Celebrating LGBT History Month!

This February we are highlighting the voices of those who have made LGBT+ history – our members!

Throughout the month we’ll be sharing the often underrepresented stories of LGBT+ people over 50 through their own experiences. We kick off the month by hearing Jo’s story in this short film made by Emily Mcdonald:

Follow this blog and our social media this months to hear first-hand accounts of living and making LGBT+ history!

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Marguerite’s story continues…

The following text is an excerpt from the upcoming oral history ‘from a whisper to a roar’. The project is led by Evelyn Pittman on behalf of ODL, to explore the stories of lesbians, bisexual women, and trans women.

…there was a group of women who had written for Pride in 1974, June 74′, a kind of musical. Well it was a musical about like one every woman, every dyke, moving to the city from a small place in the country and the trials and tribulations of coming out and learning where everything was and, you know, where to be, and learning about the political organisation. They had written music – they had musicians, they had cast the play, but they had real trouble finding someone to coordinate and direct it.

I’d been out for what felt like 10 minutes, but I found myself with the first ever three act lesbian feminist musical in history. It was good, it was funny and, I was literally terrified to direct the love scenes because I felt so inexperienced.

Coming out a second time at 22 I felt like I had been catapulted back into a second adolescence when I had barely been out first and although obviously affairs of the heart and affairs of the body are not all that different, but they were different enough that really my world was upside down and, I used to say ‘Oh I have to direct the love scenes privately with the two women involved’ rather than in front of all the rest of the cast and crew that were busy building sets and rehearsing music and learning their lines and whatever. It wasn’t for the protection of the two leads in the play. It was because I felt exposed.

So I went from being brand new on the scene to quite literally being very much in the public eye, because the director is the one person in the middle of all the rest of it and it was a huge success. We turned the GAA Fire House into a theatre because we couldn’t find anywhere that would allow us to perform so, we decided, we fought, we went to this Gay Activist Alliance meeting and argued passionately for enough money to bring in some rigged seating and a stage because of course all of that stuff is available, you could hire all of that stuff, to hire a lighting rig, to hang it, literally turn the place into a theatre. And it was sold out for the two weeks that we ran it.

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three small words

You see I came out rather late in life – just over seven years ago when I was fifty-three. But when you meet a man and you fall head over heels in love with him – you’ve got to tell everyone.

And that included my son. You see, I’d been married before. My wife and I had been divorced for over eight years by then. My son was eighteen and he’d just started at university.

So, I went off to tell him in person. And I was terrified. All I had to say were three small words: “I am gay”. But I couldn’t. Actually, the conversation went something like this:

“I’ve met someone. And it’s a man.”

So he looks at me. And then he says, “You mean, you’re gay?”

And, I still couldn’t say those three small words, so I sort of nodded.

Then he pauses, and he says: “Do you love him?” And I said, yes.

So he says, “That’s OK then.”

And it was all fine. Then, just before I was leaving, he turns to me and says, “Love you dad.”

Three small words. They mean so much.

By David Dawson

www.davidcdawson.co.uk

Twitter: @david_c_dawson

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Marguerite’s story

The following text is an excerpt from the upcoming oral history project ‘from a whisper to a roar’. The project is led by Evelyn Pittman on behalf of ODL, to explore the stories of lesbians, bisexual women, and trans women.

…I started reading lots of things like D H Lawrence and the whole belief of …things like, like Women in Love was a real influence for me in that era.  Of thinking how cool would it be if you could be bisexual and if you could relate to whoever was someone whose struck your fancy and who was kind of right for you in terms of how they could enhance your life and how you could enhance theirs but the right girl never came along. One of my very close friends at the time, she and I used to talk about it but I think there was a small phase where I might have experimented with her but she wasn’t into it.  There was a time when I think she was more open to it and I wasn’t into it.

I ended up, because of my travelling, meeting a guy in Greece who was gorgeous and everyone was saying.  At this point I was, what, 20 and I had this wild and romantic transatlantic relationship and stuff for 2 years. So at 22 everyone’s saying to me, ‘course you are going to marry him, marry him! , you’re crazy, what are you waiting for, what are you looking for, we love him, he’s great, he’s handsome.’  Ultimately because he had two spinster aunts (this is the way we thought of them) he was going to come into quite significant money. He worked for an airline which meant that we could go anywhere for nothing.  People kept saying, ‘you’re crazy, you’re crazy, you’re crazy’ and I kept saying ‘but there is something else’.

I suppose because I was a fairly academically inclined young woman I thought of it as, you know, this thing that everyone talked about – finding yourself. So I thought, well, there must be something I still need to find because, why am I reluctant? You know, what people are saying to me I can relate to: I am crazy. What else do I want? I really didn’t know, because the whole possibility of bisexuality or relating to women had just kind of been buried or put aside or lost track of or whatever until I met a woman that I did fancy.

