Roberta Cowell, Trans Trailblazer, Pilot and Auto Racer


Roberta Cowell is the first transwoman known to undergo sex reassignment surgery in Britain. But after a splash in the 1950s, she withdrew from public life and died in obscurity.

Roberta Cowell in Paris in 1954. She achieved fame — and received several marriage proposals — when her story was told in newspapers and in Picture Post magazine.
Credit … Maurice Ambler/Picture Post and Hulton Archive, via Getty Images

At the height of Roberta Cowell’s celebrity status, in 1954, her face adorned the cover of Britain’s popular Picture Post magazine. When her story appeared in a newspaper, “I received 400 proposals. Some of them of marriage,” she said in an interview for The Sunday Times in 1972. “I could have had titles, money, the lot.”

She achieved this fame when she became the first person in the UK known to have her gender reassigned from male to female. Her transition — and all of the yearnings and hopes that came with it — involved hormone treatments and surgeries despite what some regarded in strait-laced 1950s Britain as flouting contemporary laws.

“Since 18 May 1951, I have been Roberta Cowell, female,” she pronounced in her autobiography. “I have become a woman physically, psychologically, glandularly and legally.”

Yet by the time Cowell died in 2011 at age 93, her voyage across the lines of gender and social norms had faded into obscurity.

People were perhaps more familiar with Christine Jorgensen, a former US Army clerk who transitioned in Denmark just months after Cowell. When Jorgensen died of cancer in 1989 at age 62, the event was recorded in an obituary in The New York Times.

Cowell’s death, by contrast, went all but unremarked upon, even in Britain. Her body was found on 11 October 2011, in her small apartment in south west London by the building superintendent. A handful of friends attended her funeral, but, apparently at her request, there was no fanfare for the woman who had helped pioneer gender reassignment at a time when it was virtually taboo.

Only in 2013 — two years after her death — was her passing reported, by The Independent on Sunday.

“So complete was her withdrawal from public life that even her own children did not know she had died,” the article said.

The disclosure of her death inspired a brief resurgence of media interest in her story, focusing partly on what was broadly depicted as the severing of all ties with her two daughters and on the circumstances of her transition.

Roberta Cowell on the cover of Picture Post magazine in March 1954. She wrote about her transition in “Roberta Cowell’s Story.”
Credit … Maurice Ambler/Picture Post and IPC Magazines, via Getty Images

After World War II, she developed an interest in the idea of a combination of hormone therapy and surgery to more closely align her body with her gender identity. This had been reinforced by a book called “Self: A Study in Ethics and Endocrinology” (1946) by Michael Dillon, a medical student whom she sought out in 1950.

Michael Dillon

Cowell wrote in her autobiography “Roberta Cowell’s Story,” that during their meeting, over lunch, Dillon revealed that he had himself changed his gender identity through doses of testosterone and gender-affirming surgery – he was the first transman to get a phalloplasty.

Together they agreed that he would help her transition by performing a procedure that was prohibited under so-called “mayhem” laws, forbidding the intentional “disfiguring” of men who would otherwise qualify to serve in the military. If discovered, Dillon would almost certainly have been prevented from completing his studies to become a physician. The operation – an inguinal orchiectomy was conducted in great secrecy, and its success enabled Cowell to seek medical affidavits from a Harley Street gynaecologist stating she was intersex.

This allowed her to have a new birth certificate issued, with her recorded sex changed to female.

Soon afterward, Cowell became a patient of Harold Gillies, a pioneer of plastic surgery who had performed gender-affirming surgery on Dillon, according to the book “The First Man-Made Man: The Story of Two Sex Changes, One Love Affair, and a Twentieth-Century Medical Revolution” (2006). She had a vaginoplasty on 15 May 1951 – an entirely novel procedure, which Gillies had only performed experimentally on a cadaver.

“If it gives real happiness,” Gillies wrote of his procedures, “that is the most that any surgeon or medicine can give.”

Roberta & Michael

By several accounts, Dillon fell deeply in love with Cowell, but she ultimately rejected his proposal of marriage.

Roberta Elizabeth Marshall Cowell was born on 8 April 1918, in Croydon, south of London, one of three children born to Dorothy Elizabeth Miller and a high-ranking military surgeon, Major-General Ernest Marshall Cowell, who had served as a physician in both world wars and, in 1944, was appointed honorary surgeon to King George VI.

