Rochdale Fireground … Asylum Claims … First Lesbian Selfie

News

Rochdale Fireground

Our visit this week was to the Rochdale Fireground, a museum located in the former Rochdale Fire Station. The Fireground preserves the history of fire, fire engineering and the fire and rescue services in the Greater Manchester region.

We learnt that the Great Fire of London made people think seriously about fire protection. It started in a bakery in Pudding Lane on 2 September 1666, and burned for four days destroying over 13,000 houses, 84 churches and most public buildings. Fire needs three things to sustain it – heat, fuel and oxygen. The Navy was called in to blow up houses that were in the path of the fire. This took away the source of fuel for the fire and so stopped it. Miraculously, only six people died. Two things happened as a result of the Great Fire of London: very primitive fire engines were built and the first organised fire brigades began to appear.

Insurance office fire fighters wore brightly coloured, though not very practical, uniforms to identify their company.
(left: The Atlas, centre: London Assurance, right: The Hand-in-Hand)

Fire fighters’ everyday uniform has changed several times in the last three hundred years but traditionally uniforms were worn to impress. They were designed to be smart and to look like military uniforms.

Over the years helmets have been made out of brass, steel, cork, leather, thermoplastic and composite materials. Tunics have been made from wool but now are made from Nomex which was first used for racing drivers in the Grand Prix. It is light and strong and easy to wear. Early fire fighters wore velvet breeches but again more practical Nomex overtrousers are now worn.

Women in the fire service

Women began to be part of the fire service during the Second World War. They played a vital role helping the fire service in communications, as dispatch riders and as drivers.

In the 1950s and 60s fire women used to work in the control room and they wore a uniform that was very similar to that of the men. The first female fire fighters joined the fire brigade in the 1980s, but the first women to join the Manchester Fire Service were not until the early 1990s. Absolutely no concessions were made to women in terms of uniform, as they wore exactly the same clothing as men.

Another good day out and more photos can be seen here.

How does the Home Office assess sexual identity in asylum claims?

People being persecuted on account of their sexual orientation can seek asylum in the UK, but face having to convince the Home Office that they are in fact lesbian, gay or bisexual. While asylum seekers are no longer quizzed about Oscar Wilde, more subtle forms of stereotyping persist. Decision-makers can demand of all LGBT+ asylum seekers a narrative that only some can provide: feelings of shame, stigma and difference, and a sort of emotional journey towards understanding their sexuality.

Different policies and procedures apply to claims based on gender identity, so trans and intersex claims are considered separately.

There were 1,012 asylum applications lodged in the UK in 2020, where sexual orientation formed part of the basis for the claim (LGB asylum applications), representing 3% of all asylum applications.

People claiming asylum based on their sexual orientation may form part of a “particular social group” which qualifies for protection under the Refugee Convention. 

In deciding whether to accept an asylum claim, part of the Home Office caseworker’s job is to assess the person’s overall credibility. This includes the often-difficult determination of whether the applicant is telling the truth about their sexual orientation.

Somebody’s sexual orientation is a highly personal and subjective matter, which manifests in many varied experiences. What criteria is used by the Home Office to assess it? 

“Stigmatisation, shame and secrecy”

Home Office guidance directs caseworkers to look for evidence that the person was made to feel “ashamed, humiliated or stigmatised” due to their sexual orientation. Examples can include being bullied by peers or teachers at school or harassed by members of their community. 

Caseworkers are also told to assess the applicant’s narrative to see whether it refers to “strong disapproval from external sources” indicating that the conduct is unacceptable, immoral, or sinful. 

They also look for the person having their belief that their sexual orientation is “wrong”. This can be problematic, especially with an applicant who has a strong sense that they are in fact doing nothing wrong. An applicant, for example, can repeatedly state that she was proud of her sexual identity as a lesbian woman and did not feel different; she just felt “herself”. 

An applicant will have two main opportunities to present evidence capable of demonstrating this: at their substantive asylum interview, and in supporting evidence such as a witness statement.

