LGBT+ History Month is an annual month-long observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history, and the history of the gay rights and related civil rights movements. The overall aim of LGBT+ History month is to promote equality and diversity for the benefit of the public. This year’s LGBT+ History Month theme is Mind, Body and Soul: Claiming our past, celebrating our present and creating our future.
Manchester Pride’s vision is a world where LGBTQ+ people are free to live and love without prejudice. We are committed to improving the lives of LGBTQ+ people in Greater Manchester and beyond. We are part of a global Pride movement that celebrates advancements in equality and challenges discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ people. To tackle isolation amongst young LGBTQ+ people, Manchester Pride launched Youth Pride MCR as a new strand of Manchester Pride Festival in 2019. The first event of its kind in the UK, it provided a safe, supportive, fun and inclusive space for young LGBTQ+ people to express themselves, connect with others and find community.
To mark LGBT History Month, the Youth Pride MCR group wanted to learn more about the history of their community and acknowledged a lack of LGBTQ+ role models in their lives. This intergenerational, youth-led project aims to connect our community at an important time, when we are all suffering loneliness and feeling a sense of disconnection, and to learn more about what life was like for LGBTQ+ people in years gone by.
Tony is 65 and lives in Manchester. He spoke to the Youth Pride group about his Roman Catholic upbringing, the difficulties he faced growing up, and how volunteering for the Manchester Gay Switchboard gave him confidence...How difficult was it to express yourself in society? Did you experience discrimination? How did you deal with it?
I was brought up in a Roman Catholic family and I went to an all boys school in Bolton. I found out there was a gay pub on the street I lived on, about one bus stop away from where I lived. I didn’t find out about that pub until i was about 20 years of age. I’m amazed by the secrecy, and how no one talked about it. I was going to pubs from the age of 17, but no one ever mentioned this. And then to find out there was a gay pub, so close to me was a real surprise.
I realised I wasn’t heterosexual when I was about 16. I went to see my priest and told him that I thought I was attracted to men, and he told me I had to be celibate. At the time the age of consent was 21, which didn’t offer much challenge. It was very difficult growing up as gay, because no one talked about it, no role models, nothing on TV, no one talked about it, no education. There was nothing until Glam Rock came along. So it was very hard to have the words to understand.How did people react to you coming out? How did you overcome those barriers?
It was the mid 70’s, my parents thought it was a phase I was going through. They sent me to see a psychiatrist - because homosexuality used to be considered a mental disorder. The psychiatrist told my parents I wasn’t gay. I persisted that I was gay and my family ex-communicated me and ostrasized me, to this day. Both parents are deceased but they never came around to accept me. I knew I was gay, you know you are and so there was no denying it for me. I strongly knew, in my head, that I was attracted to men. In 1980, in my mid 20’s and I met Philip (Icebreakers in Manchester) - I was attending LGBT groups in Manchester at the time. Within 6 months we moved in with each other. When was the first time you saw yourself represented on TV?
Quentin Crisp. It was on a documentary in about 1970 about the life of Quentin Crisp - and this blew my mind. I didn’t feel as camp and showy as he was but it resonated with me. So I then went to the library to read his book, it was only on the reserved list, so I had to order it and then read it.Do you remember your first Pride celebration?
In the 70’s I went down to Pride in London, several times and there were coaches from Manchester - organised by the gay centre, and enjoyed the parade and celebrations afterwards before coming back on the same day. In 1981, National Pride was moved from London to Huddersfield in solidarity with the LGBT community in Huddersfield because of continual police raids on the LGBTQ+ club Gemini. There were about 2,000 people in the parade that year, so it was much smaller but it was a real highlight! We faced more discrimination and people shouting things but it was important to stand in solidarity with The Gemini. Did you marry someone you love?
In 1980, I met Philip and we lived together for 31 years. That happened before marriage became available, there was no such thing as marriage or civil partnerships. Those things came about in 2011 and 2014 but we’d lived together for 25 years at this point. Philip lost his appetite and went to the GP to get checked out. He was taken to MRI to get some tests, and was kept in over the weekend to get some tests done because they couldn’t identify the issue. I lost him within 3 days to advanced pancreatic cancer. He was 54 when he died. The Manchester Gay Switchboard was formed in 1975 - do you remember this ? How significant was that for Manchester’s community?
Yes, I became a member of the Switchboard. We were based at 178 Waterloo Place - near to Sidney Street. I used to go and answer the telephone there. And it was amazing, it gave me a lot of confidence and we had so many people ringing up, even though we didn’t have much information.How did you learn about issues like this that were facing Manchester’s LGBTQ+ community?
I remember going to New York New York and there were no leaflets or magazines on show. There used to be a magazine called ‘the Football Pink’ and you had to ask for that to get hold of the ‘Pink Paper’ and it was really with these publications that you got to understand what’s going on and then from this you joined groups - like the switchboard and different organisations that were campaigning - like ACT UP.