In the social order of the time, it was guaranteed that Roberta Cowell would be educated at Whitgift School, a male single-sex public school. Towards the end of her school days, she visited Belgium, Germany, and Austria with a school friend. At the time, one of her hobbies was photography and film making, and she was briefly arrested in Germany for shooting a cine film of a group of Nazis drilling. She secured her release by agreeing to destroy the film, but was able to substitute unused film stock, and keep the original footage. She developed an abiding interest in cars and racing. “It was the be-all and nearly the end-all of my existence,” she said in her autobiography.

From an early age, she wrote, she felt conflicted about her gender, compensating for feminine “characteristics” with an “aggressively masculine manner” that persuaded gay men to take her “for one of themselves.”

Physically, she was sensitive about being overweight, displaying what she called “feminoidal fat distribution.” In her teenage years, other pupils nicknamed her “Circumference” and “Bottom.” She left school at 16 to work briefly as an apprentice engineer until she joined the Royal Air Force in 1935. Her ambition was to become a fighter pilot, but she was found to suffer from acute airsickness and was deemed “permanently unfit for further flying duties with the RAF”.

From then until the start of World War II in 1939, she studied engineering at University College London and entered a series of automobile races including the Antwerp Grand Prix in Belgium. She enlisted in the Army in 1940.

In 1941 she married Diana Margaret Zelma Carpenter, a fellow engineer and race car driver whom she had met in college. They had two daughters, Anne and Diana. They separated in 1948 and divorced in 1952.

Despite her earlier dismissal from flying duties, Cowell was allowed to return to the RAF in 1942, flying combat and aerial reconnaissance missions in Spitfires and other aircraft. After the Allied D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944, she flew out of a Belgian air base in a Hawker Typhoon airplane that was shot down by ground fire over Germany on a low-level attack east of the Rhine River. The flight, she said, had been scheduled as the “very last trip of my second tour of operations.” In fact it was her last flight of the war.

She crash-landed the stricken warplane and was taken prisoner.

Fearing that her captors would treat her harshly, she twice sought to escape and twice she failed. She was transferred to Stalag Luft I, a prison camp for Allied aircrews in north Germany near the Baltic Sea between Lübeck and Rostock.

In her autobiography, she described the surreal elements of wartime life, relating perilous adventures with ironic detachment. She spoke of blacking out at 40,000 feet when her oxygen supply malfunctioned but somehow reviving after her plane plummeted almost to the ground. And, on another occasion, she recounted making an emergency landing atop a cliff on the English coastline just as her plane ran out of fuel.

In the early days of her captivity, she said, an Allied air raid on Frankfurt forced her and her captors into a bomb shelter where angry German civilians realised that she was an enemy pilot. She persuaded them “in my halting German” that she was not a bomber pilot and told them the untruth that her mother and father had been killed in a German raid on London. “It seemed to do the trick and the angry growling died down,” she wrote in her autobiography. “I wonder what would have happened to a Luftwaffe pilot discovered in an air-raid shelter during the blitz.”

Conditions at Stalag Luft I worsened as the end of the war approached, with Soviet Red Army troops advancing across Germany toward Berlin. Food supplies were so meagre, she lost 49 pounds. In May 1945, as German forces surrendered, their captors abandoned the facility, leaving it unguarded until Soviet troops liberated it. Within days, Cowell and other British captives had been flown home aboard American Flying Fortress bombers.

The immediate post war years confronted Cowell with the practical problems of earning a living, variously building and racing cars and renovating houses to sell at a profit. But she also detected a mounting sense of “restlessness and unhappiness,” she wrote in her autobiography, and resolved to undergo Freudian psychoanalysis. “It became quite obvious that the feminine side of my nature, which all my life I had known of and severely repressed, was very much more fundamental and deep-rooted than I had supposed.”

Cowell participating in the women’s race car competition in Sussex, England, when she was 39. After the war, she earned a living by building and racing cars.
Credit … PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo

She began to live a double life, taking hormone treatments to enhance her femininity while still living as a man.

People, she wrote, would speculate openly on her gender. “I preferred to steer clear of children and elderly ladies; they were too observant or at least too outspoken in their remarks.”

Then came the turning point when she met Dillon. The encounter was “so shattering that the scene will be crystal-clear in my memory for the rest of my life,” she wrote.

After three years of therapy and surgery, Cowell seemed to find emotional contentment that was matched only intermittently by material security. Two business ventures, in experimental car engineering and women’s clothing, did not survive.

