Gertrude Stein & Alice B Toklas … Centre for Ageing Better Image Library


Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas

Gertrude Stein (3 February 1874 – 27 July 1946) was an American novelist, poet, playwright and art collector. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and raised in Oakland, California, Stein moved to Paris in 1903, and made France her home for the remainder of her life.

Gertrude Stein and the love of her life, Alice B Toklas (30 April 1877 – 7 March 1967), first met in Paris on 8 September 1907.

Stein and Toklas became extremely influential in the development of modern art and literature. Together they hosted a Paris salon – one of the most celebrated salons in Europe – that attracted well-known members of the avant-garde artistic and literary world. Among their numerous colleagues, friends and patrons were Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Thornton Wilder, Ernest Hemingway, Georges Braque, André Derain, Max Jacob, Guillaume Apollinaire, Henri Rousseau, Sherwood Anderson and Ezra Pound. “Everybody brought somebody,” Stein wrote, “and they came at any time … it was in this way that Saturday evenings began.”

Stein was an acclaimed modernist writer known for challenging conventional understandings of genre, narration and form. Toklas, a fierce advocate of Stein’s work, encouraged her to write The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas (1933), which brought the two women international recognition.

Shifting between biography, autobiography and memoir Stein was able to obscure the exact nature of her relationship with Toklas while telling the colourful story of the life they shared. Two well-known lesbian Jews, Stein and Toklas remained in France and survived both World Wars thanks to the protection afforded them by having made friends in high-places – at a price many have speculated may have included selling out French Jews in exchange for a guarantee of their own safety in the heart of fascism … an indelible dark stain on an otherwise striking personal history.

Stein is the author of one of the earliest coming out stories – QED – written in 1903 but suppressed by the author. It wasn’t published until after her death in 1950.

The more affirming essay “Miss Furr and Miss Skeene” is one of the first homosexual revelation stories to be published based on lesbian partners Maud Hunt Squire and Ethel Mars. The work, like QED, is informed by Stein’s growing involvement with a homosexual community. The work contains the word “gay” over 100 times, perhaps the first published use of the word “gay” in reference to same-sex relationships and those who have them.

In the 1980s, a cabinet in the Yale University Beinecke Library, which had been locked for an indeterminate number of years, was opened and found to contain some 300 love letters written by Stein and Toklas. They were made public for the first time, revealing intimate details of their relationship. Stein’s endearment for Toklas was “Baby Precious”, in turn Stein was for Toklas, “Mr Cuddle-Wuddle”.

Stein died at the age of 72 from stomach cancer in 1946. Toklas, who penned the famous Alice B Toklas Cookbook (1954), spent the remainder of her life protecting and promoting Stein’s legacy until her own death in 1967. They are interred in Paris in the Père Lachaise cemetery where they share a grave and a headstone.

Centre for Ageing Better

The Centre for Ageing Better has updated their image library!

The new collection aims to improve depictions of older people with different life experiences, highlighting people living across diverse communities and from a range of socio-economic backgrounds.

The new photos illustrate the experiences of people who are often under-represented – those who live on low incomes, identify as LGBTQ+ or are aged 70 and above. The collection showcases later life across the country, from Brighton to Manchester and beyond.

You can download the photos and use them for free now!

Rachel, 63, talks about her experience of being photographed for the Age-positive image library, as well as the importance of positive representation for older trans people.

“I’m a 63 years young Anglo-Australian dual national Trans woman, or a woman with a gender history as I prefer to say. I’m also a Lesbian so I have two footholds in the LGBTQ+ community.

I’m multifaceted and have packed a lot into 63 years. I trained in the UK in the mid to late 70s as a registered Nurse specialising in Orthopaedic Theatres and practised overseas in the Middle East in the 1980s before immigrating to Perth in Western Australia, which became my home until 2017 when I came here after my divorce, and to look after my Mum. I’m proudly Australian and like many expatriate Aussies I still consider it home.

I currently work in Broadcast Radio as a Radio Presenter, writing and presenting my own Transgender and Allies show called The Rachel Oliver Show. I’m active in the Transgender community and volunteer in a trans healthcare support capacity for a major LGBTQ+ charity among other activities.

The experience of being in the Age-positive image library was awesome, as is any opportunity to represent my LGBTQ+ community in promotional photo work.

I had completed a filmed training video interview that morning, so I was dressed in business attire rather than the 1950s Pin-Up style make-up and dress, which I usually prefer to wear for TV or modelling, so was a little different than usual. But change is often beneficial, and it was great to try out something different. The casually posed images taken of me enjoying a coffee and cake captured my bubbly personality and humour perfectly.

