Celebrating LGBT+ History Month!

What is LGBT+ History Month?

For so long LGBT+ people’s history was hidden, and following the repeal of Section 28, UK LGBT+ History Month was created to:

  • claim LGBT+ past
  • celebrate LGBT+ present
  • create LGBT+ future

It wanted to create a dedicated opportunity to share our rich and diverse history so everyone could learn more.

It is celebrated every February across the UK and was founded in 2004 by Schools OUT UK co-chairs, Paul Patrick & Professor Emeritus Sue Sanders.

The theme this year is: Medicine – #UnderTheScope

The 2024 theme celebrates LGBT+ peoples’ contribution to the field of Medicine and Healthcare both historically and today.

We’re going to be sharing the stories of some amazing LGBT+ people from North East and Cumbria history, including two pioneering doctors, to celebrate this month with you all!

Ethel Williams. This file comes from Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom. Refer to Wellcome blog post (archive).

Dr Ethel Williams (1863-1948)

Though Ethel was not born in the Northeast, she made huge contributions to the empowerment of women in Newcastle and the North East. She attended the London School of Medicine for Women and had to train as a doctor in Paris and Vienna as women weren’t allowed to train in British hospitals at the time.

Ethel Williams became the first female doctor in Newcastle and the first woman to own a general practice in the city. Being a female doctor wasn’t her only first, she was also the first woman to drive a car in Newcastle! As a lifelong campaigner of women’s suffrage, and chair of the North East Society of Women’s Suffrage, Ethel Williams was a feminist powerhouse who spent most of her life in Newcastle and Northumberland.

Though her sexuality cannot be confirmed, Ethel spent most of her adult life living with her companion Frances Hardcastle, who helped to found the American mathematics Society. Frances also helped and supported the women’s suffrage movement as the Honorary Secretary and Treasurer. They even moved into a purpose-built house in Northumberland together, until Frances’ death in 1941, so although we cannot say for certain they were a couple, it is safe to say that their lifestyle was probably very unusual for the time!

Read More about Dr Ethel Williams here

Thomas Baty (1869-1954)

Thomas Baty was born in Carlisle in 1869, and had a successful law career that lead him to live and work in Japan for many years of his life. However, alongside his job as a legal advisor, Thomas was a radical feminist, and was seen by many as gender fluid. He wrote and published works under the female pseudonym of Irene Clyde on how gender conventions create barriers between people; he felt the binary division between male and female was restrictive.

Thomas was a gender revolutionary, and a humanitarian who rallied for peace and pacifism.

Learn more about Thomas in this article here: Reflections on Thomas Baty | LGBT+ Language and Archives (wordpress.com)

Thomas Baty from Bain News Service photograph collection

Nerina Shute (1908-2004)

Nerina Shute was described by the Sunday Times as “the amazingly colourful, brilliant and bisexual film critic”. Nerina was born in Prudhoe but moved around from Hollywood to London to Devon and then back to London in her lifetime.

A prolific journalist and author, Nerina had an eclectic lifestyle. She was friends with celebrities such as Alfred Hitchcock and had different marriages with men and relationships with women. Later in life she dedicated a lot of time to the unmarried mother’s shelter in London, and greatly supported the Samaritans.

Read more about Nerina’s life here: Nerina Shute – Wikipedia

Nancy Spain (1917-1964)

Nancy Spain was a Jesmond journalist, broadcaster and wrote crime fiction throughout her life. As a young woman she took part in many women’s sporting teams and joined the Women’s Royal Navy Service during World War II.

Known to be a funny and controversial writer, who was sued twice by Evelyn Waugh for libel, Spain worked for the daily Express, News of the World, Woman’s Hour and more. She was friends with many famous faces such as Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward and was openly a lesbian. She was in a relationship with production and magazine editor Joan Werner Laurie from 1950 and they raised Laurie’s children together in London.

Unfortunately, both Nancy and Joan died on an aeroplane crash in 1964 on the way to cover the Grand National. Her ashes were put with her family’s in the Horsley Crematorium, Northumberland.

Read more about Nancy Spain here.

Dr Patrick Trevor-Roper (1916-2004)

Patrick Trevor-Roper was a prominent, pioneering LGBT+ rights activist and eye surgeon from Northumberland. During the 1950’s, when homosexuality was still a criminal offence, he was one of only 3 men that would openly stand as a gay man during the Wolfenden Committee. This committee was formed to investigate whether homosexuality should still be illegal. He fought for over a decade for the laws to be changed, arguing that gay men were not a danger to society or suffering from mental illness. His struggle was worth it when homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967.

His support and activism for LGBT+ rights did not end there, however. During the AIDs epidemic in the 1980’s, Trevor-Roper also helped to found the Terence Higgins Trust, which was the UK’s leading AIDS organisation.

Outside of LGBT+ activism, he was also deeply passionate about ophthalmic medicine as an eye surgeon. He is the reason you can buy reading glasses without a prescription! He also helped to set up several eye hospitals in Nigeria, Ethiopia and Sierra Leone.

Read more about Dr Patrick Trevor-Roper here.