Bury Art Gallery & Museum … Out In The City members interviewed … Kelly Holmes

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Bury Art Gallery and Museum

This week we gathered at the Bury Tram Stop Terminus and took the short walk to the local Wetherspoons pub – the Art Picture House. This is a striking Grade II listed building and is a fine example of an early 1920s cinema.

After dining it was just a short walk to the Bury Art Gallery and Museum. We were welcomed at reception by a very friendly member of staff who explained the layout of the building.

David Gilbert’s “Retrospective” filled the ground floor area. He was a self-taught sculptor and artist who worked predominantly in wood.

The basement featured an exhibition about Silver Street in Bury, whilst the top floor featured the “Lights” exhibition, the Bury Art Gallery and Tina’s Tea Rooms. The Tea Rooms are highly recommended and I’m sure we will visit again in the near future.

More photos can be seen here.

“When I see young LGBT people living openly, I feel joy – my generation didn’t have that

Many older LGBT people had to hide their sexuality in their youth for fear of rejection. Out In The City helps to support and connect them.

Loneliness in older adults is an acute problem in the LGBT community, most of whom have been shunned by society in their lives 
CREDIT: Paul Cooper & Jack Rear

In an upper floor room of Manchester’s Central Library, Out In The City, a group of trailblazers, are meeting; the first generation of LGBT people to grow old, out and open. 

“This group is about supporting each other,” explains their leader Tony, 67. “We’ve all been dragged through the hedge backwards. Some have lost friends, been ostracised by family, had issues around coming out and relationships. We can be there for one another.”

Age UK research shows 1.4 million older adults are often lonely. The problem is particularly acute in the LGBT community, most of whom have been shunned by society in their lives. Out In The City, supported by Age UK Manchester, helps connect and support them.

“Our oldest member is 93,” Tony explains. “Homosexuality was partially legalised in 1967. For the first 38 years of his life, he was illegal.”

Tony’s story is scarcely better. “When I told my parents as a teenager that I was gay, homosexuality was considered a mental illness, so they sent me to a psychiatrist,” he recalls. “I had neither an absent father nor an overbearing mother so the psychiatrist decided I couldn’t possibly be gay. When I persisted, my parents threw me out. I never saw them again.”

When Tony told his parents as a teenager that he was gay, homosexuality was considered a mental illness
CREDIT: Paul Cooper

Many openly gay people turned towards the community for support. Friendship groups became “logical families” after they’d lost biological ones. During the Aids epidemic, these surrogate families were blown apart. Tony knows more than 100 people who died of the disease. While straight people his age would have friends to rely on, many of his did not survive.

This is one of the reasons there are statistically fewer older LGBT people. According to 2020 ONS estimates, in the 65+ age bracket, there’s a ratio of one openly LGBT person to every 123 heterosexuals. In contrast, the ratio among 16- to 24-year-olds was 1:10.

Though LGBT people often rely on their community, Age UK has found that many older members feel excluded, perceiving traditional gay settings as being aimed at younger people. In 2018, gay charity Stonewall found 21 per cent of LGBT people aged 55-64 and 28 per cent of LGBT people aged 65+ have experienced ageism in LGBT settings.

“You hit a certain point then disappear,” says Andy, a 58-year-old from Wigan. Having not come out until he was 32, he knows about feeling invisible. Andy knew he was gay from the age of seven, but lived trying to deflect suspicion to avoid ridicule and abuse. It got lonely. “I started seeing my friends getting married. I realised I needed to say who I was, otherwise I’d be lonely for ever: no friends, no one to love, no one to care about me.”

Andy knew he was gay from the age of seven, but didn’t come out until he was 32 
CREDIT: Paul Cooper

Once he came out things began to improve, but it’s only since joining Out In The City two years ago that Andy feels he has found people who understand him. “I’ve become more confident,” he says. “I was frightened to be myself, living according to what other people wanted. I had to start living my life. People here get me.”

It’s the same for Levi, 59, a gay transman who joined the group after struggling with loneliness during lockdown.

Levi felt “lost and confused” unable to make sense of his gender dysphoria as a child without even the language to discuss it. “Life was awful,” he confesses. “Lots of suicide attempts, depression, sexual assaults, hospitalisations.”

After he began transitioning nearly a decade ago, Levi decided to move to Manchester in 2019. “I’d been living in a military town. You don’t last long as an out trans person in a place like that, but Manchester was where the streets were paved with gold. Or rainbows…”

Levi joined Out In The City after struggling with loneliness during lockdown
CREDIT: Paul Cooper

The transitioning process ground Levi down. “It’s tough: getting on the list, persuading multiple psychiatrists that you are who you say you are, hoops you’ve got to jump through,” he explains. “Then out of the wilderness was this group.”

For the first time in his life, Levi met people who affirmed him. “I’ve made more friends in the past few years than I’ve ever known,” he beams. “This group has saved my life.”

There’s immense value to spaces for older LGBT adults, says Levi. “When I see young LGBT people living openly, my heart fills with joy, but it’s complicated,” he says. “My generation didn’t have that. At this group there’s an understanding of the pressure that us older folks felt; the survivor’s guilt from living through Aids. I have gained so much from being able to talk to people who understand those things.”

Former Londoner Michael, 72, also recalls struggling with homophobia. As a gay Chinese chartered accountant, clashing parts of his identity left him feeling like “a fish out of water”.

For Michael, clashing parts of his identity left him feeling like “a fish out of water” 
CREDIT: Paul Cooper

Michael remembers the police raiding Gay’s The Word bookshop where he volunteered, and spending his first London Pride dodging photographers, lest his employers discover his sexuality. “I would have been fired,” he sighs. “It was a traumatic time to be gay.”

