In light of February being LGBTQ+ history month, we reflect on the past hardships, activism and representation of the community with a goal to remember how far LGBTQ+ rights have come, and what we still need to fight for to create positive change.
In this interview, I’ve asked queer individuals of different ages to share their experiences and their hopes for the future.
Firstly, what is your age and sexuality?
Natalie– “I’m 33 and I would class my sexuality as pansexual. For me gender/sex is irrelevant, it’s all about the connection you have with an individual.”
Tom– “I’m 20 and would identify as gay.”
Amanda– “I am bisexual and 63.”
Sam– “I am 19 and I identify as a gay man. I use the pronouns he/him/his.”
Have you noticed a change in attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community as time has gone on?
Natalie– “I would say in today’s society people are a lot more accepting of the LGBT community. I don’t actively preach or throw my sexuality about the world, I just go about life as a “normal” person.”
Tom– “I think we have reached an almost seismic point of change in that younger generations are able to be open and free within themselves and receive a generally positive reaction. Since my own experience at High School, I think we’ve seen a shift in the way teenagers understand the LGBTQ+ community, being kinder and more compassionate toward LGBTQ+ issues.
“There are almost too many activists to mention, but they have had a profound effect on educating and changing societal norms. Unfortunately, the community still receives its share of hate speech, but I think the work of trailblazers such as Marsha P. Johnson paved the way for the inclusionary and celebratory contemporary pop culture we now see.”
Sam– “Over the past decade, there have been very noticeable and forward-thinking movements towards the LGBTQ+ community, and as we move into an increasingly digital age, these positive changes can reach and echo to a larger audience via social media.
“Growing up in a town in the midlands of the UK, I was not exposed to violent crimes, painful economic times, or harsh discrimination, but the timeline of events surrounding LGBTQ+ rights seems all too slow. It is scary to say that as I was first coming to terms and beginning to discover my sexuality, it was illegal to marry somebody of the same sex. This is a severely damaging and confusing concept for young people realising their sexuality; only deeper embedding the innate feeling that their sexuality is ‘wrong’ and ‘forbidden’.”
Can you compare your experience as an LGBTQ+ individual now vs 30+ years ago?
Amanda- ’30 years ago although I was ‘out’ to friends and close colleagues, generally society was not as tolerant and working in schools then I was very affected/restrained by Clause 28 ( part of the local government act of 1988) which banned the promotion of homosexuality. I certainly went on demonstrations against this clause, but personal caution was needed in the workplace.”
Do you think the community has been affected during the pandemic? For example, in regards to pride celebrations being ‘cancelled’ or personal experiences?
Tom– “I found my identity meeting friends within LGBTQ+ safe spaces at university, and not being able to go to those clubs and bars has been really hard. I think the community misses those interactions, not just those whom you know of within the clubbing scene and would say hello to, but also those that you can engage in real and proper debate about LGBTQ+ issues with. For those who align their identity with their sociability within the community, it is ultimately a tough time, but we will dance again!”
Amanda- “I think the LGBTQ community will be deeply affected by the pandemic personally, socially and of course the lack of events and celebrations that promote and celebrate LGBTQ. I am now in a heterosexual relationship so feel I can’t comment personally.”
Sam– “Pride celebrations are like the board meetings of the LGBTQ+ corporate office with slightly more glitter, an inescapable atmosphere of acceptance and the possibility of achieving anything! The community thrives on these chances to escape the oftentimes difficult nature of identifying as a member of the LGBTQ+ circle and love themselves in a way that so many are sadly scared to do. The pandemic has been an isolating event for members of the LGBTQ+ community especially. Reduced social networks and societal affirmation from Pride events may have reduced our physical contact, but our shared mission remains unchanged and unequivocally stronger.”
Who is your biggest LGBTQ+ inspiration and how have they influenced you?
Tom– “There are countless icons and inspirations that I could call upon, but none have been more prevalent in my life than Russell T. Davies- very relevant considering his release of the stunning ‘It’s a Sin’ recently. His work representing the community’s narrative in bold and fearless writing of the Cucumber Trilogy and Queer as Folk, alongside producing loveable and relateable LGBTQ+ characters in mainstream drama’s like Doctor Who and Years and Years has innately shaped both my understanding and circumnavigation of my identity as a gay man and nurtured my love of writing.”
Amanda- “There’s no one famous that I would see as a role model, but I did have several lesbian friends who were influential and supportive. I was very involved in the Greenham Common Peace Protest, and there were many women with a range of sexuality who were inspirational and motivating.”