I certainly don’t feel old and there’s plenty of activity around me. I’m never lost for something to occupy myself with and being mature certainly doesn’t mean slowing down or inactivity.

I’m busier now with radio and other projects and interests than I was in my 30s. It’s important to change societal attitudes towards ageing by showing how positive and life affirming ageing can be and the contributions we can make to society as elders and critical thinkers.

Rachel on her laptop in a café

In regard to the LGBTQ+ community and in particular trans people, that’s an added complexity to ageing and one which carries its own issues. We’re no different to anyone else and are just ordinary people with extraordinary life stories which have brought us to this place, often later in life, as in my story where I came out at 50.

That was because societal restrictions towards LGBTQ+ people in the last century and especially trans people which have only really started to lift in the last couple of decades with the Gender Recognition Act. Societal restrictions against trans people are still continuing now, as our trans rights continue to be under attack. Consequently, it’s vital to see positive depictions of us in photos and the media to inspire and consolidate our position in society.

The transgender community is a small one, at less than 262,000 in the UK, based on the last census figures. But that’s actually a population which in fact is bigger than many small countries. And yet there’s a distinct lack of positive imagery of people in the trans community and especially of mature over 50 trans people going about our daily business and contributing to society as members of the wider community.

I don’t feel old until my arthritic joints rudely remind me that I can’t do certain physical things I could do with ease in my 20s. My mind hasn’t aged, except to gain more maturity, become awakened to injustice and discriminatory attitudes, involve itself in applying critical thinking and to absorb information from lived experience.”

Patrick is 73 and a retired teacher. Here he talks about his experience of being photographed for the Age-positive image library.

“Doing the photo shoot for the image library was a very enjoyable experience. It was made even more special by having the photos taken with my long-standing friend David: firstly, in our line dancing outfits, and then in everyday gear, chatting, having afternoon tea and using a computer.

It’s important that older people are seen to be healthy, active, and still useful members of society. It’s particularly important that members of the LGBTQ+ community are seen in this way, and not just a minority group with no significant role to play in society, especially when we’re older.

I would like to see more of a variety of interests and activities represented in the image library photos. For example, in addition to being a line dancer, I’m in a walking group, play badminton, as well as a great traveller all over the world.

Getting older has its negatives, but a lot of positives too. It is a natural part of the life cycle, and it doesn’t worry me. I’m 73, a big number, but still young in my attitude to life. I am lucky enough to own my own place, am comfortable financially, and enjoy life. The one thing I personally don’t want to happen in future years is to end up in a care home, where I might have to ‘go back in the closet’. I value my independence and will do my best to ensure that doesn’t happen.

While the aches and pains occur more frequently, and last longer, I try to keep myself fit and healthy and involved in many social groups, which is so important.”

Our Song … Bricktop (the woman with Le Wow) … Launch of Out In The City Exhibition



One of our funders – Forever Manchester – sent us a bizarre, off the wall request.

From Friday, 3 February at 1.00pm they will be launching The Forever Manchester Audio Show, which will be a monthly programme on ALL fm (96.9 fm).

The programme will include a mix of “community snapshots” and Forever Manchester were enquiring if there was a particular song that describes our group and could be featured on the radio.

We didn’t have an adopted song, but after speaking to a few members of the group we came up with the 1965 hit “Downtown” by Petula Clark. The song starts:

“When you’re alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go
When you’ve got worries all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help I know

… and continues:

“And you may find somebody kind to help and understand you
Someone who is just like you and needs a gentle hand
To guide them along
So maybe I’ll see you there
We can forget all our troubles, forget all our cares

So go downtown
Things will be great when you’re

The vintage of the song and the lyrics seem appropriate to describe Out In The City.

Bricktop: Red Hair, Paris, the Harlem Renaissance, and the Woman with Le Wow

(14 August 1894 – 1 February 1984)

Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith aka “Bricktop” / Historical photo

“Greatness comes from a person knowing who (s)he is, being satisfied with nothing but the best, and still behaving like a warm and gracious human being.”

Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith was born in 1894 in rural West Virginia. Ada’s family went north to Chicago when she was four. By the time she was 14, she was hanging around vaudeville theatres and the saloons that accommodated Black performers (plus the accompanying underworld).

Dubbed “Bricktop” for her red hair, her singing and dancing were eventually noticed, and she began to appear on vaudeville stages, contracted through the aegis of the hated-but-no-alternative “Theatre Owners Booking Association” — TOBA, nicknamed “Tough on Black Asses.”