He survived through moments of joy. “Sneaking out to march in my first London Pride was exhilarating – I could finally be myself,” he says, grinning. “I felt free. It was marvellous to come across people discussing gay life, talking about gay literature. It’s much the same in this group.”

Out In The City isn’t just for those able to embrace their LGBT identities from their early years. Many who grew up in less accepting times felt obligated to assimilate and have only been able to come out later in life.

Norman, 72, came out as bisexual in 2019, after his wife of 43 years passed away.

After speaking to his family about his sexuality aged 17, he was referred to a psychiatric unit and “treated” with electroconvulsive and aversion therapy. “I realised no one was going to let me be who I am, so I had to get on with it,” he shrugs. At 22, he met Marilyn and fell in love. “She was the loveliest of people. I was happy, so I thought I must be straight,” Norman says. 

Norman came out as bisexual in 2019, after his wife of 43 years passed away
CREDIT: Paul Cooper

After 10 years of marriage, Norman suffered a breakdown and admitted to himself that he might be bisexual. It took him another 10 years to tell Marilyn, who already knew and accepted him.

They went on with their happy marriage, but when Marilyn passed away, Norman realised he needed to be open about his identity with other people. “There was a mountain inside me, ready to erupt,” he explains. “Out In The City has been a lifeline. I’ve made so many new friends. It has helped me relax and be myself.”

He advises others in his position to follow in his footsteps. “You will have no difficulty finding help,” he says. “Do not bottle it up, like I did. Tell a trusted friend. Once you’ve spoken to one person, you’ll feel the pressure easing.”

James, 83, has found enormous fulfilment since coming out later in life. “I got married to my wife in 1963 when being gay was illegal,” he says. “It was obvious to me that I was gay, but I couldn’t act on it. In those days all you got was scare stories in the tabloids.”

James found Out In The City 10 years ago and says: ‘It’s the best mental health support’
CREDIT: Paul Cooper

Loyalty to his wife kept James in the closet. “She was a wonderful woman, but she suffered from bipolar disorder,” he recalls. “If I had left her to do my thing she would have been hospitalised and never seen again. I couldn’t do that. I would have stayed with her until now if she’d lived.”

When his wife passed away from cancer in 2004, she offered her blessing for James to “get on with [his] life”. “I’ve always thought that was incredible,” he smiles. “After that I came out: I told my two kids, my friends, my church. It was a tremendous relief. Like uncaging a bird, I flew. I joined every gay group in Manchester. I started volunteering at the LGBT Foundation, on helplines, befriending services, health classes, even helping with finances.”

James’s son, daughter, and grandchildren have embraced him with open arms and there’s even been romance in his life. “I’m 83 – you’d think it’d be too late but I assure you it’s not!” he laughs.

Ten years ago, James discovered Out In The City and has been in awe of the friends he’s made in the group ever since. “They’ve taught me how to be me,” he explains. “It’s the best mental health support you could have.”

With equal rights enshrined in law for gay people, it’s easy to forget that the scars of the past are still close to the surface for people like Tony, Andy, Levi, Michael, Norman and James. Their generation has been racked with trauma and rejection, opportunities lost and lives wasted.

“The older LGBT community was born into a world in which same sex relationships were highly stigmatised and expressing their sexuality was a crime,” says Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK.

“The repercussions of these formative experiences still shape people’s lives today. Despite huge strides forward, often hard-won by the extraordinary courage of older LGBT people, discrimination remains. It can become more of a struggle as ageist stereotypes are piled on top. It’s sad to acknowledge that as LGBT people age today they are still more likely to be lonely, to struggle financially, and find it hard to access healthcare that understands their needs and celebrates who they are.”

However, thanks to the determination and resilience of Out In The City and the relentless hard work of Age UK in supporting groups like it right across the country, there is hope that these older people can find the dignity, friendship and support as they age that they haven’t always experienced in their younger years.

Olympic champion Kelly Holmes says she’s ‘happy for the first time’ since coming out as gay

Dame Kelly Holmes came out as gay in June 2021. (Artur Widak / NurPhoto via Getty)

British Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes has said she feels “happy for the first time” after coming out publicly as gay. 

During an appearance on Loose Women the 52-year-old, who came out as a lesbian in June last year, reflected on how her life has changed.

She explained: “Since doing my documentary, called Being Me, and announcing publicly that I was a gay woman, a few months ago, it’s changed everything about me. I feel free, I’m happy for the first time in my life. I’ve met so many people too.”

Holmes explained how she was terrified of being open about her sexuality while serving in the army, due to the pre-2000 military ban on LGBT+ soldiers. 

“Some people still don’t know, but fear is a debilitating factor of life.

A lot of fear is irrational, but a lot of people have fear in their life and mine was worrying that I’d still be in trouble from the military because it was against the law to be gay while I was serving in the military.”

Reflecting on hiding her sexuality for 30 years, Holmes said she had tried to “change the narrative in her head”.

Dame Kelly Holmes says she feels ‘free’ since coming out as gay. (Getty)

“It’s ok to have the conversations we have and to just talk normally,” she said.

“When you’re having to constantly check yourself, everything that you say and do on a day-to-day basis, because you can’t talk about a partner, you can’t talk about where you went on holiday …”

Holmes said coming out has helped her “become more free”. 

In June last year Holmes said a terrifying brush with COVID-19 made her realise that she wanted to show the world her “real self”. 

Holmes shared that she had secret relationships with other soldiers during her 10 years in the British Army, risking being “court-martialled” and being jailed if they were caught. She described an incident when the Royal Military Police searched her accommodation in what she believed was a check to root out LGBT+ soldiers. 

Until 2000, it was illegal for people serving in the British military to be openly part of the LGBT+ community. Several LGBT+ veterans who served under the military ban have shared they were discharged from the forces, stripped of their medals or convicted under the vile laws. 

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