Saturday, July 29, 2017

A reflection prompted by the anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act

The following was posted to Facebook this week, and prompted a huge response. I have been asked to make it available elsewhere, so the easiest thing to do was make it into a blog post after all.

This should have been, perhaps, a blog post, but no one reads my blog posts! So, here we go.
With all the media attention on the fiftieth anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act, I am moved to write my own post about the subject, or, as my parents would have said, put in my two-pennorth. And speaking of my parents, I was an only child. We lived in a large flat in London, in a divided Victorian house. On the ground floor beneath us was another single child family. Bernard was older than I was, but we got on probably better than a brother and sister would have done, even when he took me to the zoo and lost me. As we both grew up it became obvious that Bernard was gay, although I had no idea what that was at the time. However, I was very well aware of it by the time his current boyfriend, a Sicilian, told me. My parents must have been aware of it, too – we were like one big family – but there was never a hint of disapproval. In fact, there was an occasion when a neighbour who had been trying to persuade my father to join the Masons (and failing) came to him with the story that Bernard had been arrested for cottaging. He was full of moral outrage and certain my father would join in his condemnation and, incidentally, keep me out of harm’s way. My father gave him the telling off of his life and never spoke to him again. Believe it or not, this was AFTER the Act, but the arrests and entrapment were actually increasing. My dad must have been even more remarkable than I thought.
By the time I met my husband-to-be, the Act had been in force for a few years, but acceptance was a long way off. A friend who was first trombone in the orchestra at the Coliseum used to get me tickets and got me two for a new production of Verdi’s Masked Ball. He told us to meet him in the interval and he’d take us for a drink. Brian had never met him before, but happily followed him to a little door at the side of the theatre, and upstairs to a drinking club. Within seconds, he realised it was a GAY drinking club. I’ve never seen anyone so uncomfortable in my life, especially when someone tried to chat him up. You can imagine his reaction to Bernard. But over the next couple of years I “educated” him, and Bernard was one of the ushers at our wedding. He had always been part of my parents’ wide circle of friends, and was a born entertainer. Sadly, I can't find any photographs of him, but if I unearth my wedding album, I'll put one in.
But one of the things I was stunned by was the fact that even into the seventies both drugs and electrical therapy were being employed to “cure” gay men. I knew it happened earlier, and even today in the States there are doctors who profess to be able to do it, but here in the seventies?
I was born to incredibly tolerant and open minded parents. My early jobs, model, air stewardess, nightclub DJ, brought me into contact with a wide variety of people, and being gay seemed normal to me and always has. But I still see intolerance and discomfort around the LGBT community and it appals me. It saddens me that we have to HAVE a separate community – why not just people? We’ve got a long way to go.
Below: two pictures of my terrific Dad.


spabbygirl lynne said...

How lovely to have a dad like that!! I asked my dad why being gay was seen as so bad, 'they give away state secrets' was his reply. But I don't blame him, that was just the prevailing culture at the time fed by a biased press

Gilli Allan said...

Lovely post, Lesley. I didn't see it when it was only on FB. I don't really recall where my understanding or acceptance came from. Although my parents were liberal in their attitudes, I don't remember homosexuality was a subject ever discussed, and I certainly never met 'one' (not knowingly) until art college, in 1965. I was only sixteen and the first friend I made was Richard - posh (he was at prep school with Prince Charles) and educated at Eton, he was also flamboyant, funny, silly, and mad about the ballet.
In our second year, he came back in the autumn with news. His mother had sent him to a psychiatrist, and from there to a clinic, where he'd spent the summer being "cured". The news, that he'd been diagnosed as homosexual, seemed more of a surprise to him than it was to me. "Of course you are! Didn't you know?" was my response. He left art college, joined the Marie Rambert (or it might have been Martha Graham) ballet school (at 17!) and became a choreographer, with his own company. Sadly we lost touch when our world diverged.