She tired of the unpredictability of the TOBA and went to Harlem after the First World War, where she wowed ‘em enough that she headlined at Connie’s Inn, a huge place with a 12-man orchestra. Sammy Richardson, the doyen of Black performers in Europe, offered her a gig at Le Grand Duc in Paris. Paris? Sure!

After a terrible voyage over in 1924, wracked with seasickness and doubts, Bricktop arrived at Le Grand Duc. It was a tiny, grimy spot. Broke and hungry, she burst into tears.

A kind waiter tried to cheer her with food, drink and general warmth. He was the 22-year-old Langston Hughes, who became a close friend. Determined to make it, Bricktop set to work and began creating a name for herself, treating people like old friends, hiring the best musicians, serving the strongest drinks …

But her now friend Cole Porter decided she needed her own club and put his money up with hers to open Club Bricktop in the Montmartre. People came for the atmosphere and equal treatment for all. Among the 300 or so jazz clubs in Paris in the late ‘20s, Bricktop’s was special. In fact, it was where musicians and staff from other clubs gathered when they finished working.

Busboys, expats, Parisians, the rich and the broke, all carried on among artists and writers, well known and not. You could see Bricktop teaching people like the Prince of Wales how to do the dance the Black Bottom. She wore clothes made for her by her confidante Elsa Schiaparelli. Naturally, her lover Josephine Baker was often there (a husband was in the mix too for a short time).

Harlem came to Paris with “L’Art et les Noirs.” The fact that you could be Black and eat where you wanted, live where you wanted, and love who you wanted contrasted so deeply with America. She hosted singers, musicians, and dancers, like Mable Mercer, King Oliver, and Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller.

Cole Porter could be seen pounding the piano and asking “How’m I doin’ Brickie? How’m I doin’?” (He was trying to woo young men).

One very late night, Bricktop’s good friend, the novelist F Scott Fitzgerald, was arrested for cavorting in a very important Parisian fountain. He kept shouting that he was a friend of Bricktop’s, so they couldn’t arrest him!

The gendarmes dragged Fitzgerald to Bricktop’s apartment building — everyone knew where both her club and apartment were. The doorman got Bricktop to get dressed and go down to the lobby. Yes, she did know him, but he couldn’t come in, as he would drip water all over the rug.

World War II meant fleeing Paris in 1940 — Nazis did not like Americans, and they really loathed Black people. Returning to New York, she tried to set up a new club, but couldn’t deal with US racism. She eventually returned to postwar Paris, but by then Americans were strongly disliked, as were Black people.

She went to Rome and established a club that catered to film royalty like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. But she tired of the long hours and returned home in 1965. After that, she occasionally performed. Bricktop published her autobiography in 1984 and months later died in her New York City bed with an amazing legacy.

Many of her papers are housed at Emory University.

Launch of Out In The City Exhibition

On Wednesday, 22 February from 5.30pm to 8.00pm we will be launching the Out In The City Creative Writing Art Exhibition as part of LGBT History Month.

The venue is LGBT Foundation, Fairbairn House (2nd Floor), 72 Sackville Street, Manchester M1 3NJ.

Come and see artworks by members of Out In The City produced with Manchester Street Poem.

Oh … er, missus … note the date: 22 February, 5.30pm!

Friends of Dorothy x Smart Barnett Art Exhibition … Holocaust Memorial Day … Story of a Gay Holocaust Survivor … Graying Rainbows Podcast


Friends of Dorothy x Smart Barnett Exhibition

Our trip this week was a visit to a private viewing of the Friends of Dorothy x Smart Barnett Art Exhibition. This was the inaugural show by acclaimed artist and designer Smart Barnett at a gallery in Castlefield.

Showcasing his latest artworks alongside the largest collection of his work to date, Barnett draws inspiration from contemporary image cultures relating to online dating and web/screen based intimacy.

Smart Barnett is an artist and designer living and working in Manchester. His work sits at the intersection of textiles and digital art. Embroidery is at the core of Smart’s practice and the contrast of this often perceived, traditional technique combined with the imagery and themes within his work can be disarming and provocative.

Inside the safe, normative space of embroidery, Smart creates artworks that are expressive and bold.

A large mural comprising individual embroidery pieces covered an entire gallery wall some pieces of which were created exclusively for the Friends of Dorothy show. This was accompanied by an immersive presentation of Smart’s work around the other areas of the gallery. Alongside these works, the artist has created a special limited edition series of homeware items, postcards and signed limited prints.