“Painful self-disclosure”

An asylum caseworker will also look for evidence of what the guidance calls “painful self-disclosure”, which means how the person has come to realise their sexual identity. Broadly speaking, the Home Office wants to see a “journey” to sexual awareness. 

Asylum refusal decisions have been known to state “you did not provide an overly emotional account of your sexuality”. There is often an expectation that someone’s journey will be an emotional and painful story to re-tell. But the nature of having experienced past persecution means that a person may not come across as “overly emotional”. And, of course, some genuine claimants will simply not be the kind of personality given to expressions of strong emotion.

An applicant was told repeatedly that her sexuality was wrong by her family. This meant she had spent years keeping her sexuality to herself. When questioned at interview she found it very difficult to talk with emotion about what she had experienced, as she had learned to repress her emotions as a safety mechanism. In this case, medical evidence of trauma was required to support the claim.

The guidance says that caseworkers should not stereotype behaviour and that the human dignity of the claimant is respected. But in asylum interviews clients have been asked repeatedly about when they first realised they were gay, or when they first were attracted to a member of the same sex. These questions place an undue burden on the applicant to examine and articulate their sexuality, an innate and often nebulous part of who they are.

The guidance does recognise someone may only realise their sexuality relatively late in life, and that this should not count against credibility. It also recognises that LGBT+ people may have opposite sex spouses or children, and that this should not count against them either. 

Country conditions

When it comes to the asylum interview, caseworkers are asked to explore with the applicant what social, legal, and cultural norms they are believed to be transgressing. For example, is homosexuality illegal in their home country, or considered sinful according to religious doctrine?

This is because the claim is not just assessed on the person’s local experiences, but on the wider context of the country. This can create problems if the applicant is from a sheltered or unrepresentative community – for example, a young woman living on a family compound may have little or no access to news about the situation for LGBT+ people elsewhere. 

Or, for example, Angola decriminalised same sex consensual relations in 2019, but many human rights organisations report that homophobia is still widespread.  Asylum cases should be decided on whether there is “reasonable degree of likelihood” that something is true. Claimants in sexual identity cases may feel that they are held to a higher standard when asked to “prove” their sexual orientation. Bearing in mind the framework used to decide such cases should help, although evidently it cannot neatly account for something as personal as sexual orientation in its every iteration.

These are believed to be the first ever lesbian self-portraits which were taken in 1910. Photo booths were how most of the earliest forms of LGBT visual documentation started. It was the only way they could capture a photo in total secrecy since there was no need for a third party taking the photo.

“The Old Gays” just landed their own series … Ahead of The Curve … Carl Austin-Behan

News

Call them the new ‘Golden Girls’: The Old Gays just landed their own series

Bill Lyons, Jessay Martin, Robert Reeves and Mick Peterson – best known as “The Old Gays” – have just signed with Brian Graden Media (BGM) to develop a new television docu-series focusing on their lives and friendship in Cathedral City, California, a suburb of Palm Springs.

BGM said in a statement: “We are thrilled to be working with the hilarious and very talented “The Old Gays”. Their videos resonate with audiences young and old alike and viewers have shown extreme interest in seeing their lives on a more personal level which we intend to deliver upon.”

At present, “The Old Gays” have more than 3.2 million followers and 320 million views across their social media platforms. The group first rose to infamy in a promotional video for the popular gay dating app Grindr. They’ve since developed a loyal following for their mix of humour and warmth, as well as their anecdotes from LGBT+ history.

“I think the most important thing that we’re educating people on is that 60 years ago, coming out was a real struggle,” Bill Lyons said. “You didn’t talk about coming out to your parents or anything. In fact, a lot of situations, I heard when parents found out that one of their children was gay, they kicked him out of the house right away. It really wasn’t easy in the beginning.”

“I have not always had a voice,” Jessay Martin added. “This has given me an opportunity to really use my voice and to just not to worry about what people are thinking of me. For me, it really has been and still is quite the journey. I don’t know where it’s going, but right now I’m on cloud nine and I’m thankful to be a part of it.”

There is no word yet on when the show will premiere, or which network or streaming service will air it.

