Celebrating LGBTQ+ History Month in Flitwick & Ampthill
Author: Cllr Andy Snape, Town Mayor, Flitwick Town Council
Part of NALC's #MakeAChange campaign, NALC’s LGBTQ+ National Network was set up in June 2021, bringing LGBTQ+ councillors together to share ideas and inspire change in our local communities.
Many communities have taken steps forward to increasing inclusivity and celebrating differences by delivering innovative events and increasing engagement with local residents, especially during Pride Month. It’s hard not to be inspired by the many positive experiences shared by councillors from across the country, and I wanted to start something in my own community.
The 2021 census published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed for the first time that approximately 3.2% of people in the UK consider themselves as LGB+ and that 0.5% of people do not identify with the same as their sex registered at birth.
According to Human Dignity Trust, there are still 68 jurisdictions worldwide that criminalise "private, consensual, same-sex sexual activity", and 11 countries have jurisdictions in which the death penalty is imposed or is at least a possibility. Closer to home, Stonewall reports that one in five LGBT people has experienced a hate crime or incident because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the last 12 months. Two in five trans people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their gender identity in the last 12 months. Four in five anti-LGBT hate crimes and incidents go unreported.
With so much work to do, local (parish and town) councils have an important part to play in championing equal rights, perfectly placed to promote inclusivity and community cohesion. Raising awareness about LGBTQ+ issues is undoubtedly a part of this message, but it can be a brave move for a local council, especially in a rural community, to tackle what can be seen as a contentious issue.
Introducing Proud Ampthill & Flitwick (Proud AF)
Proud Ampthill & Flitwick (Proud AF) was formed in November last year as a joint initiative of Flitwick Town Council and Ampthill Town Council, aiming to offer a range of new services and events for the LGBTQ+ community and allies living in our area. Working together recognises the close links between our two towns and allows us to serve the community in a way we couldn’t do alone. Furthermore, the encouragement from the surrounding smaller parish councils has been fantastic, especially Maulden Parish Council, showing that you don’t need to be a bigger community to champion inclusion and diversity.
We’ve used Section 106 funding allocated to community cohesion from both parishes to fund the project for the first year. LGBT Bedfordshire, a local community organisation, has helped us to get the initiative off the ground and provided skills, advice and experience. Councillors from both councils see this as ongoing work rather than a project, and we’ll review how best to iterate and move forward after Pride Month in June.
In Ampthill and Flitwick, our challenge was that there wasn’t an obvious local LGBTQ+ community to gather and engage with, so we used LGBTQ+ History Month as a way of gathering people together around a group of events:
- We kicked things off with our first LGBTQ+ History Month Reception, where 90 people came together to hear personal stories from community members, celebrating our past and looking towards the future. We also discussed the need for allyship and the importance of advocacy.
- We’ve flown the Progress Pride flag for the past four years, but in a first for us in Flitwick, we lit up The Rufus Centre, our Town Hall, in the colours of the pride flag.
- Our friends at LGBT Bedfordshire worked with the Inspiring Music Service at Central Bedfordshire Council and BBC Radio 2 Young Folk award winner Maddie Morris to deliver a songwriting workshop for local LGBTQ+ young people.
- Finally, Central Bedfordshire Libraries organised two fantastic author events where we heard from Paul Burston and Simon James Green.
What’s next for us?
Our aim has always been to mark Pride Month in a meaningful way, and this year we will be celebrating our first ‘Pride Picnic’ in Ampthill Great Park on Sunday 4th June. This is an opportunity for many people across our community to come together to celebrate the contribution that local LGBTQ+ people made to our community. There will be live music and entertainment, including a performance from the LGBTQ+ group of young people who attended the songwriting workshop.
Recognising the importance of safe spaces and having engaged with local residents, we’re planning to offer a monthly LGBTQ+ Social for local young people as part of the Youth Service we offer in Flitwick from our dedicated ‘Youth Hub’.
Finally, our ‘cross-council’ group will continue to meet quarterly to develop our offer. We want to start bringing local residents into the group so that Proud AF can become a true community movement, with both councils playing a more supportive role in the future.
Do you have any advice for any local council considering a similar project?
We’ve learnt a lot from this initial set of events, and it’s important to share our learnings with other local councils which might be thinking about working in this space:
- Not everything has to be big – visibility and advocacy are important. Consider starting with small steps beginning with flying the Progress Pride flag for Pride Month each June. Show your local LGBTQ+ community they are welcome in your town or village.
- Many local councils understandably won’t have skills or experience engaging in this important area, so look for a local partner with existing links in your community that can help you with the research and skills needed to engage with your local community.
- Partnering with neighbouring local councils could be a great way for smaller communities to contribute to this important work. It’s been an amazing experience working with our neighbouring Town Council, sharing ideas and delivery, and most importantly, helping us forge links to enable collaboration in other areas to deliver positive resident outcomes.