I was recently asked to be interviewed by a journalist for a Gen Z website (verygoodlight.com). I had heard of ‘boomers’ and ‘millennials’ but Gen Z? I had to google it. Gen Z are people born 1996 to 2004, so people aged 17 to 25. In a recent Gallup poll in the US one in six adults in Generation Z identifies as LGBT.
Three of us were interviewed, but the other two older members of the LGBTQ+ community were aged 37 and 30!
Here’s what three older members of the LGBTQ+ community want Gen Z to learn
Melissa Ianniello, a queer photographer, says, “Those who today are between 60 and 90 years old have literally made the history of feminism and the LGBTQ+ movement. It is right and important that the new generations know who we come from and why. It is also right that we network: only with intergenerational solidarity, brotherhood, and sisterhood can we really defeat patriarchy and homo-lesbo-bi-transphobia.”
Very Good Light interviewed three LGBTQ+ identifying adults to learn about the impact of LGBTQ+ history from the older generations of this community. As individuals who have stood in their truth for longer than some members of Gen Z have been alive, Tony Openshaw, Sassafras Lowrey, and Melissa Ianniello have valuable advice and stories to remind us how to live authentically.
Tony Openshaw (he/him), 66-years-old, is a gay man from Manchester, England. After coming out as a young adult, Tony now manages Out in the City, a social outlet and support group for LGBTQ+ identifying individuals over the age of 50. Sassafras Lowrey (ze/hir), 37-years-old, is a queer author and journalist who came out in hir late teenage years. Melissa Ianniello (she/her), 30-years-old, is a photographer and illustrator from Bologna, Italy, who identifies as lesbian and bigender.
Finding chosen family
When Tony came out to his family, his sexuality was rejected and ignored. He moved out of his parent’s house and into his first solo apartment, where he was eventually evicted on the grounds of his sexuality. Later on in life, Tony settled down and found a long-term partner of 31 years. When his partner passed away suddenly, he went to the bereavement centre, where the woman there asked if they had a civil partnership.
“I said, ‘No we didn’t have a civil partnership, but we lived together for 31 years.’ She said, ‘Not next of kin then.’ She totally disregarded our relationship.”
Despite these experiences of blatant homophobia and discrimination, Tony says his feelings of loneliness and separation mostly came from an unwillingness to be seen by society. “Nobody talked about being gay, what that meant, and you didn’t know who to turn to,” he says.
Sassafras noticed similar issues in hir childhood. Ze made hir writing a space “for current and former homeless LGBTQ+ youth to not feel alone in their experience.”
Melissa believes there’s a growing need, as you age, to continue to embrace and experience the fullness of your sexuality to avoid this loneliness and exclusion from society.
“The challenge that older people, whether LGBTQ+ or not, have to face about their sexuality is to see recognized by the outside world the right to love, to choose a new partner, to have sex, to masturbate, all this without feeling guilty or ashamed,” she says. “Sexuality is something necessary, powerful, and wonderful at any age, and to oppress and suppress it is only harmful.”
Both Sassafras and Melissa chose to focus their work in photography and writing around their LGBTQ+ identity. Melissa is grateful to say that her work has never been undermined due to this choice. However, she has certainly noticed the effects of the intersection of her identity and her career.
“I have felt a certain reluctance on the part of Italian magazines and newspapers to publish my photographs,” she says. “I have received several compliments from various photo editors, but I have often been told that the director of the magazine/newspaper was not interested in the topic or that the topic had already been covered in a previous article.”
Melissa is concerned to see that many media publications think that they can cover the LGBTQ+ community in just one article during one month, but the LGBTQ+ community exists 24/7.
As an author, Sassafras says that ze “knows that there are opportunities that have been closed to me because of how deeply rooted in queer subcultures my novels are.” However, this is also what makes hir work so valuable.
When looking to turn hir novel Lost Boi, a “queer punk” version of Peter Pan, into a television series, production companies have said that they felt hir work “was just too edgy/queer for their bosses to feel like they could sell the idea.” Suggesting that one’s sexuality or gender identity should be considered “edgy” speaks to the challenges faced with marketability in a heteronormative industry that both Melissa and Sassafras have experienced.
In Tony’s work with Out in the City, he has noticed a stigma around older LGBTQ+ generations. “I would like to break down the stereotype that all older people are the same. We are just as diverse as any other group – and should not all be lumped together.”
Tony attempts to challenge these stigmas with his work by creating a space in which older LGBTQ+ individuals can still explore social and romantic relationships.
Melissa also uses her work to celebrate the vibrancy of older LGBTQ+ generations. “I want to denounce the ageist society that looks at the elderly only in terms of assistance and pietism. In short, I did not want to support the unfortunately widespread idea of the ‘lonely elderly’ but, on the contrary, to show that elderly people, including LGBTIQ, feel much more than loneliness. In general, with my work, I hope to teach the younger generation to have interest, respect, and curiosity for older generations.”