Ahead of The Curve

“For the first time in my life, I was sexually free” … Stevens and staff had a polishing pop-up business at the Dykes on Bikes festival. Photograph: Frankly Speaking Films / Together Films

In 1991, Franco Stevens was 23, broke and working in an LGBT bookshop in San Francisco. She thought the world needed a glossy lesbian magazine, but she didn’t have the money to launch one. So she took out 12 credit cards, borrowed the maximum on each, then gambled it all on a horse race. The horse came in. She took the money and put it on another horse, which also won, and then another, which did the same. With her winnings, she set up Deneuve.

“I almost felt like, ‘Well, if this is meant to be, it will happen’,” she says, from her home in the city’s Bay area. She lives with her wife, their two sons of college age, and a younger boy whom they call “a son of the heart”, who splits his time between their house and “his biological home”. Stevens is in her 50s, bright and sharp, and seems like the kind of person who quietly gets a lot of things done. “I mean, I wasn’t going into it completely blind. I grew up with horse racing, so I know this business from a different angle.” Plus she had the recklessness of youth. “I just felt like, I’ve lived in my car, I’ve had nothing to eat – if it’s meant to be, it will be. And my bankruptcy would be off my record by the time I was 30. So it seemed like everything lined up.”

The first issue of Deneuve appeared in April / May 1991. Early editions featured scene reports, lesbian fashion shoots, fiction, reviews, personal ads and “news, rumours and tidbits from the lesbian nation”. It became Curve in 1996 after the French film star Catherine Deneuve sued them for trademark infringement, though Stevens always denied it had been named after her. The magazine almost buckled under the cost, and, with the stress of it all, Stevens’ hair began to fall out. Eventually, she changed the name. “When I got that summons for the lawsuit, I was like, ‘Oh, this is a joke, right? What?’ Catherine Deneuve is suing us? It’s crazy.” How does she feel towards her now? Stevens is tactful. “I’m not a great fan.”

Curve has weathered plenty of storms, and now exists as a philanthropic foundation and online archive, with Stevens undecided about whether it can return in print. It has been a remarkable 30 years, which are now the subject of Ahead of the Curve, a documentary co-directed by Rivkah Beth Medow and Jen Rainin, who is Stevens’ wife. While it is the story of Stevens and her magazine, it is also a portrait of how life has changed for LGBT+ people since the early 90s. “Just as I felt it important to create the magazine to serve the community, Jen and Rivka thought it was important to make the film to serve the community.”

The project evolved even as it was being shot. On camera, Stevens learns that Curve, under the ownership of a different publisher, is struggling and may be forced to close. It was supposed to be the final scene of the film, but it ended up being the first: it set Stevens off on a journey to find out what a queer audience wants and needs from an inclusive publication in the modern age. It is a wonder the story hasn’t been told until now. Does she think there is a lack of documented history when it comes to queer women? “Oh, 100%,” she says. Why does she think that is? “First of all, we’re women. Second of all, we’re queer. People are not telling our stories.”

They are missing out, if some of these stories are anything to go by. Stevens’ win on the horses funded the early days of the magazine, but it wasn’t enough to sustain it for long. There was a trip to a loan shark to pay staff wages, and the time Stevens realised that there was money to be made in a pop-up business polishing the motorbikes that arrived daily in the Castro, the city’s gay district.

“Some of the office shenanigans didn’t make it into the movie,” she says, tantalisingly. Like what? “OK, so shenanigans, for real? I was on the road a lot. Once I came back from the Book Fair in Chicago, walked into my office, and there was a stack of Polaroids on my desk. Apparently, there was a ‘leather day’ at the office when I was gone, and they were all posed on my desk, scantily clad in leather attire. When some of the staff came back from festivals where clothing was optional, I’d be like, ‘Can you just keep a bra on or something?” She smiles. “There was definitely some sex-toy stuff that would not fly today.”