She was a friend from University. We were both working in theatre in New York at the time which again was very exciting and I was one of the first people as a friend that she came out to. She had had feelings about women her whole life and finally was being able to come out to herself and therefore come out again more generally or widely or whatever. I felt very supportive towards her and ended up falling in love with her. I also ended up falling in love with the lesbian scene in New York because what happened was I said to her ‘well it’ll be really hard to go alone to any of these places: bars or women’s discos or whatever, I’ll go with you’. But very rapidly I knew that there was a type of excitement in me at the prospect of going for a drink with these women or there were always various sport things that you could do because America is so sporty.

There was a regular volley ball game in one of the primary schools in Greenwich Village where a group of lesbians were hiring a hall, for anyone who fancied what they would call a pick up game – not an official team, just anyone who turned up. I was loving playing volley ball with these women and then going for a drink afterwards. I did have to say to myself, you really have to address this because you really are very powerfully motivated to be going to these places and getting to know these women more. Yet I still had my Greek lover and that was beginning to unravel because I was beginning to get restless with his expectations. He was also beginning to get restless with my idea that once I finished University I was wanting to go to do a post graduate degree. He was saying ‘no, we should be planning our wedding’ and then, you know, him thinking ‘oh yes and then there will be children and then it will be this’. For me it was like no, no, no, no, no, and I began to feel very trapped in all of this. So, yes, that was my turning point and I split up with him.

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A STING IN THE TAIL

An excerpt from a forthcoming book

There was bound to be a backlash. By 1985 tabloid hysteria was in full flow denouncing ‘The Gay Plague’ and writing that the gay community was getting its just desserts for its permissiveness. Many gay people went back into the closet or kept a low profile, whilst others became ever more militant and strident. All this seemed to be a parallel universe to mine tucked away running a former coaching inn in a small quaint country village, and although we had experienced some hostility and veiled homophobia, it never occurred to us that we would be subject to anything worse. Reality was about to catch up with us.

We were quietly having dinner with our London friend Nazar, when our feisty no-sense barmaid came upstairs to find us, looking seriously worried.

‘We’ve got trouble brewing,’ she said, ‘there are about a dozen lads from Churlston in the pub.’

I looked at Karen blankly.

‘But last week you were brilliant at defusing that scuffle in the pub.’

‘This is in a different league,’ Karen replied. ‘We’ve got to ease them out before they wreck the pub.’ Horrified, we followed her downstairs, and the atmosphere in the pub was like a tinder-box waiting for a spark. One of the Churlston lads came to the bar with a three-quarter empty glass with a cigarette butt in it.

‘It was like that when I bought it,’ he said defiantly.

‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ I countered, ‘you’d have noticed it right away.’

‘You calling me a liar,’ he replied malevolently. Karen suddenly pushed past me and slapped a clean glass on the bar with a couple of inches of fresh beer in it. He turned and walked back to his friends.

‘We’ve got to get them out,’ Karen said desperately.

Michael could charm the birds out of the trees and so he volunteered for the job. The atmosphere in the pub started to calm down and they agreed to move on. As they were being slowly edged out, one of the Ruddlecombe lads, a big beefy bodybuilder who was sitting by the door with his girlfriend turned and said,

‘You OK there Michael, do you want a hand?’

‘Who’s he,’ one of the Churlston lads retorted, ‘your fucking minder?’

All hell broke loose, and the four of us, Michael, Nazar, Leo and I decided the best tactic was to heave the scrapping melee of bodies out on to the pavement in front of the pub. I caught Karen’s eye and nodded and she picked up the phone to ring the police.

To my surprise, I had one of the Churlston lads pinned down on the ground when the police arrived.

‘You’ve broken me gold chain,’ he said, ‘me girlfriend gave me that.’

‘Well, she can’t think much of you, judging by the green mark around your neck,’ I replied. Not true of course, but it just had to be said.

Everyone was separated, as the police started their interviews and as chance would have it, I was interviewed by Police-Woman Bowman.

‘Have you seen the notice on the door? I said weakly. ‘No Leathers, No Motorbikes,’ my voice trailed off.

‘Not much good against this lot,’ she replied.

‘Sorry?’ I said.

‘This is the Churlston boys’ idea of a good night out. You were lucky they didn’t break up your pub.’ I felt a huge wave of relief wash over me.

‘Of course, Sgt. Drennan will have to know about this, but it won’t count against you,’ she continued. ‘So, Leo Calder is working for you now?’ she added. ‘Not good.’ She moved off leaving me gasping.

‘You’re all banned!’ Michael shouted after them as they crossed the road to the carpark.

‘You fucking queers!’ someone responded, as another shouted, ‘we don’t want to come into your pub again and catch AIDS.’ More cat calls and AIDs-related abuse followed. I was just relieved that the immediate crisis had been averted but was unsettled by Police-Woman Bowman’s reference to Leo.