This is an incredible exhibition involving gay male erotic imagery and themes of a sexual nature.

Sign up to the Friends of Dorothy newsletter here.

Follow on instagram here.

More photos can be seen here.

Holocaust Memorial Day

Auschwitz Liberation 1945

On 27 January 1945, Auschwitz concentration camp – a Nazi concentration camp and extermination camp in occupied Poland where more than a million people were murdered as part of the Nazis’ “Final Solution” to the Jewish question – was liberated by the Red Army during the Vistula–Oder Offensive. Although most of the prisoners had been forced onto a death march, about 7,000 had been left behind. The Soviet soldiers attempted to help the survivors and were shocked at the scale of Nazi crimes. The date is recognised as International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.

I survived the Holocaust as a child – but it left me scared of coming out as gay

I was born on 1 September 1936 in Paris

My mother held me in her arms as she was ordered to face the wall in the living room with my brother Albert standing next to her.

The Nazi officer then went through into the bedroom with four policemen and beat my father until he screamed in pain and lost consciousness. My brother turned around briefly and caught a glimpse of the horror.

The policemen carried my father out of the flat using a blanket as a stretcher – and that was the last time I ever saw him before he was incarcerated in the notorious holding prison at Drancy for almost a year before being transferred to Auschwitz.

I was just five years old at the time and now – just over 80 years later – I’m alive to tell my story as a Holocaust survivor, but also a proud gay man living in London.

I was born on 1 September 1936 in Paris – of Polish-Jewish parents. My brother Albert was born five years earlier in Warsaw.

My parents sought to escape the dreadful conditions for Jews in Poland by moving to Paris. Soon after my birth, my family and I moved into a first-floor flat in the 11th arrondissement.

Whenever we heard movement outside, we had to make no noise at all for fear of being discovered
(Picture: Sacha Kester)

Life became increasingly threatened for Jews in Paris after the Nazi occupation on 14 June 1940. I was not yet four years old. As a baby, the warmth of my family life insulated me from the menacing atmosphere.

Nonetheless, I recall queuing with Albert for the yellow stars inscribed in capital letters ‘JUIF’ – the French word for Jew – that we were forced to wear on our clothing. The fact that this has stuck in my mind indicates that I must have been somehow aware that this requirement meant trouble for us.

One of the few memories I have of my father is him jumping me up and down on the bed – I still hold on to that to this day.

On 20 August 1941, he was taken away by the Nazis. This scene has been blotted from my memory, but Albert – being five years older than me – cannot forget it and it haunts him still. My mother was distraught but she knew she couldn’t let Albert and I suffer the same fate.

In July 1942, she must’ve received warning of an intended raid so, with the help of her sister, took Albert and I into hiding in a room in the Rue du Faubourg du Temple, which wasn’t far from where we were living at the time.

There, we were kept in the dark with the shutters closed and, whenever we heard movement outside, we had to make no noise at all for fear of being discovered.

My mother, like my father, was murdered in Auschwitz (Picture: Sacha Kester)

We’d later learn that this event on 16 and 17 July was the French police rounding up over 13,000 Jews – including 4,000 children. They were held in a bicycle velodrome and stadium called Le Vélodrome d’Hiver in extremely crowded conditions, without food, water or sanitary facilities. 

These poor people were then shipped in rail cattle cars to Auschwitz for their mass murder.

Over a year after our father’s arrest (which was a few days after my sixth birthday), Albert and I – together with Stella, a neighbour a year or so older than me – were taken on a train journey by an unknown Polish woman. It wasn’t possible for my mother to come with us, so she stayed behind. 

We ended up in a small village named Arrou, between Chartres and Le Mans. There, we went into hiding at the cottage of an elderly couple, Monsieur and Madame Sineau.

Their cottage had just one room plus a small lean-to. There was no electricity, no water, and no toilet. The nearby wood served as the latter. There was a wood burning stove for heating and cooking. Lighting was by means of candles and oil lamps.

Albert had to fetch water from a well a hundred metres away and carry the heavy bucket home.

Life became increasingly threatened for Jews in Paris after the Nazi occupation on 14 June 1940 (Picture: Sacha Kester)

The daughter of Madame Braconnier – our concierge in Paris – came to visit us one day in February 1943. She broke the news that our mother had been arrested. This was a shattering blow but I’m not sure I fully comprehended it.

My mother, like my father, was murdered in Auschwitz.

I attended the village school and I believe that all the villagers knew that we were Jewish children in hiding. German soldiers at one time occupied the village and set up tents in the woods near our cottage. Thankfully, no one denounced us. 

