Hello and welcome to the second instalment of A Brit Queer, the column that focuses on the LGBTQ+ community in Britain. This week, we’re going to be a little bit less angry and political and we’re going to watch some TV with LGBTQ+ representation (yay!).
To mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK, Channel 4 has dedicated an entire season of programming to commemorating how far the LGBTQ+ community has come.
The series, called Fifty Shades of Gay, featured prominent British LGBTQ+ people from politicians to musicians to actors to business people, speaking out about how the world has changed for our community since 1967. In many ways, of course, things are better now than they were back then, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves; we still have a long way to go.
This documentary focused on the role that pop music has played in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights; whether that’s providing LGBTQ+ representation, speaking out about LGBTQ+ issues or creating songs that would encourage us to hang on in there when times are tough.
While fighting for our rights in the courts is important, it is often the entertainment business that can sway public opinion more than legal action, and that public opinion can then sway laws.
In terms of representation, if LGBTQ+ people see people like them represented positively on TV they will feel more able to come out and be accepted. When George Michael refused to apologise after getting caught having sex with a man, it sent a message to other gay people that it’s okay to be gay and you don’t have to hide who you are. That’s vital to our collective mental health.
If you’re looking for a soundtrack to your coming out story; you’ll find the music here, from Dusty Springfield to David Bowie to Queen to Bronski Beats.
In the 1980s, the AIDS epidemic was terrorising the LGBTQ+ community, but the medical community didn’t know how to fight it, the media was espousing homophobia left, right, and centre, and Margaret Thatcher was outright hostile to confronting the disease.
This is the unlikely but inspiring story of how LGBTQ+ rights campaigners, Conservative politicians, and pioneering doctors came together to fight AIDS, encourage safe sex, and fight for the rights (and the lives) of our community. They helped to slow the spread of AIDS and improved the way that British people talk about sex.
LGBTQ+ activists like Lisa Power of the London Gay and Lesbian Switchboard, Rupert Whitaker, the boyfriend of Terrence Higgins, the first gay man in Britain to die of AIDS, and Tony Whitehead, a founder of the Terrence Higgins Trust, were on the front lines of the epidemic; trying to comfort those affected and pleading with the government and the medical community for help.
Doctors, like Ian Weller of University College Hospital, and Michael Adler of Middlesex Hospital, were trying desperately to uncover how AIDS was spread and how it could be stopped.
Norman Fowler, then-Health Secretary, advised a public education campaign in order to prevent AIDS from spreading. He said that, at the time, there were no treatments for those who had already been infected; rather the health service needed to focus on prevention.
Unfortunately, those brave people had to fight tooth and nail against the establishment in order to do so.
As someone born in the 90s, it is hard for me to imagine the extent to which the LGBTQ+ community was affected by the AIDS epidemic. Although, I don’t pretend to understand the way this affected people who were around at the time or those who are diagnosed with HIV and AIDS, this programme was incredibly moving and had me in tears by the end.
One of the most important things that this programme brought up for me was the false distinction that was made between ‘innocent’ victims, like the child with haemophilia who became infected with AIDS after receiving a blood transfusion, and those who contracted the disease through sex or drug use. How could you possibly blame someone for contracting a disease, especially before we knew how it was spread?
It’s almost like, and stay with me here, they were more interested in blaming the gays than saving people.
Hosted by Stephen Fry, this documentary focused on the top seven buildings in the UK, which had historic significance to LGBTQ+ people, with prominent LGBTQ+ people like the Reverend Richard Cole, Strictly Come Dancing Judge Craig Revel Horwood, and broadcaster and business consultant Mary Portas.
The places chosen included Shibden Hall in Yorkshire, where a Yorkshire heiress revealed her lesbianism in secret diaries, Heaven Nightclub, one of the first openly gay clubs in the world, and the Houses of Parliament, where LGBTQ+ rights have been expanded slowly but surely over the past 50 years.
Whilst I loved the programme as a whole, I was disappointed that it only included one lesbian-specific building was featured as opposed to six, which specifically dealt with gay or bi men.
Actor Rupert Everett explores how life for the LGBTQ+ community has changed since male homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales; meeting LGBTQ+ people across Britain from the lesbian community of Hebden Bridge to former royal butler Paul Burrell who is getting married to his partner Graham, and even those who helped to prosecute gay men like former policeman, Roger.
In the documentary, Everett considers whether the LGBTQ+ community has essentially lost its queerness, in this march towards acceptance for our committee. However, I’ll take increased acceptance and human rights over being ‘edgy’. If I want to be edgy, I’ll get a facial tattoo, thanks.