The publication of her story in Picture Post in 1954 and her autobiography earned her the equivalent of several hundred thousand pounds. In 1957 she won a noted hill climb auto race and bought a wartime Mosquito fighter-bomber in which she planned to break the speed record for a flight across the South Atlantic. But the attempt never came about. In 1958 she appeared in bankruptcy court where she said she had no assets and significant debts, owed mainly to her father.

Cowell’s name has been summoned as a trailblazer in the years since her death, her transition having preceded by decades the public discourse over gender identity and LGBT rights.

Perhaps because she was one of the first to transition medically, she didn’t recommend it easily to others, saying, “Many of those people will regret the operation later. There have been attempted suicides.”

Whether her views would have changed over time will never be known; in 1972 she said she was writing a second autobiography, but it was never published.







Midnight raid by Manchester Police – 140 years ago today


The Illustrated Police News Police raid on a drag ball in Hulme

There are instances of crossdressing balls in many countries. One that has been documented was known through a police raid of a ball celebrated in the Temperance Hall in the Hulme area of Manchester.

On 24 September 1880, the Chief Constable of Manchester received anonymous information about an event “of an immoral character” that was about to take place in the Temperance Hall of Hulme.

The detective Jerome Caminada was despatched with police constables to observe the ball and make any necessary arrests. Of the 47 men that congregated, all wore fancy dress costumes, 22 as women; a pair was dressed as Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, and another as Romeo and Juliet.

The windows of the Temperance Hall had mostly been blacked out and so Detective Caminada and his constables had to observe the ball from a neighbouring rooftop. Caminada reported that the ball had begun at 9.00pm, that dancing had commenced at around 10.00pm and that every now and then, a couple disappeared into a side room. Just after 1.00am, mindful that some guests had started to leave, Caminada gained entry to the ball by giving the password “sister” in an effeminate manner to a doorman dressed as a nun. After the door was opened, the police raided the building, and detained all participants.

The trial showed that some of the revellers were not from Manchester and were regulars of similar balls that were organised in several cities such as Leeds or Nottingham. The men were bound over to keep the peace on two sureties of £25.00 each, a significant sum. Some were unable to pay it and ended up in prison as a result. All the arrested men had their names, addresses and professions published widely.

The picture above shows the front page of the tabloid The Illustrated Police News on the week of the raid at Temperance Hall in Hulme, Manchester.

Two women dancing the waltz (c 1892) by Toulouse Lautrec

Balls for lesbians were also quite common, though not as much as male ones. Not only were they less in number, but there is less information about them, a problem common to all lesbian herstory. On the other hand, in Western societies, two women dancing together publicly is still acceptable nowadays, and can be done without any suspicions of lesbianism.

Two women dancing the tango on a postcard from 1920

However, in Mexico, on 4 December 1901, there was a police raid of a lesbian ball in Santa Maria.

This year a new social evening for women was planned in Chorlton, South Manchester urging women to dress in your finest for “The Days of Duke”. I’ve not been able to find out any more information about this other than the poster below.

Together campaign launched … the B in LGBT


Over the past few months, the LGBT Foundation has been working in partnership with trans and LGBT organisations across the country on an exciting and powerful campaign – together.

The main objective of this campaign is to try and change the public narrative around trans equality to focus on issues of safety and dignity. This reframing approach was taken by organisations in parts of America where they found that people switched off when talking about trans rights, but they were more likely to respond positively when talking about issues of safety and dignity, as this was something they could relate to. We’re hoping to reach out to and win over allies from outside of LGBT communities by refocusing on the issues we want to talk about – safety at school, access to inclusive healthcare, safety at home and in the community, dignity at work and more.

Now, more than ever, we need strong and vocal allies who will stand up for trans people, including non-binary and gender diverse people, and of all ages, abilities, backgrounds and experiences.

Trans children can often experience terrible bullying at school and at home. Trans adults are routinely denied access to appropriate, timely and inclusive healthcare. Hate crimes against trans people continue to rise year on year. Trans people, including non-binary and gender diverse people, and their communities have been subjected to malicious attacks from powerful public voices, seeking to divide trans people from society and frighten allies into silence.

We achieve so much more when we work together.

That’s why a number of the UK’s trans and LGBT+ organisations have joined up for the first time to improve the tone of public debate around trans issues in politics, the media, online and beyond. We hope to move this conversation forward positively. Everyone deserves to live in safety and with dignity.