Before Stevens arrived in San Francisco, she had been an army wife, married to a man in the military. When she realised she was gay and left him, her family refused to support her (though their relationship improved with time). She ended up living in her car. Younger queer people might be surprised at how different life sounds for gay women in San Francisco during the late 80s and early 90s. “It was the first time in my life I was sexually free. San Francisco was a lesbian mecca. There were sex clubs for women, where you could just go and either watch or partake, and men were not allowed in. When I was homeless, I would sometimes sleep at a friend’s house. And there were four different roommates there, and honestly, I shared a bed with them all, I think.”

However, there was a darker side to this sexual idyll. “San Francisco was very accepting but only in certain areas. And, even in those areas, it was very dangerous. They used to have this big Halloween party in the Castro. That was our time, the queers’ big night out.” One year, she was walking past the house with the four roommates to pick up her friends. “Somebody in a sheet with eyes cut out, like a ghost, walked by and hit the person in front of me over the head with a baseball bat, and shouted a gay slur. That was a reminder that, even though we have this little 10-block radius, we’re not safe.”

Out and about … Franco Stevens interviews women at the Michfest festival

In the early days, few advertisers would pay for ads and no celebrities would give an interview. After two years, in 1993, the out musician Melissa Etheridge appeared on the cover.

“I owe her so much gratitude,” says Stevens. “To me, she was a humongous celebrity. And for her to say, ‘Yeah, I’ll do that. Come to my show.’ We were like, ‘We have arrived!’” These days, there are far more celebrities who will talk about their queerness publicly. “For young people to see queer celebrities be out, it’s so validating. When celebrities are out, not only does it affect queer people, but the mainstream acceptance goes up so much.”

But the fight is not over, she warns. “Here in the States, we have active government trying to repeal rights that we have. When Trump was in office, he was pushing the country towards a very conservative angle, where, if you are not a heterosexual, white person, you are to be feared and hated. Even now, there are a lot of anti-trans bills being battled.” She mentions Arkansas, where legislation banning gender-affirming treatment for transgender people under the age of 18 was passed, as well as the struggle over including LGBT+ history in schools. “There is a battle over having those rights expanded versus states wanting to repeal them. Because God forbid we should teach our kids to be whoever they are.”

Stevens, centre, at a Dyke March in 2019

Stevens recently bought Curve back from the Australian publisher that owned it for a time, and established the Curve Foundation, “to continue with the mission of the magazine”. There are two initial projects. The first is to build an online archive of every issue. The second is a financial award to support emerging queer women journalists in the US. After 30 years, they are still helping people to tell their stories.

But will we ever see the likes of Curve again? “Well,” Stevens smiles. “You might.”

Every year inspiring people from across the UK are recognised for their outstanding achievements. Carl-Austin Behan was appointed in the 2020 New Years Honours List, but has only just received his OBE, recognising his incredible work for charity and the LGBTQ+ community in Greater Manchester.
Local Labour councillors stand in front of the new trans crossing in Camden, London. (Twitter/@DannyBeales)

A trans Pride road crossing has been unveiled in north London as a “clear statement” of trans rights and LGBT+ unity.

On Monday afternoon, 8 November, the mayor of Camden Sabrina Francis was joined by local councillors and community leaders to open what was described as the “first trans crossing” in the borough of Camden.

Clayton Hall … Meet the Proudly Black ‘Gay Father of the Windrush Generation’

News

Clayton Hall

Clayton Hall is a 15th century manor house in Manchester. It is hidden by trees, in a small park, surrounded by a moat. The moat is now empty but is crossed by a stone twin arched bridge.

The Hall was built on the site of a 12th century house built for the Clayton family. When Cecilia Clayton married Robert de Byron in 1194 it passed to the Byron family, of which poet Lord Byron was a later member.

The house was sold in 1620 to the Chetham family who later found the Chethams School and Library in the centre of Manchester close to the Cathedral. According to legend Oliver Cromwell spent three nights in the Hall.

Clayton Hall is now a Living History Museum dressed in late Victorian style to depict the latest historical period in which the Hall was privately owned.

We were treated to homemade soup and roll, homemade cake and teas and coffees in the Tudor Tea Room before a tour of the Hall and a History Talk with slides.

We left via a spiral staircase housed in the belltower.

