Big Issue: Lies and alternative truths...

I'm free....... John Inman at the height of his  fame as Mr Humphries
I'm free....... John Inman at the height of his fame as Mr Humphries

Watching television with my dad in the 1970s was not easy: “Turn that man off!” he would rant - the demand invariably littered with expletives and comments about what he would like to see happen to ‘men like that’.

These were the days before remote controls. Buttons were pushed, both literally and metaphorically.

Leader of Sheffield City Council, Julie Dore and LGBT Sheffield representative Neale Gibson at Sheffield Town Hal
l.

Leader of Sheffield City Council, Julie Dore and LGBT Sheffield representative Neale Gibson at Sheffield Town Hal l.

The men who caused my dad such angst were those he referred to as ‘queers’, or by more liberal-minded members of my family, as ‘the other way’.

Effeminate, camp celebrities such as Larry Grayson, Kenneth Williams and John Inman, who based humour on innuendo and double-entendres such as ‘what a gay day!’ but who denied their homosexuality, were despised by dad.

For dad and many of his contemporaries, homosexuality was alien – abhorrent and sickening.

His hatred was fuelled by lurid newspaper stories of men who haunted public toilets seeking sexual encounters, only to face arrest, possible imprisonment and to be forever tainted with the offence of gross indecency.

The true stories of older LGBT people are in danger of being lost, having been ignored for many years

Family members proffered frequent advice against going into public toilets and to be wary of men like this, equating their behaviour with that of paedophiles.

Growing up in such a world, where hatred of homosexuality abounded, where gay men were vilified and seen as deviant and predatory, was not the best environment in which to develop a heathy attitude to one’s sexuality.

And lesbians were not entirely immune to vitriol and negativity – that’s when their ability to have meaningful sexual relationships was acknowledged. The film ‘The Killing of Sister George’, in the late 1960s, told the story of an alcoholic and predatory female soap star who seduced two nuns in a taxi.

The protagonist was an unhappy character who ended up bitter and alone, because that’s what happened to homosexuals.

Kenneth Williams

Kenneth Williams

These were the alternative truths, distortions and lies we were fed.

2017 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the decriminalisation of male homosexuality in England and Wales . Scotland only decriminalised male homosexuality in 1980!

I have spoken to older members of LGBT communities, listening to their stories of growing up in an era when homosexual acts were criminal.

Although homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967, the age of consent for gay men was 21, so any men under 21 having consenting sex could still be charged. Women’s sexuality was never recognised in the legislation.

The true stories of older LGBT people are in danger of being lost, having been ignored or misrepresented for years.

Ray, who I spoke to, is a 70-year-old man recently widowed after 40 years of marriage. He repressed his sexuality for all his married life.

He told of his love for his wife and absolute commitment to their relationship. Only after her death did he feel able to acknowledge sexual feelings for other men.

An optimistic and engaging man, Ray expresses no regrets but recognises there were no alternatives other than marrying and settling down. Deeply loyal to his wife’s memory and sensitive to the feelings of his family, Ray is discreet about his homosexuality.

It is apparent, though, that Ray is now determined to be honest to himself.

Colin came out to his parents as gay at the age of 15. Horrified, his parents referred him to a psychiatrist and he was subjected to electro-convulsive therapy and aversion therapy (whereby drugs were used to induce vomiting when shown erotic images of other men).

Now in his sixties, Colin blames his anxiety and depression on treatment he received in young adulthood.

Events will take place in Sheffield to celebrate the 50th anniversary of decriminalisation over the weekend of February 24-26, during LGBT history month, to ensure untold true stories are finally heard, with the stories of LGBT people who, in spite of adversity, manage to have fulfilling, happy and meaningful lives and loving relationships.