To get involved the website address is

The hashtag for the campaign is #TogetherWithTrans.

The together campaign organisation team consists of LGBT Foundation, Stonewall, Mermaids, Consortium and Gendered Intelligence.

The B in LGBT

Bi Visibility Day / International Celebrate Bisexuality Day is on 23 September each year, and was first officially marked in 1999. Each year the Day highlights bi awareness and challenges bisexual and biromantic erasure.

See the website – – which collates information about Bi Visibility Day events around the world, and features resources and information about events in previous years.

Bisexuality After 50: the Revolving Closet Door

By Rev Francesca Bongiorno Fortunato

It’s a truism among bisexuals that “coming out” is not a one-shot deal for us, but a constant process. On Facebook, “Relationship Status” is of great importance when it comes to the ways others judge and define us. For those of us who identify as bisexual, relationship status has been a defining aspect of our identities (from the perspectives of other people in our lives) since long before the advent of social media.

I am a woman who is married to a woman. At casual glance, I appear to be a lesbian. For many years before I got involved with the woman who is now my wife, I was married to a man. During those years (again, at casual glance) I appeared to be heterosexual. Since my late teens, I have been serially monogamous. I have had more relationships with men than I have had with women. But there were women, and those relationships were important.

I have always (since age 10 or so, when I first learned the word and realised that it described me) identified as bisexual. But there have been times in my life when I’ve been viewed as lesbian and times (longer and more frequent times, since I’ve been with more men) when I was viewed as straight. If I wanted the truth of my bisexuality to be known, I had to “out” myself, regardless of which sort of relationship I happened to be in at the time. I didn’t always have the energy to do that. And so, my sexual orientation identity has evolved, dependent upon current relationship status.

But what about those times when I’ve been viewed as straight because I was in a serious relationship with a man? Was I “in the closet?” Some might say so. I never wanted to be closeted. I always wanted to be honest about my orientation, for my sake and for the sake of others in the LGBT community. But it wasn’t easy. I had to come out, over and over and over again, to everyone I considered a friend. “You know … I’m bisexual. I had girlfriends as well as boyfriends when I was younger. I can still be attracted to women …”

It should be easier now that I’m with a woman, but it isn’t. If I want people to know I identify as bisexual, rather than lesbian, I still have to make a point of telling them. And then they wonder why. Why, if I’m happy with my wife and not seeking a romantic or sexual relationship with anyone else, should it matter that I’m bisexual? Well … it matters because it’s true. And it mattered just as much (because it was just as true) when I was with a man.

Sometimes it seems that for bisexuals of a certain age (anyone old enough to have been in as many relationships as she has fingers) the closet has a revolving door. We don’t put ourselves in the closet so much as others put us in it (based on relationship status) and force us (if authenticity matters, as it does to me) to push ourselves out of that closet, over and over and over again.

And it matters because I need community, as much as any heterosexual or lesbian woman needs community. I need to be known, accepted and respected for who I am. I need to be part of the fabric of society—not the butt of jokes or the subject of debates regarding my existence.

I hope that it will be easier for future generations of bisexuals to stay out of the closet for life, regardless of relationship status. At this stage in my life, I am willing to keep outing myself as often as is necessary, to keep that closet door from being slammed on me or on other bisexuals. The door will only stop revolving if we have the courage to pry it open, keep it open and, ultimately, dismantle it. I’m working on that. In my writing, in my speaking, in my marching with other bisexuals, and in every other way that I can think of, I’m working on that!

African Rainbow Family … Budding gardeners? … and LGBT depictions on the silver screen


African Rainbow Family

African Rainbow Family is a charity that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people of African heritage living in the UK.

On 17 September 2020 from 10.00am to 9.00pm, African Rainbow Family will ‘takeover’ Ben Hardy’s Instagram channel! Join them on Instagram using @benhardy and follow @africanrainbowfamily

Support them with likes and comments and if you have questions, they will be happy to answer them.


Budding gardeners?

Photograph courtesy Howard Sooley

Michael Derek Elworthy Jarman (1942 -1994) was a film director, stage designer, diarist, artist, gardener and author.

Jarman was outspoken about homosexuality, his public fight for gay rights and his personal struggle with AIDS.

The LGBT Foundation are announcing the next stage of the collaboration with Manchester Art Gallery, launching ten ‘Derek Jarman Pocket Park Volunteer’ roles.

