NEW YORK LIVE

Bagels, new friends and “54”

On Friday 20 October Macquarie banking group hosted a high tea with a twist for members of Opening Doors London.

As part of the afternoon ODL members had a video conference with counterparts at older LGBT organisation SAGE in New York City.

SAGE has been in existence since 1978 and has grown into an impressive resource for older lesbians, gay men, bisexual and trans people. There’s a Centre in mid-town Manhattan which provides physical and mental health support, advice, regular film screenings, classes, speakers and events. Also, SAGE serves a healthy, inexpensive hot dinner to over 100 people every weeknight.

I was very pleased to be asked to chair the meeting as I’m a born-and-raised native New Yorker! As I sat with my ODL colleagues and friends in London, which has long been the city of my heart, I enjoyed observing the temperamental and linguistic differences between the two groups. Of course there was much communality as well, especially between the political activists in both countries.

What with a 5 hour time gap, our newfound SAGE friends were enjoying a bagel brunch while we tucked into classic English finger sandwiches and mini scones for afternoon tea!

Once we settled into the meeting the level of concentration on both sides of the Atlantic was intense. It was clear that we were all very interested in those from the other side of The Pond and we sharing ideas, experiences and jokes and could have gone on far longer.

Participants reflected upon their lives and the LGBT community past and present as well as commenting on current political climates. Here in London we were initially puzzled when the New Yorkers started referring to someone they called “45”…until we realised that no one wanted to even give voice to Donald Trump’s name!

On behalf of everyone who experienced the day I’d like to thank the lovely international staff at Macquarie for the experience as well as their hospitality.

Alan talks about his role in “Growing up illegally gay” – short film

This year is the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. Gay men of my age therefore experienced life before the 1967 Act and immediately afterwards. For many, including myself, life was not easy.

Riyadh Khalaf, who made the Queer Britain programmes for television, invited four ODL members to be interviewed by him to talk about our lives at that time. From these interviews, Khalaf produced ‘I am…’, a YouTube video. The 21-minute film was premiered at the Buffer Festival in Toronto and I was fortunate enough to attend.

Watching the film on the big screen at the Buffer Festival was amazing and it received tremendous applause and cheers from the 100 or more attendees. Afterwards, I had numerous people come up to me to say how good it was and how emotional they found it. People were in tears – including me!

Riyadh invited me to join him on the Red Carpet event afterwards and I had dozens of people thank me for sharing my story. I felt privileged to experience the amazing effect it had on people. At the Gala Award ceremony on the final night of the Festival, I had others come up to me saying the same. Sadly, it didn’t win any awards but many said it should have done. He’s done an amazing job.

The film has now gone worldwide on YouTube and has already achieved more than 36,000 views and over 460 comments, 97% of which are positive. Like the many who’ve already watched it, I’m sure you’ll find it emotional and enjoyable. It provides a good insight into how things were not that number of years ago. Even though things have moved on, there’s still a lot to do since many homophobes are still amongst us and wish us ill will.

Alan Martin

Donor Administrator

If you’d like to view the film see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4WkGzkP5O4

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Opening Doors London breaks new ground in tackling the issues that matter most to older LGBT* people

What happens when you bring older LGBT* people together with health and social care services, housing providers, trading standards, voluntary sector organisations and charities, carers organisations, places of worship, and social clubs to discuss the needs of older LGBT* people?

The City Bridge Trust, a leading funder and grant giver, has commissioned Opening Doors London to facilitate a number of large events in boroughs across London to explore – and agree – how services can better serve older LGBT* people.

Older LGBT* people are diverse; they bring energy and a cultural richness to the communities in which they live. They have a range of clinical, social and personal needs. These might be ones associated with getting older such as dementia, poor general health and disability. The experience of these challenges might be complicated by LGBT* related discrimination as well as social factors such loneliness and poverty.

It is well documented that some LGBT* older people struggle to navigate systems, such as specialist mental health agencies, GPs and hospitals. Work is needed to ensure that they are accessible and appropriate. For example, recent research from King’s College, London reported that LGBT patients in the final stages of palliative care and their partners were often treated insensitively; their relationships were overlooked; their needs unrecognised.

The events present an opportunity for a range of organisations to discuss important questions: How do we meet the needs of older LGBT* people? What could services do better? What do services do well that others could copy? How might services work better together? How will we know when services are doing well? How can we unlock resources?

Camden, Islington and Haringey have already signed up to work host three large events, one in each borough, to take place in the autumn. We are in discussion with 4 others. The points raised at the events will influence services for older LGBT* people. Participants will commit to taking on ideas and implementing them. The lessons learnt from these events will have wider application in across the UK.

If you have any questions, please contact David Woodhead on info@openingdoorslondon.org.uk

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What so important about 1967?

This year the LGBT* community is celebrating the passing of the Sexual Offences Act, which partially decriminalised male homosexuality. There are a large number of events across the country, it will be a central focus of Pride in July, and Opening Doors London is contributing with an exciting programme of events under the heading of ODL50. Yet the 1967 Act was very limited in its immediate impact, and for many lesbians and gays little changed in the immediate aftermath. Are we over-hyping its importance?

It took a long time to get to 1967. Oscar Wilde had spoken of the ‘monstrous martyrdoms’ caused by the notorious Labouchere Amendment of 1885, which created the offence of ‘gross indecency’ and made all forms of male homosexuality illegal, whether in public or private.(It did not refer to lesbians and attempts to include them failed). This became the main vehicle for criminalizing homosexuality, and became widely known as the ‘Blackmailers’ Charter’. Thousands of men were to suffer the direct impact, and many more had to live under its shadow. Reformers knew it had to go but it was a long and tortuous road to get there. The Wolfenden Report in 1957 had suggested a modest decriminalisation, but it took another ten years before the Sexual Offences Act passed through Parliament.

The reform was largely a parliamentary drama. There was no great mobilisation of queers to push it through (after all, we were all illegal). The Homosexual Law Reform Society which campaigned for reform was ostensibly a pressure group of the great and the good, and while most of the work was done by gay people, led by Antony Grey, discretion was inevitably the rule. The law as it passed in July 1967 reflected the compromises that had to be made. It was extremely limited in its scope: male homosexuality in private was partially decriminalised for men over 21, in England and Wales only (Scotland and Northern Ireland had to wait until 1980 and 1982), as long as there were no more than two people in the house, and they were not in the Armed Services or the Merchant Navy. Homosexuality as such was not legalised as a court decision soon made clear, and the number of prosecutions for homosexuality in public actually increased fourfold in the succeeding years. It had no impact on lesbian life whatsoever, while the growth of facilities such as clubs and meeting places was discouraged. So it was hardly a great moment of liberation and it would take another forty years for full legal equality to be achieved.

And yet, in retrospect, its importance was enormous. It was the first crack in the huge fortress of homophobia, and it had a vital symbolic importance. After 1967 queer people began to act as if they had greater rights than they actually did. It gave a new sense of confidence to LGBT* people, and modest reforms was soon followed from 1970 by the rapid growth of the gay liberation movement and new reform organisations, of, for and by LGBT* people. There were years of struggle ahead though AIDS, new waves of setbacks such as Section 28, and continuous discrimination and homophobia before a new wave of reform began in the late 1990s. Today the rights and recognition of LGBT* people are dramatically different from what they were in the so-called liberated 1960s. Members of ODL are part of the generation that made those changes, and have benefited from them. We live in a different world.

But every movement for change has small beginnings, and from the perspective of the present we can see that the 1967 reform was a crucial breakthrough. Yes we are right to mark it, and to celebrate at the same time how far we have come beyond it.

Jeffrey Weeks
Chair of ODL