The following morning, with no Leo, I was up early getting the bar ready to open when Michael came downstairs in an agitated state.

‘Have you seen the road?’ he said.

‘The road?’ I replied, and he beckoned me over to the window. Immediately outside the pub. In four feet high letters was painted

‘You deserve to die’, followed by skull and crossbones.

‘Shit,’ I replied, ‘we’ve got to act fast before our lunch time business. I’ll ring the Highways Department and get it blacked out, you ring the police.’ The team from the Highways Department arrived half an hour later, and had already started when a policeman neither of them knew came into the pub.

‘I expect you know who did this,’ he said. ‘I’ve heard about last night. What do you want to do?’

‘We just wanted you to see it, and to have it logged,’ Michael replied. ‘We don’t want to take any further action because if it gets in the papers, we’ll have every nutter in a twenty-mile radius come and have a go at us.’

‘Very wise,’ the policeman replied. ‘If you get any more trouble like this let us know.’

‘We will, ‘I said as he shook hands with us and turned to walk out.

 

Michael put a chalkboard sign outside the pub by the road that read:

‘Bar Staff Wanted,’ but by the end of the day it had been changed to ‘Young Boys Wanted.’

 

By Richard Jackson

www.thegardenvisitor.co.uk

 

Twitter: @thegdnvisitor

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Patrick’s Story

I was working in a community centre in 1980 when I saw a poster about a gay and lesbian teenage group in Holloway, North London. So I went to Manor Gardens where the group was held on Tuesdays and Sundays. Because I was in the closet I couldn’t tell any of my friends about where I was. I was so scared that they would find out that I was gay.

I went to the group mostly on Sundays. I was a bit scared but when I went to the group everyone was so friendly and made me feel welcome. The only gay people I saw at the time was a few camp men on TV, so to meet real people like me I found we had a lot of things to talk about. Lots of us were not out to our families and friends.

The first gay bar I went to was the Black Cap in Camden. There was 10 of us who went to the Black Cap, where we had to show our ID’s to the doorman. The first time I went it was like I was in a different world. That’s where I saw my first drag show, starring Phil Star.

It opened up my eyes to the gay world. I made a lot of friends from the group and also got to know the managers at Black Cap: Babs and Tom. They used to give away free drinks. I became a regular at the Black Cap.

And then one guy took me to the London Lesbian and Gay centre. I saw a poster looking for volunteers on Friday evenings for a Disco Night. So I volunteered on the door and behind the bar, and it was a great time!

I was also involved with Protests on section 28. One time in 1987, I was on TV in a debate on clause 28.

At the time there was a lot of queer bashing and I was attacked for being gay, coming out of a gay club. I reported it to the police although they were not very friendly.

That’s my part of LGBTQ+ history.

By Patrick Caffrey

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Adrian’s Story

 

At the age of 90 (almost) I have lived through the entire period of transition from the time we were all regarded as either freaks or criminals or both, to the time of private clubs in the West End with their riotous entertainments as well as the “pretty policemen” entrapments which were often waiting outside.

I worked as a director in television (over 1000 programmes of one sort or another), and had gone in to this profession – both BBC and Commercial – expecting to find free-thinking unprejudiced souls working there. To my disappointment I found much of the administrative staff very suburban, pursed-lipped and strait-laced. So there were a few askance looks when I proposed for the Good Afternoon programme broadcast by Thames Television in the seventies (an early afternoon chat show watched mostly by ladies at home) that we should put out, as a change from the cake-making (early Mary Berry appearances), medical remedies and chats with the stars, a programme entitled boldly:  “What would you do if one of your children turned out to be gay? No, YOU. Not the woman next door?”

Well the programme was rather a success with the main interview (conducted by Judith Chalmers) with a wonderful motherly woman named Rose Robinson whose adjuration was: “Do nothing. Accept them as they are. You love them just as much as you do the others, don’t you, so let them get on with what is natural to them, and support them wherever you can.”

Then there were interviews with a few specimen teenagers, men and women – mostly women, as I remember. There were never any calls of complaint, I am pleased to say, but when, flushed with success, I proposed we might invite as guest for his own programme the very striking Quentin Crisp (The Naked Civil Servant), there were a few murmurs among the studio staff about this man with outrageously-waved blue hair being interviewed by Mavis Nicholson.

Incidentally several years later (in fact 1987) when I was in New York (to pick up an EMMY Award for a drama programme may I modestly say?) I was told by a friend who lived there that Mr. Crisp, now resident in New York, liked to take tea with visiting sympathisers.  So we rang him up, invited him out to tea, and passed a hilarious couple of hours with him in a Lower East Side Café. I remember him saying, referring to someone, that “it was a triumph of never mind over doesn’t matter.”