From the end of September 2020 volunteers will work with an artist (initially via Zoom, and eventually face-to-face get togethers) to plan and develop a new urban garden space at the front of Manchester Art Gallery, inspired by Derek Jarman’s garden at Prospect Cottage, Dungeness, Kent.

Applicants must be over 50, LGBT and from the Greater Manchester area.

If you are interested, click on the link here to see the role profile and complete the Volunteering form online.

A blue plaque commemorating Jarman was unveiled at Butler’s Wharf in London (where he had a studio in the 70s) on 19 February 2019, the 25th anniversary of his death.


A couple of people have mentioned recently that they had returned to the pictures as cinemas have now re-opened. I also found, on another website, a poem by Charlie Chaplin which I found very inspirational and is reprinted below.

So I decided to look into the first representations of LGBT people on the “silver screen”.

The first notable suggestion of homosexuality on film was in 1895, when two men were shown dancing together in the William Kennedy Dickson motion picture The Dickson Experimental Sound Film, commonly labelled online and in three published books as The Gay Brothers. At the time, the men were not seen as gay or even flamboyant, but merely as acting fancifully. However, film critic Parker Tyler stated that the scene “shocked audiences with its subversion of conventional male behaviour”.

In silent film, such as Charlie Chaplin’s The Masquerader, it was quite popular for men to dress up as women for comic effect. In the film A Woman (1915), Chaplin dresses as a woman and plays with the affections of men.

During the late nineteenth century and into the 1920s and 30s, homosexuality was largely depicted through gender-based conventions and stereotypes. Oftentimes male characters intended to be identified as gay were flamboyant, effeminate, humorous characters on film.

The terms “pansy” and “sissy” became tagged to homosexuality and described “a flowery, fussy, effeminate soul given to limp wrists and mincing steps”. Because of his high-pitched voice and attitude, the pansy easily transitioned from the silent film era to the talking pictures where those characteristics could be taken advantage of. Gay male characters were depicted as having stereotypically feminine jobs, such as a tailor, hairdresser, or choreographer; reinforcing the stereotype that gay men were limited to certain careers. Lesbian characters did not have a title like gay men, but were still associated with crossdressing, a deep voice, and having a stereotypically masculine job.

The first erotic kiss between two members of the same sex in a film was in Cecil B DeMille’s Manslaughter (1922). Marlene Dietrich was the first leading lady to kiss another female on screen in 1930s Morocco.

During the period of the Great Depression in the 1930s, the cinema audience had significantly waned. Filmmakers produced movies with themes and images that had high shock value to prompt people to return to the theatres. This called for the inclusion of more controversial topics such as prostitution and violence, creating a demand for pansies and their lesbian counterparts to stimulate or shock audiences. With the new influx of these provocative subjects, debates arose regarding the negative effects these films could have.

In the 1931 film City Lights, written and directed by Charlie Chaplin, there are several scenes where Chaplin has a very peculiar relationship with a drunken millionaire (Harry Myers) he meets at a party. He goes home with the drunken rich man. They sleep in the same bed and Chaplin gives him a little love pat before he goes to sleep.

Later in the movie, when the same drunk man meets and recognises Chaplin on the street, he embraces him and kisses him on the mouth (or close to it). Clearly the joke is as conscious as it can be without being stated.

In the boxing scene, Chaplin is between bouts and sitting in the corner of the ring and the ring men are rubbing him on his arms and legs and one of the them slips his hand down inside Chaplin’s trunks where it is promptly removed by Charlie. Also, in a scene previous to the one just mentioned, he flirts (over the top) with another boxer in the dressing room to the extent that the boxer steps behind a curtain to pull off his pants and put on his trunks.

In the film Behind The Screen, an aspiring actress (Edna Purviance), desperate for work, disguises herself as a man and is hired at the studio as a stagehand when the regular crew strikes.

Charlie, discovering that the new stagehand is in fact a woman, gently kisses her just as Goliath (Eric Campbell) enters. “Oh you naughty boys!” Goliath remarks, as he teasingly pinches their cheeks and dances about in an effeminate manner before offering his backside to Charlie, which Charlie promptly kicks. This curious scene representing a homosexual situation is highly unusual in American commercial cinema for its time.

Outside the movies, Chaplin had a penchant for marrying teenage women and ended up fathering eleven children.

