2017 marks 50 years of partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales following the publication of the Sexual Offences Act 1967. As a gay man who is 50 next year, I have seen how this important first step has lead to a succession of changes making it more easy for me and others in the LGBT community to live an authentic life.
The road to towards equality has not been smooth however. An unequal age of consent being 16 for heterosexuals and at first 21 then 18 for homosexuals had a direct impact on me and my husband as we first met at college at the age of 18 in 1987 and our love was in effect seen by society as an illegal act. We had to be cautious about how open we were only being authentic with our closest friends and with or families when we came out. Looking back there was much about the 1980s that was pretty bleak. Section 28 was enacted preventing ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools making it difficult for teachers and staff to provide the support needed to children struggling with their sexuality and being the brunt of bullying behaviour. My memories of sex education are not at all positive as it was completley focussed on hetero-normative narratives with any (pre Section 28) gay content being seen as a ‘novelty’ and being subject to ridicule by fellow classmates. There was little focus on love or respect but a lot about biology! Then of course there was the AIDS epidemic and the fear and panic that this caused with gay men being seen as part of the problem rather than victims needing help and support. The goverment tombstone adverts were horryifying and for a young gay man in their teens the equivalent of bromine in your tea. Thankfully in the 1990s and 2000s things have moved forward with legal protection at work, legal rights regarding access to goods and services without discrimination, the right to have our relationship recognised through civil partnership and the right to have that then converted and back dated to a marriage. Retrospective pardons for those prosecuted for homosexual acts prior to decriminalisation is one of the latest acheivements. There is still much to do as we are surrounded by subliminal hetero-normative information in terms of advertising, films and tv, newspaper articles but thankfully LGBT characters are now appearing in mainstream programmes and media including advertising.
LGBT visibility is so important and not just in relation to today but also in relation to people and places throughout history. I was so glad to see that Historic England and the National Trust have both taken the opportunity to promote LGBT links to their properties and places as part of the 2017 celebrations of partial decriminalisation. As a boy and young man there were few contemporary gay role models and those that there were were largely stereotypes portrayed for laughs (laughed at or laughed with was not always clear). There were certainly few if any real historical role models other than Alexander the Great and the ancient Greeks (often with a focus on pederasty) and Edward II and his unfortuate demise as the result of a red hot poker. So to now see more and more varied and interesting stories of LGBT lives, both current and historic, becoming known and part of the mainstream is a wonderful step forward for all society. I know that there will be some young person out their who will see a role model in the sports person, presenter, music artist, artist, novelist, scientist, doctor, garden designer, police constable vet or one of many thousands of jobs and professions and know that what ever they want to do they can acheive with there being no bar because of their gender or sexuality.
Take a look at the Historic England Pride of Place webpage https://historicengland.org.uk/research/inclusive-heritage/lgbtq-heritage-project/ and the National Trust https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/exploring-lgbtq-history-at-national-trust-places.
For the Isle of Wight there is a great story about John Seely (later Lord Mottistone) and his longterm professional and personal realtionship with Paul Paget with whom he ran a successful architectural practice. The Shack, at Mottistone Manor was a favourite place for them to spend weekends together. https://www.historypin.org/en/prideofplace/geo/50.827065,-1.551786,9/bounds/50.326486,-2.833066,51.322333,-0.270505/pin/1037264 and more information about their story can be found on the Brook Village History website http://www.brookvillagehistory.co.uk/index.php/people-main/reknowned-visitors-a-villagers/150-seely-and-paget
It seems fitting that in this celebratory year we will be holding our first IW Pride. I am so looking forward to what promises to be a brilliant day of fun and community cohesion around our strapline #Lovewins and to this becoming an annual event with many more fringe events taking place across the Island throughout the year.