While watching this, it’s worth taking into consideration, that Everett has a history of making controversial statements about the LGBTQ+ community, like advising parents against letting trans children have gender confirmation surgery, speaking against same-sex parenting and advising gay actors to stay in the closet.
Overall, I really enjoyed the season but it would have been nice to see some further diversity over the people featured; although, I do appreciate that the 50 Shades of Gay Season was commemorating the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in Britain and that law primarily affected MLM rather than WLW or trans people.
For those interested in watching the programmes, I’ve included the links to the All4 player (Channel 4’s online streaming service) in the programme titles. These may not be available to people outside of the UK, but if you know of a way to view them regardless, that’s none of my business 😉
All4 has also re-released other LGBTQ+ shows like Queer as Folk, Sugar Rush, Cucumber, Banana, and Muslim Drag Queens.
If you’ve caught any of the programmes, please let me know in the comments what you thought about them.
A Brit Queer: Has the UK’s Acceptance of the LGBTQ+ Community Gone Backwards?
Hello and welcome to the latest column of A Brit Queer, where I will be discussing how accepting the UK is towards LGBTQ+ people, why it matters, and what you – yes, you – can do about it.
When I was a little queer kid, just poking her head out of the closet, I was soooo grateful that I lived in the UK; where we might not have equal marriage yet (that didn’t come until 2013) but we also weren’t executing or imprisoning gay people. After all, things could only get better, right?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still grateful not to live in one of the 71 countries where being LGBTQ+ carries the f*ucking death sentence but I understand now that there is not some linear track towards full equality that every country in the world in on, just at different stations. In fact, acceptance and equality can recede faster than it was achieved.
Lord Brian Paddick spoke to UK human rights charity RightsInfo about LGBTQ+ acceptance, earlier this month, and assessed that in some parts of the country it is as bad as in the American Bible Belt.
The Liberal Democrat life peer said: “It’s very easy, if you live in a large metropolitan area and you have a liberal network of friends, you think everything is fine. [But] go to the North of England, or to North Wales, you’ll find attitudes that are more akin to the Mid-West states.”
Now, I can’t speak for the North of England or North Wales but I have been worried about LGBTQ+ acceptance in Britain for a while now for a few reasons:
Brexit: When the UK officially withdraws the European Union, they have the right to get rid of any EU laws (including the ones that protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination) that they wish.
The DUP: As a result of the hung parliament in June’s elections, which I talk about in greater detail here, the Conservatives have sought the support of the anti-LGBTQ+ Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in order to run the country.
Jacob Rees-Mogg: Full confession, I’m not happy with the job that the Conservative Party are doing in Britain but I do recognise that there are some who are worse than others. JRM, who might run for leader of the Conservatives (and become Prime Minister) if Theresa May resigns, has some pretty regressive views on LGBTQ+ rights among other things. In fact, one fellow MP dubbed him “Minister for the Nineteenth Century”.
Hate Crimes: Earlier this year, there was a horrific hate crime against five lesbians at a pub not far from my house and when the police got there, they let the attackers go.
Paddick, the former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police (the highest-ranking openly gay police officer at the time) noted that the police force’s attitude towards LGBTQ+ people has regressed in the past ten years.
This is especially worrying given the horrific 78% spike in hate crimes against our community in the past four years. According to research from LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall, the proportion of LGBTQ+ people who have experienced a hate crime is up from around 9% in 2013 to 16% in 2017.
In the past 12 months, 21% of all LGBTQ+ people have been the victims of a hate crime, with numbers rising sharply for trans people (41%) and people of colour (34%).
The study also found that around 80% of these hate crimes are not being reported to police, but if the police attitude towards LGBTQ+ people has regressed, is it any wonder that no one wants to report hate crimes to them?
Paddick said: “There are lots of rights about protecting LGBTQ+ people – it’s enshrined in law. But it’s changing people’s attitudes that is the real difficulty… Whatever the rights are, the facts prove the rights are not being enforced.”
What can you do?
Stonewall has now launched its Come Out for LGBT campaign to encourage people to report hate crimes and show support for those who have experienced a hate crime.
Stonewall’s Chief Executive, Ruth Hunt, said: “This report warns against complacency, and stands as a call to action for everyone who supports equality. We now need to work together, to bring forward the day when no individual faces hatred or discrimination simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity…Together we can create a world where LGBTQ+ people are accepted without exception.”