When the war ended in 1945, I was eight years old. We were brought back to Paris and stayed for a time with Madame Braconnier, the concierge of our old home.

Then I went to a succession of orphanages before Albert was able to contact distant relatives in London.

In December 1948 – when I was 12 – Albert and I went for a two-week holiday, at the invitation of the extensive London family, my grandmother’s first cousins. One of my clearest memories was marvelling at the carpet of an elderly relative’s home in Edgware, which was a far cry from the cold, hard floors I was used to.

I never returned to Paris, and I was formally adopted by the only childless couple in the family when I was 14. Albert went back to Paris to continue his education, but we kept in contact regularly.

I was formally adopted by the only childless couple in the family when I was 14 (Picture: Sacha Kester)

I went to school and university in the UK, studying natural sciences and then engineering. It was during my teenage years that I realised I was attracted to men. I found myself falling for guys, but always in secret – so of course, it was unrequited love.

Back in those days, it didn’t seem to be a possibility to be openly gay. To have a gay relationship was illegal and frowned upon – and it was hard for me knowing that gay men were persecuted for their sexuality during the Holocaust. For this reason, it just never occurred to me that I could explore any sort of gay lifestyle. 

By my 20s, I became a chemical engineer and I felt societal pressure to get married. It was in my late 20s that I was introduced to my wife via my cousin.

We got along well and we both loved singing so we joined a choir together and bonded over our passion for that. We got married when I was 30 and had two children together – a boy and a girl.

In our late 40s, our marriage hit a bad patch and we split up. The kids, who were teenagers by this point, chose to stay with me.

I take comfort in my family life (Picture: Sacha Kester)

It wasn’t until after we got divorced in my early 50s that I felt like I didn’t have to suppress my same-sex attractions. Gradually, I thought life was too short to stay in the closet so I went in search of a gay community.

Up until that point, I didn’t know anyone who was gay so I felt quite awkward. I can’t remember how but I came across a gay group in Harrow that would meet every week for drinks and socialising.

The first time I walked in, I felt very weird being there. I immediately fancied a couple of the guys there but I was just too anxious to talk to them. It took a full year of going to this social group every week before I worked up the courage to do anything with a man there.

It was beyond liberating to finally feel like my true self. At the time, we didn’t have the internet like we do now, so it was not that easy to meet people.

I came out to my children when I was around 55 – in 1991. They were in their teenage years and they were supportive but somewhat shocked that I had led a secret life for many years, especially my daughter who has always felt very close to me.

My kids and my grandkids are a huge source of joy for me (Picture: Sacha Kester)

My ex-wife has re-married. Now, she and I have a good relationship and I can truly count her as one of my best friends.

Since coming out, I’ve been in several long-term relationships with a few guys – including one with a younger man. We eventually lived and worked together, but things broke down after about seven years. We’re still friends today.

After I retired when I was about 65, I was talking to a friend of mine about what to do with my life and he recommended I join the London Gay Men’s Chorus because I liked singing and it would be a good place to meet people.

I was intrigued so I went along for a choir practice and almost 20 years later, I’m still a part of the group. In fact, I’m one of the longest-running members. I get such a strong sense of family from it, but also fun and friendship.

One of the most moving moments of my time with the choir was after the Orlando gay nightclub massacre in 2016 where 49 people died.

As a group, we gathered in Soho and after a minute’s silence to honour the victims, we broke out into an impromptu rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water.

When I look back on my life, I feel lucky to have been spared the horrible fate of millions of oppressed people – including Jews, but also gay men. If I was just a little bit older and openly gay during the Second World War, I may not be alive today to tell my story.

I was lucky to have had the opportunity of making a new life in a country that respected human rights, tolerance, and diversity. I was also lucky to have been adopted into a loving family that helped me to flourish.

Today, even though I don’t have a partner, I take comfort in my family life – my kids and my grandkids are a huge source of joy for me. Even though my brother Albert and I live in different countries, we’re still close and we’re forever bonded by what we went through together.

At the age of 90, he’s an avid singer and actually is currently taking lessons to do solo performances! 

It’s important for me to share our story because I fear that history could repeat itself. Even in this country, we’re edging closer and closer to fascism and I know all too well the consequences of that.

For all those who have never experienced crimes against humanity such as those that occurred in the Holocaust, I want my life story to act as testimony in the hope we can prevent such things from ever happening again.

Graying Rainbows Podcast

The podcast launched in November 2018 and there are currently 57 episodes.

