‘Out in the City’ (of Nottingham) 1985

A Personal Take on Queer History

Hopefully I’ve explained the reason for this blog in the Home page. So this bit is essentially about what I did and where I was during the 80s by way of explanation as to the source of some of the material.

In a nutshell, I was extremely mobile during that period. Leicester, Nottingham, Manchester, London, San Francisco and Los Angeles, before finally ending up in Sydney, Australia.

It was a long journey on both a personal and geographic level – I get jet-lagged just thinking about it!

On January 1st 1980 I was, of necessity, a relatively closeted residential child care worker in Leicester, England. On December 31st 1989 I was poised to take on the management of a multimillion dollar HIV/AIDS services budget in Sydney, Australia. (It seemed like a good idea at the time!)

In the intervening period I was involved in a range of projects, campaigns and other activities.

From 1980 to 1986 I was involved with projects in the UK cities of Nottingham, Leicester, London and Manchester. These included the Labour Campaign for Gay Rights, Gay Welfare Workers, Lesbian and Gay Probation Officers, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, Terrence Higgins Trust, Nottingham Gay Switchboard and Leicester University Gay Society.

Gay East Midlands logoIn 1983 I set up Gay East Midlands magazine (GEM), partly as a local response to the demise of the national paper, Gay News. My work on GEM included writing about the emerging health crisis AIDS (so sensitively labelled ‘The Gay Plague’ by the Murdoch media) and this ultimately determined my career direction for the next 15 years.

Extract from AIDS Education leaflet, 'Can We Talk'.

Cartoon from a safe sex brochure produced by the Harvey Milk Gay Democratic Club, San Francisco, 1983

In 1983 I also visited San Francisco and had my first experience of an organised community response to what was still a mysterious and frightening disease.

I met Bobbi Campbell – self-styled ‘AIDS poster boy’ – and I brought home a mass of resources to apply to my work in the UK.

I was also undertaking a Masters Degree in Social Work at that time and, in 1984, chose to do my dissertation on ‘AIDS as a Social Work Issue‘.

Initially, my proposal was rejected by the Head of School – on the grounds that ‘AIDS was a medical issue, not a social work one’!

Unbelievable, I know, but I argued my case and won. I then had to tutor my tutor on AIDS so he could then tutor me on my dissertation!

On completion of my degree I gravitated to the emerging AIDS industry. Initially it was in a voluntary capacity with the Terrence Higgins Trust and Nottingham AIDS Information Project.


Comments

The Author — 20 Comments

  1. Impressive blog…full of rich history and an elegant personal (and international) perspective. A history we need to remember, reiterate and celebrate. This is very informative and adds a welcome tapestry to the diverse history. Excellent work Colin!

  2. Hey, Collin! I accidentally came across your blog by reading For Gay Chinese, Getting Married Means Getting Creative on the Atlantic. It is indeed quite a pleasant surprise. Your writing about your encounter with a Chinese gay back in 80s in the University of Leicester is impressively familiar to me. Over 30 years have passed, many things have changed for the better the LGBT community. Still, I am living in a closeted world, finding the shame and fear which came with my true identity unshakable. Anyway, the work you have done and the work you are doing now are quite encouaging to me. Keep up your good work. Many many thanks!

  3. Hello Collin!
    just wanted to say a massive thank you as reading this blog has been so extremely helpful as I’m studying The History Boys, by Alan Bennett at college and reading this has been really interesting and helpful! you should be really proud of what you’ve done!
    thanks again 🙂

  4. Nice to read the history. People often take an assumption that it was X that started – or maintained – gay rights movement or Y, and do not grasp that it was the steady accretion of effort over 48 and more years that did it. I joined the Homosexual Law Reform Society in 1965 as an 18-year-old, sending off one the very earleist cheques from my first chequebook, attended a meeting of the North West Homosexual Law Reform Society in Manchester in 1966 or 1967, wrote a letter to my student newspaper that resulted in a full doublepage spread in it on the subject of Homosexuality, all this before the 1967 Act was passed. Between 1965 and 1967 HLRS sent almost weekly bulletins on the passages (or not) of the Bills proposed by successively the Earl of Arran, Humphrey Berkeley MP – it cost him his Tory seat – and Leo Abse MP setting uot the blocking clauses put up by those hostile to the respective Bills. Few pay tribute now to Anthony Grey, the Secretary of the HLRS whose tireless work paved the way to the 1967 Act.

    In the wake of flower power, the Gay Liberation Front got started in the late 1960s/very early 1970s, and I went to a couple of the Powis Square meetings – packed and exciting! I protested at the prosecution of Louis Eaks, a leading Young Liberal, for being caught doing something he oughtn’t have in public. I took part in a Kiss-In on a tube train and a gay, rather noisy, pcinic in Hyde Park. Then I joined the Campaign for Homosexual Equality, a rather more out version of HLRS, later ridden with bureaucracy and held together (I suppose) by the memorable figure of the recently late Griffith Vaughan-Williams. CHE had some memorable conferences in the 1970s: Malvern, held in glorious weather, idyllic and unifying, Leeds – the very opposite, whatever the weather outside was; Southampton – halfway.