After our visit The Friends of Clayton Hall posted on their website: “An absolutely lovely group. What a pleasure it was for us to welcome them as our first group visit to the Hall since before lockdown.”

More photos can be seen here.

Meet the Proudly Black ‘Gay Father of the Windrush Generation’ who fought discrimination in style

28th March 1954: The British liner ‘Empire Windrush’ at port.
(Photo by Douglas Miller / Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

On Windrush Day, 22 June 1948, hundreds of black Caribbean people arrived in the port of Tilbury, near London, having been invited to help rebuild the UK after the war left it with huge labour shortages.

There to greet them that day was Ivor Gustavus Cummings, a gay black man who had reclaimed the word “queer” long before others did the same.

A senior civil servant – and the only black official – in the Colonial Office (a predecessor of the Foreign Office), Cummings devoted much of his life to serving black citizens who had arrived from the colonial-era Caribbean and African nations.

He was proud of his sexuality at a time when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK. Four years after the Windrush docked, Alan Turing was chemically castrated for “gross indecency” with another man.

Despite this, Cummings was “a fastidious, elegant man, with a manner reminiscent of Noel Coward – he chain smoked with a long cigarette holder and addressed visitors as ‘dear boy’,” according to a passage in Stephen Bourne’s Mother Country: Britain’s Black Community on the Home Front.

Dubbed “the gay father of the Windrush generation”, Cummings was on hand that day to welcome these British citizens.

“I am afraid you will have many difficulties,” he warned them. “But I feel sure that with the right spirit … you will overcome them.”

Ivor Cummings was blocked from joining the army because he was black

Ivor Cummings himself knew precisely what obstacles the Windrush generation were to face. Born in England, his mother was a white English nurse, his father a black Sierra Leonean doctor.

After being prevented from pursuing a career in medicine due to poverty, he was then blocked from joining the military due to a law stating all army officers had to be “of pure European descent”. This was struck down shortly after, but by this time Cummings had begun his civil service career.

Before Windrush, he advocated for African and West Indian seamen and workers during the war, who faced a “colour bar” preventing them from entering air raid shelters. He also rallied against police brutality, after receiving reports that black people were being “unduly molested” by officers in the 1930s.

He often voiced his upset by speaking to the press, or by reporting incidents to Edwina Mountbatten, who would, reportedly, in turn tell him of King George VI’s dislike of discrimination.

Though Ivor Cummings’ involvement with Windrush was officially to greet them as an envoy of the crown and instruct them on how to find housing and jobs, he continued to support many for as long as they needed.

Clipping of Ivor Cummings from The Independent’s obituary in 1992 (Nicholas Boston)

Later he was appointed OBE and spent some time in the US as a fellowship. He later travelled to Ghana, where he trained diplomats and was tipped to become the country’s first black governor, according to an obituary in The Independent.

Instead, he was posted to the Ghana High Commission in London and enjoyed other public sector roles in both London and Sierra Leone. He passed away on 17 October 1992, a few weeks before his 45th birthday – and it’s no surprise that his story, as a proudly gay black man, is often omitted from the story of Windrush.

Afghanistan evacuation … The 40th anniversary of a key ECHR case

News

Afghanistan evacuation: First group of LGBT people to be rescued from the Taliban arrives in UK

The group included activists and students who have spoken out against the persecution they face.

A surge in refugees from Afghanistan has been taking place since the Taliban took Kabul in August (Photo: STR/AFP)

The first group of LGBT people to be rescued from Afghanistan since its fall to the Taliban in August has arrived on British soil.

Details of timings, locations, and the route out of Afghanistan have been concealed to protect the safety of those evacuated. But they include LGBT activists and students who have spoken out against the persecution they face.

The group of 29 people arrived safely on Friday, 29 October following international pressure to save LGBT Afghans. They had been subjected to a regime that promised to kill LGBT people through stoning or a practice known as “wall-toppling” – crushing under rubble. Others had been shot dead by the Taliban.

