British singer Tom Robinson rose to fame in the late 70’s, in part as a result of his song (Sing If You’re) Glad to be Gay. With a title as assertive and unambiguous as that, it was little surprise that both he and his song were embraced by gays and lesbians everywhere.
And Robinson himself was also outspoken about his sexuality and sexual politics. In 1979, for example, he performed Glad to be Gay at The Secret Policeman’s Ball – the annual Amnesty International Benefit in London (below). At that time, Amnesty didn’t take on the cases of people persecuted because of their sexual orientation. So Robinson added a new verse, referring to the case of a British gay man who had been sentenced to two years imprisonment for having sex with his 18-year old partner.
For many people – myself included – he was the inspiration to come out. Indeed, for me he was quite the hero; at one point I was so obsessed with him some of my friends actually started calling me ‘Tom’ (jokingly, I hasten to add) or asking me what Tom would think about a particular issue!
But sexual politics wasn’t his only interest area; he was also involved in – and wrote songs about – other issues such as anti-racism, anti-war and human rights. For example, War Baby was a song that achieved much greater chart success than Glad to be Gay (possibly due to the fact that the latter had been banned by the BBC). Nonetheless, he remained firmly fixed in the public eye as a gay icon.
So when it emerged that, some time in the early 80’s, he had met and subsequently married a woman the shock waves began to roll out.
In many ways the reactions were predictable. Some people in the gay community felt betrayed (Robinson was booed when he appeared at London Pride in 1987, for example). In their eyes he’d signed up for the other team.
It wasn’t helped by the inane crowing of a homophobic media. The Sunday People, for example, had declared, “Britain’s Number One Gay in Love with Girl Biker!”. Even The Independent had run an article headlined “Glad Not to be Gay”.
It was a case of our own insecurities being inflamed by media misreporting.
It seems that Robinson has spent the intervening period trying to put the the true picture across. He’s blogged, given interviews and even written songs to tell people that there’s more to sexuality than a simple homosexual/heterosexual divide. In 1996 he added a new verse to Glad to be Gay:
Well if gay liberation means freedom for all, a label is no liberation at all. I’m here and I’m queer and I do what I do. I’m not going to wear a straightjacket for you.
It’s interesting to note how the anger – targeted at straight society in the original – is now also being directed at some of our own community.
In one of his interviews Robinson described himself as “a gay man who happens to be in love with a woman.” In a Radio 4 programme on bisexuality he said:
I love my partner and kids more than anything in the world, but I’m still gay, glad and queer as a bottle of chips.
No one ever stopped being homosexual by sleeping with a member of the opposite sex. It’s just that the boyfriend of my dreams turned out, most inconveniently, to be a woman.
Now that our community is adopting the ever-expanding acronym of LGBTIQ (etc) perhaps this means that we’ll never again see the need for individuals to explain their sexuality.
Or perhaps Tom now needs to write Sing If You’re Glad to be LGBTIQ…