Melissa hopes that viewers can see the “joy and pride” that all ages of the LGBTQ+ community experience.
Words of encouragement
These three individuals have bravely thrown themselves into the fight for LGBTQ+ representation and awareness. Their work invites individuals, young and old, to find their place in the LGBTQ+ community. With this knowledge, they leave some words of wisdom to younger generations.
Tony speaks to the importance of continuing the fight for equality. “Be watchful,” he cautions. “We had to fight for our rights and they could easily be taken away. There are many countries in the world where people cannot express their sexuality or gender identity without fear of persecution or torture.”
Sassafras reminds readers it is critical to remain true to your identity. “Don’t be afraid to follow your creative passions and develop the kinds of work and stories that are most interesting to you regardless of how marketable people tell you they will be.” Melissa calls on the idea of being ‘artivists’. “My advice would be to always be yourself and, when possible, turn your artistic work into political work as well. I think we LGBTIQ+ people have a great opportunity: to be ‘artivists,’ that is, artist-activists. We also have a responsibility: to speak and transmit positive messages for those who cannot do so.”
The piece of music being played by Chris, a member of Out In The City, is “My Heart Will Go On” (theme tune from “Titanic”).
In keeping with the water theme, footage of local rivers and canals has been added. You will see Buxworth and also in New Mills you will see The Torrs and the Millennium Walkway.
Kemang Wa Lehulere spent Manchester International Festival 2019 in residence within Manchester’s network of libraries. Two years on, “I Love You Too” is a multifaceted artwork inspired by the South African artist’s time in the city.
The installation is in the Reading Room of Manchester Central Library. There is also a book of the same name. People across Manchester were invited to share their love stories: to people, to places, even to possessions. A group of eleven Manchester writers put their words on to the page. The result is a powerful and personal book of love letters rooted in our city.
Two members of Out In The City were chosen for the book:
Our Tree in Tatton Park – Written by Dominic Berry
I take a trip to Tatton Park
where there’s a special tree
beside the lake and White Poplar.
A place for you and me
beneath the planes on sky-high trips
to luscious sands and sea,
to mountains in Malaysia
where we went on holiday,
to Borneo, where we saw
wild Orangutans at play,
to India’s bright, blazing sun
while Britain’s dark and grey.
I met you at line dancing
just a pair of Prairie Dogs.
You sang me songs from musicals,
performed their monologues.
We stared into each other’s eyes.
Our heartbeats leapt like frogs!
To find a love as true as ours
is an eternal treasure,
and I cannot thank you enough
for all our years of pleasure.
The songs we sung, our trips abroad,
The smiles too wide to measure.
Now when my life is difficult
and days get grey and dark,
I have a place where I can go,
to still embrace your spark.
I watch the sky and stand beside
our tree in Tatton Park.
From Cliff Edge to Shore – Written by Louise Wallwein
The distance between cliff edge to shore was a long walk.
That day we sat down at the end of the pier,
The sea a mile out
Catching the last of the Autumn sun.
The weather on the turn
I didn’t notice the cold
Your magnetism pulled me towards you.
Love like ours come once every Preston Guild.
I never thought I would find you.
I looked into your eyes and my world opened up,
You opened my eyes to the tune of the
Ride of the Valkyries.
Cuddled up together listening to the entire Ring Cycle for 15 hours.
You make my world spectacular.
We have travelled to places
Linked armed embraces,
The dream right now is to be
With you on the sofa.
Me and you sailing closer together.
In your company I am at ease with myself,
to be able to express myself
How we can cry together
It is exactly who you are that attracts me to you.
You are completely yourself.
When I think of you being camp
My heart bursts open.
That afternoon at the karaoke
Hitting that final note
I brought the house down
You, pushing your way through the cheering crowd
Right there in front of everyone
Your pride in me, makes me grow
Gives me strength
To stand up for myself.
I never thought my true love would be a man.
With you I am free.
I am always thinking about you. I love you.
Winners of the All Out & MTV Photo Award 2021!
The All Out and MTV Photo Award was launched on 17 May – the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT).
Inspired by this year’s theme “Together: Resisting, Supporting, Healing!”, the competition called on photographers to share unique photos that capture how LGBT+ people and their communities and allies around the world resist attacks and discrimination, support each other in these difficult times, and heal together.
The winning photos were displayed on screens in Times Square, New York City during Pride celebrations. They will also be featured at World Pride Copenhagen and at exhibition spaces across the world.
The international jury of renowned photographers viewed over 1,800 photos by more than 380 photographers from over 60 countries. They were impressed by the diversity of photos submitted: photos from around the world that capture both the beauty, resilience and vibrancy, but also the pain, resistance and isolation of so many different LGBT+ communities.
Choosing the winners in each of the three categories was no easy feat. Based on the criteria – expression of the theme, inspirational power, originality, and composition – the jury chose the following winners and runners-up.