One gay man who spoke a few days after the Taliban seized Kabul said his boyfriend had immediately been captured by the extremists. “They took him away – nobody knows where – and then they kill him,” he said. “Afterwards they said they brought the body [back] and cut his body into pieces to show the people that this is what we do with gay people.”

Several organisations, including Stonewall, Canadian organisation Rainbow Railroad and The Aman Project, which supports refugees in the Middle East, worked with the British Government to organise the airlift. For two months, the Foreign Office, Home Office and the Ministry of Defence collaborated to enable the evacuation.

Tess Berry-Hart of the Aman Project said: “We are absolutely delighted that the first LGBTQ Afghans have arrived on British soil safely … Sadly, many others are still trapped in Afghanistan in danger of being tortured and killed, and we hope today will herald the start of many more safe routes to asylum for LGBTQ people by the international community.”

Efforts are under way to bring more sexual and gender minorities out of the country and to assist them in safe passage to countries in which homosexuality is not criminalised.

Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities, said: “We played a key role getting these people out and will continue to do all we can to help at-risk Afghans leave the country.”

The Executive Director of Rainbow Railroad, Kimahli Powell, added: “Since the fall of Kabul, Rainbow Railroad has been leading efforts to find safety for LGBTQI+ Afghans facing grave danger. In partnership with others, we have directly relocated dozens of persons to safer countries where they can live lives free of state-directed persecution.

Rainbow Railroad is thankful for the strong advocacy of Stonewall UK and for the UK Government, which helped facilitate the arrival of these LGBTQI+ persons. This is just the beginning of our efforts to help hundreds of LGBTQI+ individuals we are supporting in Afghanistan relocate to safety.”

Nancy Kelley, Chief Executive of Stonewall, said: “Throughout this crisis, Stonewall and our supporters have called for international support for LGBTQ+ Afghans, and for their recognition as a priority group for resettlement in the UK.

Today, we are proud that our campaigning and collaboration has resulted in the first group of LGBTQ+ Afghans arriving here in the UK to resettle and rebuild their lives, and for LGBTQ+ people to be recognised as a priority group for resettlement.”

The group who arrived will now be supported by further organisations including Micro Rainbow, which helps LGBT refugees settle in this country. The Government said that more vulnerable LGBT Afghans would be likely to arrive in the next few months, and will be eligible for the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme.

This gives priority to and protection for a range of groups and individuals including those who have helped Britain in Afghanistan, human rights defenders, and members of oppressed groups such as women, girls, and LGBT people.

The 40th anniversary of a key ECHR case

The fight for LGBT+ persons to enjoy their human rights has not been an easy one. 40 years ago, Jeffrey Dudgeon found justice at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Back in 1981, the Strasbourg Court was the first international body to rule that laws criminalising sexual orientation violate human rights, namely the right to respect for private and family life. Its ground breaking judgment led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom and Europe at large, recognising the human rights to millions of people.

The case – Dudgeon v The United Kingdom, 1981

In 1976, Jeffrey Dudgeon lodged an application with the European Commission of Human Rights complaining about the total prohibition of male homosexual acts in Northern Ireland, enforced through a law regulating all acts of buggery and gross indecency between males. This law provided the basis for police raids on the homes of gay men, who were subjected to extensive investigation and the threat of prosecution. Jeffrey had been questioned about his sexual activities by the police, who had also taken and kept diaries and personal correspondence from his home. In 1977, he was informed that a decision had been taken not to prosecute and the papers taken from him by the police were returned. Jeffrey complained that the law prohibiting male sexual acts had a “chilling or restraining effect on the free expression of his sexuality”.

On 22 October 1981, the European Court of Human Rights upheld Jeffrey’s complaint that the criminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adults in Northern Ireland amounted to an unjustified interference with his right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Impact of the case in the United Kingdom, Europe and beyond

This judgment was the first case to be decided at the European Court of Human Rights in favour of LGBT+ persons’ rights.

It led the UK Parliament to partially decriminalise sexual acts between men in Northern Ireland in 1982. But it also paved the way for the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Europe, as any law criminalising homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in Council of Europe member states would subsequently be considered a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private life) under the human rights convention. 