Graying Rainbows is a community that supports people of all genders and sexual identities, with a focus on the challenges of Coming Out LGBT+ later in life.

If you enjoy listening to podcasts go to the website.

Or subscribe in your favourite podcast app.

Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope … HIV vaccine failed … The word ‘Queer’ … Ian McKellen


Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope

Naked Hope depicts the legendary Quentin Crisp at two distinct phases of his extraordinary life.

Firstly in the late 1960s in his filthy Chelsea flat (“Don’t lose your nerve: after the first four years the dirt won’t get any worse”). Here Quentin surveys a lifetime of degradation and rejection. Repeatedly beaten for being flamboyantly gay as early as the 1930s, but also ostracised simply for daring to live life on his own terms.

The second part of the play transitions the audience to New York in the 1990s. Here a much older Quentin, finally embraced by society, regales the audience with his sharply-observed, hard-earned philosophy on how to have a lifestyle: “Life will be more difficult if you try to become yourself. But avoiding this difficulty renders life meaningless. So discover who you are. And be it. Like mad!”

Naked Hope is a glorious, truthful and uplifting celebration of a genuinely unique human being, and of the urgent necessity to be yourself.

A full house gathered in the Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester for Quentin Crisp: Naked Hope, written and performed by Mark Farrelly.

Mark Farrelly is an accomplished actor, he brings Quentin Crisp to life and tells the story with confidence and panache. Mark’s script is sharp, beautifully observed and weaves in Quentin’s own jokes, anecdotes and barbs.

At one point, I was invited on stage to read out questions from cards, to which Quentin responded. It was great fun.

In short, I thought this was an outstanding piece of theatre.


The only HIV vaccine in advanced trials has failed

The only vaccine still being tested against HIV in late-stage clinical trials has failed, researchers announced on 18 January 2023.

Known as Mosaico, the trial got underway in 2019 and was run out of eight nations in Europe and the Americas.

Almost 3,900 men who have sex with men and transgender people, all of which were considered to be at high risk of contracting HIV, took part in the study.

Scientists at the Johnson & Johnson-owned company Janssen Pharmaceuticals stated that the vaccine posed no health risks, though was simply ineffective at strengthening the immune system against HIV when compared with a placebo.

Dr Penny Heaton, a spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson, said: “We are disappointed with this outcome and stand in solidarity with the people and communities vulnerable to and affected by HIV. We remain steadfast in our commitment to advancing innovation in HIV, and we hope the data from Mosaico will provide insights for future efforts to develop a safe and effective vaccine.”

It is believed that this defeat will set progress toward developing a vaccine back by three to five years, though other early-stage trials could still prove effective.

PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% when taken properly, while other medications make it possible for someone who is HIV-positive to be undetectable and therefore unable to pass the virus on.

The fight against HIV has come a long way since the epidemic began roughly 40 years ago, though the virus still infects around 1.5 million people per year and kills about 650,000.

Reviled, reclaimed and respected: the history of the word ‘queer’

Recently, a number of people have questioned or critiqued the use of the word “queer” to describe LGBT+ folk. One writer to the Guardian’s letters page claimed that the “q-word” was as derogatory and offensive as the “n-word”, and should not be used.

While there is a clear history of the word being used in aggressive and insulting ways, the meaning(s) and uses of queer have never been singular, simple or stable.

The origin of the word ‘queer’

Queer is a word of uncertain origin that had entered the English language by the early 16th century, when it was primarily used to mean strange, odd, peculiar or eccentric. By the late 19th century it was being used colloquially to refer to same-sex attracted men. While this usage was frequently derogatory, queer was simultaneously used in neutral and affirming ways.

The examples provided in the Oxford English Dictionary show this semantic range, including instances of homosexual men using queer as a positive self-description at the same time as it was being used in the most insulting terms.

Compare the neutral: “Fourteen young men were invited … with the premise that they would have the opportunity of meeting some of the prominent ‘queers’” (1914); the insulting: “fairies, pansies, and queers conducted … lewd practices” (1936); and self-affirmed uses: “young men who call themselves ‘queers’” (1952).

John Sholto Douglas, 9th Marquess of Queensberry (20 July 1844 – 31 January 1900), was a British nobleman, remembered for his role in the downfall of the Irish author and playwright Oscar Wilde, and is often cited as an early user of queer as a slur against same-sex attracted men.

In the 1960s and 1970s, as sexual and gender minorities fought for civil rights and promoted new ways of being in society, we also sought new names for ourselves. Gay liberationists began to reclaim queer from its earlier hurtful usages, chanting “out of the closets, onto the streets” and singing “we’re here, we’re queer and we’re not going shopping”.