    In the mid 1970s I joined the then Gay Labour Group which had its leadership in Councillor John Gallagher (stepping down from Ealing Council this year), and spoke for them at a Labour Party Conference fringe meeting in a hotel meeting room with prissy little chairs with gilded legs. With a tiny but far from lacking in influence membership, it grew into the Labour Campaign for Gay Rights, then the Labour Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights and ultimately into LGBT Labour, having swung from the staid middle of centre to decidedly socialist wing and then back to an almost Progress-type middle of centre again, though the youth element of LGBT Labour will, I think, ensure it is not right wing.

    There is a faction in the gay rights movement that thinks it was OUTRAGE and Peter Tatchell that drove the movement that has led us to equal marriage now, and that mainstream Labour has nothing to do with it. I have a lot of time for Peter, but it would be rewriting history to give him or OUTRAGE all the credit, not least as marriage was not really quite what they wanted.

    In the 1980s I was part of the Association of London Authorities Lesbian and Gay Working Party supporting and cheerring on the Greater London Council Lesbian and Gay Working Party whose efforts produced Changing The World, a radical and farsighted vision of to what we should aspire. I attended and backed the London Lesbian & Gay Centre which sadly did not last as long as it should have. I was there in November 1984 at Rugby Town Hall when Chris Smith made his famous coming out speech. It is a sign of how things had changed that the protest meeting was because he Conservative-run local council had just abandoned a policy which outlawed discrimination on the grounds of sexuality; a decade earlier no such policy would have existed to be abandoned.

    I would say praise should be given to the quiet and dedicated work of thousands of HIV activists from the early years of the HIV crisis who gathered the respect of the “establishment”. Also people like Nigel Hawthorne whose death revealed the gross inequality of our inheritance tax laws such that even Blair accepted the need for change in his first Parliament by introducing the civil partnerships legislation.

    I’ve omitted Pride and Stonewall. I went on the third Pride – I may have watched the second – and many thereafter. At first I went in a two- or three-piece suit (dpeending on the weather) in order to show that gays were not just rolle-skating wearing drag or silver hot pants. Parade or Demonstration, Pride has played its part in revealing the sheer numbers who cared – walking down Piccadilly and from the Ritz looking back at the mass of humanity still to come is one of the great memories, far more important than whoever was performing on some stage. Stonewall I encountered very early on in a galley kitchen in – was it? – Tufnell Park, where there were Michael Cashman, Ian McKellen and Angela Mason. I shared a pole of one side of the Stonewall banner on one Pride with Angela holding the other pole; other activists eschewed carrying the cross of the banner, sensing quite rightly that it was very heavy in even a light breeze.

    I feel a bit like Zelig, being present at much though never really a key player. I was outside the House of Lords when the age of consent went through and again when the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act passed the Lords. I never thought I would be saying thankyou in person to the now ennobled John Selwyn Gummer and Norman Fowler for their votes, even though I knew it was Labour votes that saw the latter Act home, Tories having voted against the 3rd Reading in both Houses of Parliament. It was a pleasure also to thank Lord Alli and others whose support had been first class (including Ben Summerskill, now traduced more than deserves, whose careful weighing of what was possible made the Act come to fruition, Stonewall and LGBT Labour, assiduous lobbyists and whips).

    So after 8 years in this field, I wonder where next for the equalities movements? The churches will or not realise the follies of their ways. Africa may or not come to its senses. The USA may or not “get over it”.
    My instinct is there is more to do on the home front. School bullying is not beaten yet. And it remains exceptionally rare to see gay couples holding hands in public. The fact I saw this in the road next to mine a few days back gives me hope. Perhaps the last taboo.

    Sorry to have consumed so mcuh space. We may have met along the way, literally and metaphorically.

    • Thanks for your input Dan. I completely agree that we are at the point we are because of the input of thousands of people on all sorts of levels, in all sorts of places and over many years (at least as far back as the 19th century). And I’m also very much of the view that our future lies in our hands – not politicians or corporations who see us only as a commodity for the purpose of votes or profit. We’ve fought too long and too hard to put our rights in the hands of someone else. Colin

  5. Hi Colin

    Like the others I would like to say thanks so much for this comprehensive website. I have been quietly going about my business for the past 15 years since I came out and then suddenly the movie Pride landed and it has brought back so many memories. It has literally been a life changer.

    I’m a bit younger than you, born in 1975 and came out in 1999 so my experience was that of Joe in the film, albeit a little younger (I know he was not a real character). I grew up in exactly the same covert homophobic middle class situation as Joe and the most vivid memory from that time is watching the AIDS ads on TV and my brother making repulsive homophobic comments. The film in the scene is virtually word for word what happened in my childhood home. I felt like the most alone, scared child in the world.

    Things change, courage happens and, thanks to the people like you, the world, laws and attitudes change and I eventually came out in my final year of Uni. I will never have enough gratitude for you and your contemporaries who literally made the world a brighter place for me to live.