If you want to support LGBTQ+ people in the UK (and really, around the world) here are some good starting points:
- Tweet your support of the community using the hashtag #ComeOutForLGBT
- Call out abuse and discrimination when it is safe to do so (if you don’t feel safe intervening, you can report online comments, call the police, write to your MP, or contact your local council depending on the type of discrimination that you witness)
- Don’t patronise anti-LGBTQ+ businesses but make sure to tell them why
- Make a donation to an LGBTQ+ charity like the Albert Kennedy Trust (which provides a safe place to sleep for homeless LGBTQ+ youth) or MindOut (which focuses on LGBTQ+ mental health)
So what do you think about the UK’s acceptance of the LGBTQ+ people? Do you think it’s better or worse than 10 years ago? Do you have any other tips for supporting our community? Let me know in the comments below.
A Brit Queer: Why We Must Preserve LGBTQ+ Historical Sites in England
Hello and welcome to the latest A Brit Queer column, where I’ll be discussing the importance of preserving LGBTQ+ historical sites and showcasing some of the best not-yet-recognised sites across England.
Currently, there are over 500,000 listed buildings in England, divided into three separate categories: Grade I (2.5%), Grade II (5.8%), and Grade III (91.7%). Any modifications to listed buildings may require special permission from the local planning agency and Historic England before changes are made or the owner risks prosecution.
This prevents the destruction of important historic sites and preserves English history for future generations.
The Blue Plaque scheme, which only runs in London , marks buildings that have historical significance but doesn’t offer legal protection from modification or demolition. It can, however, raise awareness of the building’s historical significance and encourage legal protection at a later date.
Why is it important to preserve LGBTQ+ sites?
There are always people who will try to tell you that identifying as LGBTQ+ is something new- as if millennials invented it- or that it only happened in big metropolitan places like London.
The truth is that queer people have existed since the first humans evolved from apes and we will exist until humanity itself dies out; we have lived in London and Manchester but we have also lived in Fareham and Ormskirk. By preserving LGBTQ+ places of historical significance, we can prove it.
Most importantly though, the history of English queer people is the history of England. By allowing bigots to straight-wash or cis-wash history and force our queer ancestors back into the closet, we are giving them the license to rewrite history.
Who is working to preserve these places?
The Pride of Place project, which I first heard about at Bristol Pride 2016, is dedicated to uncovering and celebrating places of LGBTQ heritage in England from the secluded meeting places of Kings and their male lovers to gay clubs that are still important to our community today.
It’s part of Historic England’s commitment to studying the histories and lives of marginalised peoples whose stories are often overlooked (or erased). For LGBTQ+ people, this is a result of the way their identities have been treated at various times in the past (and today) as criminal acts, sins, and medical problems.
Pride of Place will also nominate buildings with LGBTQ histories for local heritage listings and for inclusion on the National Heritage List for England (NHLE). For buildings with LGBTQ+ histories already on NHLE, Pride of Place will endeavour to amend the listing to include their queer history.
What places are currently preserved by Historic England?
There are many sites listed on Historic England that are associated with LGBTQ+ people but were not given historical significance on that merit, including:
- several castles once lived in by King Edward II who had two documented relationships with men
- Chiswick House, home to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire whose “romantic female friendships” went far beyond what was expected at the time
- Farleigh Hungerford Castle owned by Walter Hungerford, the first man to be executed under the 1533 Buggery Act
- Walmer Castle, where William Lygon, 7th Earl of Beauchamp, held “lavish homosexual parties”
Many more places relating to LGBTQ+ history are listed under the Blue Plaque scheme, including the former houses of Oscar Wilde, Freddie Mercury, Alan Turing, EM Forster, Siegfried Sassoon, Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West among others, and the former headquarters of the Bloomsbury Group, an Edwardian precursor to the gay liberation movement.
However, as noted earlier, the Blue Plaque does not provide legal protection to these properties.
What are some of the most important places IMO that are not yet preserved?
I believe that it is important to recognise important places LGBTQ+ history that are not related to specific people because while individuals are important, I would argue that the places where the gay rights movement began deserve more protection:
- Shakespeare’s Head pub, Carnaby Street, London: Where the Minorities Research Group (MRG) was set up in 1963 to unite lesbians and challenge negative stereotypes.
- 3 Robert Street, Atherton, Manchester: Where the Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) was originally formed as the North-Western Committee for Homosexual Law Reform (NWCHLR) in 1964
- Middle Earth nightclub, 43 King Street, Covent Garden, London: Where the UK Gay Liberation Front (GLF) was forced to move to in 1971 after the London School of Economics kicked them out
- Oxford Street, London: Location of England’s first Gay Pride parade in 1972
So what do you think about preserving LGBTQ+ historical sites? Which ones should be preserved in your opinion? Let me know in the comments below.
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