The newsletters from the time reveal sustained questioning of the words, labels and politics of naming that lesbian and gay people could and should use about themselves. Some gay libbers even wanted to cancel the word homosexual because they felt it limited their potential and “prescribes a whole system of behaviour … which has nothing to do with my day-to-day living”.

In Australia, camp was briefly the most common label that lesbian women and gay men used to describe themselves, before gay became more prominent, used at that time by both homosexual men and women.

The evolving use of the word queer

In the early 1990s, gay had come to be used more typically to refer to gay men. Respectful and inclusive standards of language evolved to “lesbian and gay”, and then “LGBT”, as bisexuals and transgender people sought greater recognition.

Queer began to be used in a different way again: not as a synonym for gay, but as a critical and political identity that challenged normative ideas about sexuality and gender.

I am a faggot

Queer theory drew on social constructionism – the theory that people develop knowledge of the world in a social context – to critique the idea any sexuality or gender identity was normal or natural. This showed how particular norms of sexuality and gender were historically contingent.

Thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Michael Warner, Judith Butler, Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick and Lauren Berlant were enormously influential in the development of this new idea of queer. Some people began to identify as queer in the critical sense, not as a synonym for a stable gender or sexual identity, but to indicate a non-conforming gender or sexual identity.

Activists in groups such as Queer Nation also used queer in this critical sense as part of their more assertive, anti-assimilationist political actions.

Posters from Queer Nation’s Houston chapter

Queer as an umbrella term

From the early 2000s, it became more common to use queer as an umbrella term that was inclusive of the spectrum of sexual and gender identities represented in the LGBT+ acronym.

Today, queer is included among the terms lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender diverse, intersex, asexual, recognised in style guides, as the most respectful and inclusive way to refer to people with diverse sexualities and genders.

Of course, the different usages and meaning of words such as queer have often overlapped and have been hotly contested. Historical usages and associations persist and can sit uncomfortably next to contemporary reclamations.

Queer as a slur?

Contemporary concerns with queer’s historical use as a slur seem odd to some. The heritage report A History of LGBTIQ+ Victoria in 100 Places and Objects, surveys the complexity of language use in historical and contemporary society.

It is notable that almost all of the words that LGBT+ people use to describe ourselves today have been reclaimed from homophobic or transphobic origins.

In fact, it could be said that liberating words from non-affirming religious, clinical or colloquial contexts and giving them our own meanings is one of the defining characteristics of LGBT+ history.

While queer does have a history of being used as an insult, that has never been its sole meaning. Same-sex attracted and gender diverse folks have taken the word and have been ascribing it with better meanings for at least the past 50 years.

Queer’s predominant use today is as an affirming term that is inclusive of all people in the rainbow acronym. At a time when trans and gender diverse folk are facing particularly harsh attacks, I’m all for efforts to promote inclusion and solidarity.

Respectful language use doesn’t require us to cancel queer, but rather to be mindful of its history and how that history is experienced by others.

Ian McKellen talking about “love” just might bring you to tears

It’s hard to imagine anyone with a beating heart who doesn’t love Sir Ian McKellen.

The 83-year-old actor has been not only a beloved screen presence for decades but also an outspoken advocate for LGBT+ rights around the world since coming out in 1988.

And it turns out, the word “love” has special significance to him. On a recent episode of the Apple Music podcast Three Little Words, McKellen told hosts John Bishop and Tony Pitts why.

“If you ever arrive in Manchester,” the Lord of the Rings star explained, “And if you’re lucky enough to be able to afford a taxi, you get in the back of one and the taxi driver – usually a man, but not always – says ‘Where you going love?’”

McKellen paused, seemingly choking back sobs. “Oh, and I feel I’m home,” he continued. “Where grown men call strangers ‘love’. I think if we all did that, it would be a rather better place, wouldn’t it?”

Even more surprisingly, McKellen went on to connect that simple, everyday act of kindness and fellowship to issues around gender and pronouns.

“When people have got problems with gender, and pronouns, and so on,” he continued, “Love covers everything really. Just call everyone love.”

In a video that Bishop posted of the conversation on Twitter, he and Pitts are visibly moved by McKellen’s words, discussing the terms men use to refer to each other, and the shift they’ve seen in straight men’s ability to express affection with one another and with members of the LGBT+ community.

“I mean ‘comrade’ would do, or ‘brother,’ or ‘son,’ or whatever,” McKellen continues. “‘Man,’ yeah, ‘mate.’ Yeah, these are all good words. But … But ‘love’ … if that’s the start of our relationship, I don’t think we can go far wrong, can we?”