The case underpinned other judgments by the Strasbourg Court against states that enforced a total prohibition of homosexual acts. However, it took until 2014 (Northern Cyprus) to achieve the complete decriminalisation of homosexual acts in all Council of Europe member states.

The Dudgeon case also shaped jurisprudence outside Europe – for example, in the United States, where it was cited in the US Supreme Court’s Lawrence v Texas (2003) decision which found anti-sodomy laws in 14 states to be unconstitutional in the case.

Importance and relevance of the ECHR for the protection of LGBT+ persons’ human rights

The Dudgeon judgement was the first, but not the only case where the European Court of Human Rights made major decisions positively impacting the human rights of LGBT+ persons in Europe.

The Court has recognised:

  • the right of transgender persons to legal gender recognition without the requirement of sterilising surgery or treatment;
  • the right to legal recognition of same-sex relationships;
  • the right for same-sex couples to access civil unions when they are made available to different sex-couples;
  • non-discrimination with regard to second-parent adoption in a same sex-relationship;
  • the protection of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, particularly for vulnerable groups including LGBT+ persons; and
  • the recognition of homophobic hate speech and homophobic hate crimes.

The Court considers the European Convention on Human Rights as a “living instrument”, which is “interpreted in the light of present-day conditions and of the ideas prevailing in a democratic society”. There are areas in which the Court’s case-law is still evolving, such as on equal access to marriage, the elimination of discrimination in immigration and asylum, non-discrimination on the grounds of sex characteristics and gender identity, and the depathologisation of transgender identities. There is still a long way to go in the fight for equal rights.

From the Pride March 1976, organised mainly by the Campaign for Homosexual Equality

Cabaret with Queer Family Tea … Documentary “Cured” … Can we trust Liz Trust on conversion therapy?

News

Queer Family Tea

Manchester grassroots organisation Queer Family Tea (QFT) held their relaunch event on 28 October. QFT provides a sober space for LGBTQIA+ individuals in Greater Manchester.

The relaunch event, a cabaret night featuring multiple local entertainers, was hosted at the historic Victoria Baths.

Victoria Baths is a Grade II listed building, in the Chorlton-on-Medlock area of Manchester. The Baths opened to the public in 1906 and cost £59,144 to build. Manchester City Council closed the baths in 1993 and the building was left empty. A multimillion-pound restoration project began in 2007.

In the design and construction of the Baths, a great deal of money was expended, Manchester having at that time one of the world’s wealthiest municipal coffers. The façade has multi-coloured brickwork and terracotta decoration. The main interior public spaces are clad in glazed tiles from floor to ceiling and most of the many windows have decorative stained glass.

The event started with a homemade meal in the café and was followed by a tour of the building. At 7.30pm, the cabaret began in the old swimming pool at the Baths, and we heard the SHE Choir, spoken word, drag kings and queens, dance, and comedy.

More photos can be seen here.

Documentary “Cured” shows how homosexuality was removed as a mental disorder

In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association made the landmark decision to remove homosexuality from its manual of mental disorders. It had classified same-sex attraction as a “sociopathic personality disturbance” in its first edition, which was published in 1952.

In the documentary “Cured”, filmmakers Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer give an inside look at the movement to remove the classification and the pioneering activists who took on the American Psychiatric Association, a formidable institution, and won.

“To be considered a sociopath is quite an intense burden to be branded with,” Singer says.

The activists’ mission was not only to overturn the official diagnosis, but also create a meaningful dialogue with the rank-and-file members of the association that would challenge deep-rooted prejudices and transform minds.

Disguised as “Dr. Henry Anonymous” in an oversized tuxedo and distorted Richard Nixon mask, Dr. John Fryer sent shock waves through the American Psychiatric Association’s 1972 convention by describing his life as a closeted gay psychiatrist. Activists Barbara Gittings, far left, and Frank Kameny, also were on the panel to talk about being gay. Photo: Kay Tobin via Manuscripts & Archives Division, The New York Public Library.

Cured” made its broadcast debut on 11 October 2021 – National Coming Out Day – in the United States.

