophobia. There was panic about the AIDS crisis and quite vitriolic homophobia from government, the police, media and general public. However, if we look further back we begin to see that the idea of family has always been a somewhat fluid concept.”

The panel will consider why the recent changes, which include the introduction of civil partnerships, the repeal of Section 28, IVF for lesbians and allowing gay and lesbian couples to adopt and foster, have occurred now. Is it because today’s policy-makers and media editors are the children of the 70s, now coming of age? Is it thanks to diminishing panic about AIDS with the introduction of combination therapy in 1996? Have people begun to focus on the individual more – so that it’s not so much an embrace of lesbian and gay rights as a more causal indifference? Or is it part of wider changes in family life, so that as single parents, step parents and other family configurations become more accepted, gay and lesbian parents seem less unusual?

Dr Cook continues: “As well as thinking about the immediate history of family life we will also be thinking a bit more expansively about what family has meant historically. If we take current concerns about levels of single parenthood and compare levels to 1900 we find that there are very similar numbers – the difference is that in 1900 it was due to the death of a parent, whereas now it tends to be due to divorce or separation. We will explore the fantasy of the nuclear family and show that the idea of family is a somewhat flexible phenomenon – the reality has rarely measured up to the powerful ideology.”

Event details:    

Date:         Monday 17 December 2012
Time:        6.30 – 8.00pm
Venue:             British Library Conference Centre, 96 Euston Road, London, NW1 2DB
Panelists:     Peter Tatchell; Professor Jeffrey Weeks, OBE; Dr Kath Holden; Professor Sasha Roseneil; Professor Alison Oram; and Dr Matt Cook.

Booking:             The debate is free and open to all, but booking is essential. To reserve your place please contact Katy Pettit k.pettit (at) uel (dot) ac (dot) uk

The event is convened by the Raphael Samuel History Centre, hosted by the British Library and supported by the AHRC.

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Bryony Merritt
Birkbeck, University of London
020 7380 3133
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