Everyone to be protected from conversion therapy … Church of England bishops refuse to back gay marriage


UK government to include transgender people in conversion therapy ban bill

Michelle Donelan, a Conservative MP for Chippenham, and Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has confirmed that the Tory-led government will publish a draft conversion therapy ban that will “protect everyone,” following nearly a year of outrage over the exclusion of transgender people.

In a statement released on 17 January 2023, Donelan wrote:

“We recognise the strength of feeling on the issue of harmful conversion practices and remain committed to protecting people from these practices and making sure they can live their lives free from the threat of harm or abuse … It is right that this issue is tackled through a dedicated and tailored legislative approach, which is why we are announcing today that the government will publish a draft bill which will set out a proposed approach to ban conversion practices, this will apply to England and Wales. The bill will protect everyone, including those targeted on the basis of their sexuality, or being transgender.”

Donelan announcing the draft, which will arrive “shortly,” appears to confirm reports that Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch will not oversee the ban. Badenoch has faced much criticism from the LGBT+ community over her trans-hostile statements.

It comes after then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson dropped plans for a legislative ban in March 2022, only to U-turn by moving ahead with a ban that would protect LGB people only.

The Conservative government first promised a conversion therapy ban in 2018 under Theresa May’s leadership.

The UK government’s own National LGBT Survey shows that 13 percent of trans people, and seven percent of all LGBT+ people have undergone or been offered so-called conversion therapy.

‘We’d love to be married in church’: C of E debates same-sex church weddings

Civil partners Jay Greene and Rev Marion Clutterbuck at home in Bleadon, Somerset Photograph: The Guardian

For 23 years, Jay Greene and the Rev Marion Clutterbuck have devoted themselves to each other and to the Church of England.

Clutterbuck, 66, was one of the first female priests to be ordained in the 1990s. Greene, 69, has served on the church’s parliament, the General Synod, and she is a church commissioner.

Their faith “matters deeply to both of us”, said Greene. But despite the couple’s long and dedicated service to the C of E, it has denied them their dearest wish: to be married in church.

“We’d love to be married in church and to make our promises before God,” said Greene. “Marion has given her life to the C of E, and I have worked hard for the church. But it won’t allow us – and I feel really angry about it.”

Among Anglican churches in the west, the C of E is an outlier. Same-sex marriages are conducted or blessed by the church in Scotland, Wales, the US, Canada and New Zealand.

Church of England bishops refuse to back gay marriage

Justin Welby: ‘I am under no illusions that what we are proposing will appear to go too far for some and not far enough for others.’

The Church of England has rejected demands to allow clergy to conduct same-sex marriages but is proposing that couples who married in a civil ceremony may have their union blessed in church.

The C of E released “historic plans” on 18 January 2023 outlining a proposed way forward after decades of bitter and anguished division over sexuality. The proposal, endorsed by bishops this week, will be put to the C of E’s governing body, the General Synod, next month.

But the church will not change its existing doctrine, that marriage can be only between a man and a woman. Blessings for civil marriages will be voluntary for clergy, allowing those theologically opposed to opt out.

The C of E said it would “offer the fullest possible pastoral provision without changing the church’s doctrine of holy matrimony”. Same-sex couples would still be barred from getting married in a C of E church, but could have a service in which there would be prayers of dedication, thanksgiving or for God’s blessing on the couple in church following a civil marriage or partnership.

The bishops’ recommendations will frustrate campaigners for equal marriage, who say the C of E’s positions causes immense harm to LGBT+ people and is out of step with public opinion.

Bishops will issue an apology later this week to LGBT+ people for the “rejection, exclusion and hostility” they have faced in churches and the impact this has had on their lives.

The proposals came out of several meetings by bishops in recent months, which were the culmination of six years of consultations and discussions on same-sex marriage within the church.

Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, said: “This response reflects the diversity of views in the C of E on questions of sexuality, relationships and marriage – I rejoice in that diversity and I welcome this way of reflecting it in the life of our church.

“I am under no illusions that what we are proposing today will appear to go too far for some and not nearly far enough for others, but it is my hope that what we have agreed will be received in a spirit of generosity, seeking the common good.”

Jayne Ozanne, a longtime advocate for LGBT+ equality in the church, said the “small concession” meant “we are still second-class and discriminated against”.

Couple at Mona’s 440 Club, San Francisco, 1945. Mona’s is generally credited as being the first lesbian bar in the US.