Up until 1973, the psychiatric establishment said homosexuality was a condition that needed to be cured. In addition to intensive talk therapy, LGBT+ people received painful and brutal treatments including electroconvulsive therapy, aversion therapy, and in extreme cases, castration and lobotomies.

Fearing these “cures” and widespread stigma, many gay men and lesbians were afraid to be their authentic selves.

Adding insult to injury, the American Psychiatric Association’s “scientific” diagnosis was often used to justify discrimination and persecution against gay men and lesbians.

The documentary “Cured” also provides vital historical context for the ongoing debate about conversion therapy, a harmful practice that aims to cure gender identity or sexual orientation through psychological or faith-based interventions, sometimes called “Pray the Gay Away.”

Although conversion therapy has been discredited by the American Psychiatric Association and other major medical organisations, it is still legal for minors in 30 states.

In an interview with Q Voice News, Singer, who co-produced and co-directed “Cured,” talks about the gay and lesbian trailblazers showcased in the film and their quest to have homosexuality declassified as a mental disorder.

Here are some excerpts:

Movement to have homosexuality removed as a mental disorder

“I had a general sense that something had changed in 1973 and that there was a turning point, but I didn’t know what had happened, what it meant or how it had happened,” Singer says. “Patrick, my co-director and co-producer, had the idea that this was a story that hadn’t been told.

It’s a pivotal moment in the modern LGBTQ movement. This story deserved a closer look to really understand what happened and why it mattered,” he says. “The clock was ticking because so many of the participants and activists at the heart of the story were at an advanced age. Of the 15 people we interviewed, five of our storytellers have died.

It really underscores in a big way that essential history is easily lost if it is not documented.”

Impact of removing the mental disorder label

“Once the label had been removed, it opened the doors to a whole range of other civil rights progress in legislation,” Singer says. “The federal government began rethinking its prejudice policies toward gay people. “There is a direct line up to the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the legalisation of same sex marriage. There was a rethinking of gay people as healthy, productive citizens who deserved rights and dignity.”

Conversion therapy – can we trust Liz Truss?

The Tory government has repeatedly pledged to outlaw the traumatising practice, which has been discredited by every major psychiatric body.

In May 2021, Queen Elizabeth II promised a conversion therapy ban would be brought forward during her speech at the State Opening of Parliament.

Immediately afterwards, the Government Equalities Office said legislation would be advanced following a public consultation process which would “ensure that the ban can address the practice while protecting the medical profession; defending freedom of speech; and upholding religious freedom.”

The public consultation was supposed to be launched in September, but was pushed back.

The delay is just the latest setback in the long fight to ban conversion therapy in the UK. Theresa May’s government first promised to outlaw the practice in 2018 – but more than three years on, conversion therapy remains legal in all regions of the UK.

In the years that have elapsed since that initial promise, Tory ministers have repeatedly promised that legislation will be advanced – but they have also repeatedly kicked the can down the road.

A six-week public consultation has now opened on 29 October over how best to end conversion therapy, which is described by health bodies as an attempt to change or suppress someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

This generally entails trying to stop or suppress someone from being gay, or from living as a different gender to their sex recorded at birth.

After the consultation the Minister for Women and Equalities, Liz Truss, will decide on whether the plans should be amended. A bill will be drawn up by next spring, with the aim of putting it on to the statute book by May 2022.

Liz Truss leaves Downing Street after attending a cabinet meeting in central London on 27 October 2021.
(Photo by Ben STANSALL / AFP)

A 2017 survey estimated 5% of LGBT people have been offered conversion therapy, and 2% have experienced it.

A ban was first mooted in the same year, and the new proposals include stronger legislation for England and Wales, including creating a new criminal offence.

Liz Truss said: “There should be no place for the abhorrent practice of coercive conversion therapy in our society.”

The consultation also contains a range of other suggested measures including:

  • Conversion therapy protection orders;
  • Restricting promotion of conversion therapy, including online;
  • Removing profit streams from perpetrators; and
  • Making it easier to disqualify a perpetrator from holding a senior role in a charity.

If you want to submit your views regarding the proposals, please click here.