In an interview in 1957, when asked to clarify his political views, Chaplin stated: “As for politics, I am an anarchist. I hate government and rules – and fetters … People must be free.”

This is Charlie Chaplin at various ages. He wrote the poem below at age 70:

This is Life!

As I began to love myself

I found that anguish and emotional suffering

are only warning signs that I was living

against my own truth.

Today, I know, this is Authenticity.

As I began to love myself

I understood how much it can offend somebody

if I try to force my desires on this person,

even though I knew the time was not right

and the person was not ready for it,

and even though this person was me.

Today I call this Respect.

As I began to love myself

I stopped craving for a different life,

and I could see that everything

that surrounded me

was inviting me to grow.

Today I call this Maturity.

As I began to love myself

I understood that at any circumstance,

I am in the right place at the right time,

and everything happens at the exactly right moment.

So I could be calm.

Today I call this Self-Confidence.

As I began to love myself

I quit stealing my own time,

and I stopped designing huge projects

for the future.

Today, I only do what brings me joy and happiness,

things I love to do and that make my heart cheer,

and I do them in my own way

and in my own rhythm.

Today I call this Simplicity.

As I began to love myself

I freed myself of anything

that is no good for my health –

food, people, things, situations,

and everything that drew me down

and away from myself.

At first I called this attitude a healthy egoism.

Today I know it is Love of Oneself.

As I began to love myself

I quit trying to always be right,

and ever since

I was wrong less of the time.

Today I discovered that is Modesty.

As I began to love myself

I refused to go on living in the past

and worrying about the future.

Now, I only live for the moment,

where everything is happening.

Today I live each day,

day by day,

and I call it Fulfillment.

As I began to love myself

I recognized

that my mind can disturb me

and it can make me sick.

But as I connected it to my heart,

my mind became a valuable ally.

Today I call this connection Wisdom of the Heart.

We no longer need to fear arguments,

confrontations or any kind of problems

with ourselves or others.

Even stars collide,

and out of their crashing, new worlds are born.

Today I know: This is Life!

~Charlie Chaplin

Lockdown news … “Queer makeover” in retirement homes … HIV and Coronavirus


The guidance in England regarding meeting with others safely is changing from Monday 14 September 2020.

There are now national restrictions, local restrictions and specific restrictions.

Most boroughs of Greater Manchester (City of Manchester, Trafford, Bury, Tameside, Rochdale and Salford) are subject to local restrictions.

However, Stockport and Wigan are subject to the more generous national restrictions and Bolton and Oldham are subject to specific restrictions.

When Manchester is subject to the national restrictions we will be able to arrange meetings again.

Generally, you must not meet in a group of more than six, indoors or outdoors, but there are exceptions where groups can be larger than six people, including for work, and voluntary or charitable services.

Age UK Manchester have confirmed that, once local restrictions are eased, Out In The City fits under the exemption of a group that is “a voluntary or charitable service”. As long as the venue is Covid-19 secure, having undertaken a risk assessment, and the space is large enough to fully social distance, we can begin our meetings again.


Five retirement homes in Manchester to get “queer makeover” as part of project exploring LGBT+ visibility within older communities

A collection of artists will create work celebrating LGBT+ visibility in over-50’s at five retirement homes in Manchester (Image: Manchester Evening News)

A group of artists are partnering with older persons’ housing services across Greater Manchester in order to create work encouraging more inclusivity within sheltered housing and independent living schemes.

The Back In The Closet project by LGBT Foundation will see an artist work directly with staff and residents at a Manchester housing scheme to create an ‘artistic response’ to the experiences of residents.

Artists taking part in the residency include Trafford-based visual artist Jez Dolan, storyteller Lauren Sagar, filmmaker Anna Raczynski and visual artist Tamzin Forster.

Artists Rachel Anderson and Cis O’Boyle will also be involved as part of Idle Woman, a collaborative project focused on creating vibrant spaces for women through sculpture and performance.

“My practice as an artist is focused around queerness, identity and history, often through telling stories,” artist Jez Dolan explains of his involvement in the project.

Visual artist Jez Dolan is one of the artists to be taking part in the Back In The Closet project (Image: Jez Dolan)

“The Back in the Closet project has a real resonance with my ongoing work, and I’m really excited about the opportunity of sharing my practice with older LGBTQIA+ people living in residential settings.

As an older artist I’m looking forward to collaborating with communities of people and sharing our stories and shared histories, and looking at how we can make often unheard voices heard and appreciated.”