    I became confident, and in 2001 I started a (albeit short lived) Jewish Gay group in Manchester. As part of this new found confidence I had the first pro gay article published in a Jewish publication when the Jewish Telegraph wrote an article about the group in their paper.

    Times move on, my life has become one of happiness, comfort and contentment with little fear or anguish. I have a wonderful boyfriend, a great job where I am happily out, a lovely place to live in Manchester and some great friends. I cant believe how lucky I am.

    And just when I forget how difficult it all was, Pride brings it back to me in a huge dose! What an amazing film, what an amazing story and what an amazing journey we have been on.

    I’m interested to know if you feel the same, that sometimes you have to pinch yourself to remember how real, scary and rubbish things were back then.

    Anyway, I’ve taken up enough of your space here and I’m sure anyone reading will be bored by now.

    The main message I want to give is THANK YOU! To You and all in the 80s who worked so hard and courageously to make my life what it is today.

    Rob

    • Many thanks for your kind words Rob. But let me say that one of the aims of my blog is to point out that our history was/is made by individuals as well as organisations; small actions as well as large. And that includes your Jewish Gay Group, no matter how short-lived. Someone simply becoming aware of tha group can be a life-changing moment for them, irrespective of whether or not they joined it. At least they learned that gay Jews existed: visibility (or, more to the point, invisibilty) has always been a central issue in our history. Just putting your hand up – for however long – is such an important act.

      Glad you liked ‘Pride’ – it’s certainly having a huge impact.

      Colin

      • Hi Colin

        Thank you for your very kind reply.

        Someone who has known me for a few years has a child who has recently come out. They said to me that their reaction was totally different than it would have been had they not have known me. I was just going about my daily life and feel absolutely privileged that because of that, someone is going to have a better life than they would otherwise have done.

        Thanks again for keeping these memories alive!

        Rob

  6. Great blog and great read – well informed and accurate 🙂

    I think I remember you from the Bell days. I used to run the New Depression with Martin.

    Keep up the good work and more more more is all I can say!

  7. Hello .. I was wondering how I can secure a copy of the “play fair!” brochure you have on your website for research purposes.

    • I wish I knew, Ethan! The photos that are in my post were taken at an exhibition that I came across completely by accident. I used to have some of them but, foolishly, disposed of them and lots of other early AIDS education material more than a decade ago. It was a combination of burn out from too many years in the AIDS field (just wanted to distance myself from anything AIDS related) and a failure to recognise their historical importance at the time. The same is true of another key leaflet ‘Can We Talk?’. Used to have lots of them – but, sadly, no more. I could kick myself now. I think its unlikely that you’d be able to acquire your own copy now, as they’re probably both rare and valuable (at least from a historical sense).

      Not sure which part of the world you’re in (I’m guessing North America from your email address) but would suggest you contact a large AIDS organisation OR – if you’re in somewhere like San Francisco, LA or New York – maybe a public health department (or a University that runs public health courses). Good luck – and if you find anywhere that is willing to give away copies please let me know!
      Colin

  8. Hi,

    Great website – really informative.
    I am currently writing a history dissertation at the moment and was just wondering if it would be possible to get a bit of information from you. For a start, I was wondering where you managed to source the newspaper articles from?

    It would be great to talk to you more about your views on HIV and AIDS in the UK since the 1980s and whether you think perceptions have changed.

    Thanks

  9. Hello! I’m doing a major project in NSW, Australia on the impact social media has had on LGBTQA+ acceptance in Australia over time. In particular, I am looking at the social and political status of LGBTQA+ people in Australia during the 1980s, and then I was going to compare it to the early 2000s- now.
    I’ve read through your articles here on this website and I’m really, really blown away by all of this! However, I was wondering if it would be possible to interview you to ask more specific questions as a piece of qualitative research. It would be really helpful! I hope to hear back from you soon!

  10. I am always amazed by how short a memory gay men have. We let straight men and women abuse us in silence as lesbians take advantage of the situation. I know the internet did not exist then but that is not good enough excuse for me to not have our history on it. All the other history is there. I remember. I searched for articles about how Delta lawyers argued the gay man’s life was worth less, or should I say worthless, after the needless crash of flight 191. Flying from Ft. Lauderdale to Dallas I am sure there were other gay men on that flight who were also victims of this attitude, perhaps secretly. This is unforgivable and we should be boycotting Delta to this day. The Police Chief of San Francisco, finally forced to resign for other but related discrimination reasons after many years, repeatedly told the press the reason there were no ranking gay male police officers was because of AIDS. A gay male officer stood up for him nevertheless. When I bravely moved to SF at the height of the epidemic when no gay men were moving here, only 50% of gay men were HIV positive so that means if true we would have had two gay male lieutenants instead of one had it not been for AIDS, actually HIV. Right! Thanks Colin for being one of the few who reminds us gay men how far we have to go by how recently we got where we are. Now a half African American, Half Jewish, NYC, gay male journalist is writing that white gay males should not be considered a diversity hire and he gets no backlash. The irony. We have not come so far after all. Punch me one more time. I like it. No wonder Milo is so popular.

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