Sam- “Whilst I was discovering and coming to terms with my sexuality, my choice of homosexual angst came from music; most notably the Queen of Chromatica herself! It is certainly not news to hear of Lady Gaga as an LGBTQ+ figure; in fact, she could be considered a ‘staple of the gay-experience’. Her genius hybrid of cathartic lyrics and addictive dance beats has taken the LGBTQ+ world by storm, allowing us to relate and identify our trauma surrounding sexuality and gender identity via expressive art. From Pride stages to club dance floors, a confused teenager’s headphones to viral videos, her music has become a recognised form of therapy within the community, allowing ownership of our discrimination within society in a united and pioneering way.”
Have you come out to your family and friends? If so, what was their reaction?
Natalie- “A couple of years ago, I met someone who was quite vulnerable and I was asked to oversee their mental health and well-being. From this, a friendship was formed and after spending an awful lot of time together, it’s only natural feelings grew. I questioned myself a lot. Didn’t really want to have these feelings as the stigma around Women’s football is very strong towards lesbianism. I didn’t want to be another statistic if I’m being honest. But over time I made the decision that I was enjoying my new found happiness.
I was very scared at the time, almost living 30 years as a heterosexual. So I told my sister, got very upset and she was very supportive and told me that there was nothing to worry about. I had the feeling inside that I didn’t want to let anybody down, carrying a normal life perception is what I always wanted. Married, kids you know the score. So after this, I told my mum, who reacted like it might only be a phase but supported me no matter what. Now she is the most supportive person in my life minus my sister, she told me that no matter what she loves me for me and that’s all that matters. Then I told my dad who was fine with it, surprisingly. Then the rest of the family were ok minus my granny who is old school and turned her nose up. To which I said well, unfortunately, this is me and that’s what it is. After a few words between my mum and granny, she’s now on board. Friends were easy, I think they have always thought that I was open-minded to say. People who aren’t ok with it or have an opinion don’t matter in my eyes. Love is love at the end of the day.”
Amanda- “I never did come out to my parents who died when I was in my early 40’s, nor to my extended family, but my friends and brother know, and they have all reacted positively.”
Sam– “Whilst getting ready to start my coming out journey I was going through an internal conflict. On the one hand, I was so desperate to express myself freely and live a life without regrets, self-censorship and experience open honesty. But with this aching desperation comes an equally powerful force: pure and unadulterated fear. The concept of coming out was the scariest thing I could imagine; I feared rejection, I feared what I had witnessed from negative coming out experiences and I feared releasing what had been my secret piece of information to the world. It is like having a locked door to a life of freedom; using the key to open it holds an enormous amount of risk that could change your life for better or for worse. The answer is unknown until the growing slit of light from the opening door shines on you.
“I had an amazingly supportive coming out experience that I would wish upon everyone who has to go through it. After torturing and agonising myself about what might happen, I was left with nothing but positivity and love.”
Despite the positive changes for LGBTQ+ rights in recent history, there are still a lot of changes that the community and allies are campaigning for. Are you hopeful for the future of activism and representation?
Natalie– “Again, I don’t actively support anything. I think it’s great that you can now marry someone of the same sex and also have a family with them. I think that’s really positive and hopefully one day I will be in a position to explore the above opportunities but for now, I’m just plodding alone, keeping myself to myself.”
Tom- “The future of LGBTQ+ representation is incredibly bright, although there are still significant issues on trans and non-binary rights to resolve. Programmes like Drag Race are so important to communicating LGBTQ+ narratives to both LGBTQ+ and heterosexual/cisgender audiences (shoutout BBC3) and highlights that we should strive to fearlessly tell the stories of those who can’t and support everyone, no matter how they identify. In the words of the musical Hairspray ‘We’ve come so far, but we’ve got so far to go’!”
Amanda– “I think society has become a lot more tolerant, there are laws in place that protect LGBTQ and ensure safety. Representation in Western democracies at least is improving. It’s now commonplace for celebrities to be ‘out’ and there are LGBTQ in certain Governments in the world. What is deeply concerning is that being gay is still considered to be a crime in some countries and can be punished severely even execution. This will take a long time to change and I’m not sure how LGBTQ rights will ever be in place across the world in the next few decades.”
Sam– “We must not settle for what we have achieved but instead focus on what we have not. Same-sex relationships remain criminal acts in over 60 countries around the world to this day. It is important to keep the momentum among the community and allies that we have been campaigning for. I envisage that this will only be stronger once COVID-19 related restrictions are lifted around the world and the community can once again show strength in numbers and be powerful together. Although we have a lot of work yet to be done, we can be immensely proud of the steps we have made to get to this stage. We must not stop making history.
Even within this small group, the opinions and experiences differ between each individual. However, a united opinion is that there is still a way to go for LGBTQ+ rights.
This month is for reflection, where we can look back on how far we’ve come and then continue to elevate and listen to LGBTQ+ voices as we move forward towards a brighter future.
Written by Helen Barber