During September, each artist will spend a minimum of eight days remotely working with their partnered scheme.

Calico Homes, One Manchester, Trafford Housing Trust and Great Places Housing Group are all taking part in the project, which is in partnership with HouseProud and Great Places at Greater Manchester Combined Authority.

Cllr Brenda Warrington, Greater Manchester’s Lead for Age-Friendly and Equalities, said she hoped the project would lead to more ‘dignified and inclusive housing’ from housing associations.

“A survey in 2014 reported that two thirds of care home staff said there was not a single resident who was openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans where they worked,” Cllr Warrington said.

“We know this cannot be true and points to the fact that many older LGBT+ people feel uncomfortable and unable to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity.

We can learn a lot through this scheme and by using art, residents and staff will have the chance to be creative and I look forward to seeing the end results.”

Launched last year by Sir Ian McKellen, LGBT Foundation’s Pride in Ageing programme was set up after growing concerns that many LGBT+ people over the age of 50 are living in isolation and regularly face discrimination.

During Manchester Pride, drag artist Cheddar Gorgeous joined Pride in Ageing to host virtual LGBT History quizzes and make-up tutorials specifically for the over-50’s.

Lawrie Roberts, Pride in Ageing Manager at LGBT Foundation, said he hoped the Back In The Closet project would help Manchester’s older LGBT+ community feel heard.

“Pride in Ageing aims to make Greater Manchester one of the best places to grow older as a LGBT+ person, and ensuring that people feel safe and comfortable to be open about their sexual orientation or trans status in the housing scheme in which they live is a huge part of achieving this,” he added.

“We are incredibly excited to be working with a group of hugely talented artists from across the North West and a network of housing providers across Greater Manchester on these residencies, which though creative practise will open up new conversations around LGBT+ visibility in retirement schemes.”


NAM is a charity who share information about HIV & AIDS.

Two UK studies find that HIV infection may be a risk factor for dying from COVID-19.

Two studies relating COVID-19 mortality in the UK to HIV status have both concluded that having HIV raises the risk of dying from COVID-19, after adjusting for age and some other factors.

The first (Bhaskaran) is a population survey of mortality risks, which relates death from COVID-19, as listed on death certificates, to HIV status recorded in National Health Service (NHS) primary care records.

The other (Geretti) is a prospective cohort study of mortality in patients who have been hospitalised due to COVID-19 and compares mortality in patients with and without HIV.

The first study finds that, since 1 February and up to 22 June, people with HIV had a 130% raised risk (i.e. 2.3 times the risk) of dying from COVID-19 compared with the general population (a risk similar to that seen in a recent study in South Africa’s Western Cape province, presented at AIDS 2020: Virtual in July).

The second study finds a 63% raised risk of dying of COVID-19 among the HIV-positive members in its database of hospitalised patients, once age and state of health on admission are taken into account. The database consists of the UK patient data from ISARIC, an international research consortium. It covers a slightly different time frame to the first study; from 18 January, when COVID-19 PCR testing first became available to UK hospitals, to 18 June.

Both studies face the problem that in the UK, where HIV is a lot rarer than in South Africa, they are working with small numbers of COVID-19 deaths in people with HIV. The first study found only 25 people whose HIV status was recorded in GP records and whose death certificates recorded death from COVID-19. The second study found 115 people hospitalised for COVID-19 who were recorded as having HIV, and virtually the same number of deaths, 26. Many but not all of these will be the same people. These small numbers make it very hard to show that their results are statistically significant and not just due to chance, and can lead to different results.

For instance, the first study found that the raised risk of death in people with HIV seemed even larger in people who self-described as Black, as opposed to any other ethnicity; the second did not find this association.

Interestingly, the first study found that, although this was not statistically significant owing to the low numbers, the higher risk of death was most evident during the first 60 days of the pandemic. The authors speculate that this may reflect less social distancing and/or greater vulnerability to infection during the early weeks, before people with HIV were advised to shield. Beyond day 90 of the pandemic (from 2 May) the increased risk due to HIV was no longer apparent.

The findings of both studies have been published as pre-print articles, which means they have not yet been peer-reviewed. In a statement issued in response to the studies, the British HIV Association (BHIVA) and allied organisations urge that the findings should be interpreted with caution, especially as due to limited figures and under-recording, the influence of other risk factors for COVID-19 mortality could be under-estimated.