“Rukan and Hejar, two Kurdish and LGBT+ activists kiss at a Women’s Day protest in Kadıköy on 6 March 2021. After the protest they were violently arrested and put under custody for 24 hours. A trial resulted in house arrests and a ban on leaving the country. This shows how the Turkish government imposes strict discrimination against trans women and LGBT+ people.”
“Adam, 32 years old, far away from his home. No one would give him a job because he’s LGBT+. Someone tried to kill him by stabbing him with a knife in his stomach, and he doesn’t feel safe yet.”
“Resistance in the context of confinement. Diversity Pavilion. Buenos Aires, Argentina.”
“I photographed Bonita and Midori for a queer Asian collective called, “New Ho Queen.” The theme was snow pea, but I didn’t know how to wrap my head around it. I was also coping with heartbreak and other traumas, so the original idea shifted into healing through others.”
“Lea Rose’s water ritual.”
“Ingrid Martins and Gabriellê.”
“Fearless men, walking holding hands.”
“I met Magda in a hip hop class, when we were still kids. A space so extravagant and unusual for girls growing up in the Eastern European culture of early post-communism, patriarchy, catholicism and practicality. Magda grew up in a small mining town dominated by male culture, right wing politics and patriarchy, where men worked in mines, or as policemen, and women looked after houses.
A landscape shaped by overwhelming economical struggles and violence. In our early teenage years she shaved half of her head, dyed the other half and told me her dream: “One day, I’ll be dancing for Justin Bieber videos and tours”. Magda and Daria met on Instagram, and very soon, fell in love. The lack of compromise in the way they chose to live their lives has always been to me an act of great bravery.”
“Around the campfire at Queer Spirit Festival – a celebration of the love, passion and creative spirit of the LGBTQ+ community. Queer Spirit is the synergy formed by bringing together many views, experiences, beliefs, philosophies and ways of being that have queerness and spirituality at their core. It is a cauldron of queer vitality connecting the worlds, exploring energy, nature & love.”
#AgeingWithPride Campaign with the Centre for Ageing Better
In this guest blog, Lawrie Roberts and Bob Green, both from the LGBT Foundation, talk about the discrimination and isolation that older LGBT+ people face and what’s being done to create change.
“This Pride Month it has been wonderful to read about the lives of over 50s LGBT+ people via the Centre for Ageing Better’s #AgeingWithPride campaign. At a time when we haven’t been able to gather together as a community to recognise Pride, these pieces are a celebration of the incredible contributions to society our older LGBT+ communities have made and continue to make. Each person is an amazing example to us all and should inspire younger generations.
However, it’s important to recognise the voices that are missing from the campaign. Unfortunately, many older LGBT+ people report that they continue to face a lack of affirmation around their identities, and in some cases experience discrimination and prejudice. Because of this, many people are hiding their LGBT+ identities in later life and, for those who wish to come out for the first time in their later years, it can be even tougher to find your place within the community.
In my work, I’ve commonly seen a twofold exclusion: many over 50s find their LGBT+ identity is not addressed in spaces set up to support older people while simultaneously feeling a lack of inclusion in some LGBT community spaces. For example, Manchester’s Gay Village has been singled out for catering mostly to a younger late-night crowd, as well as online dating apps, where ageism is pervasive and entrenched.
I cannot imagine how it must feel to be part of the generation who fought for the many rights that our communities enjoy today, only to be made to feel that our community spaces aren’t for you when you reach a certain age.
Fortunately, things are changing. I run a programme of work for LGBT+ over 50s in Greater Manchester called ‘Pride in Ageing’ which looks to address some of these issues. This programme is now established at LGBT Foundation as a dedicated programme of work supporting the needs of our older LGBT+ communities. The reception to the programme from local authorities and organisations who work with older people has been promising. There is agreement that LGBT+ inclusion and visibility play a vital part in cultivating an age-friendly region and tackling discrimination.
The #AgeingWithPride stories all speak of the vast change in equalities, recognition, and rights over the lifetimes of older generations of people from LGBT+ communities, and the positive impact this has had. However, for many the weight of shame and stigma from the past is still hard to lift and be free of, and for some, such as our trans and non-binary communities and LGBT+ people of colour, they are still facing attacks, discrimination and debate over their rights today.
For older LGBT+ people, hiding your identity, as well as a lack of connection to family (usually due to having been ostracised or being less likely to have children to rely on for support) leads to higher levels of isolation compared to the general population. A range of projects at LGBT Foundation have been looking to address these issues through where people are living. For example, Back in the Closet and a series of LGBT+ artist residences in retirement schemes.
After years of discussions, the dream of the UK’s first purpose-built LGBT Extra Care Scheme is becoming a reality in Manchester. LGBT Foundation, together with Manchester City Council and Anchor Hanover, have set up a Community Steering Group made up of older LGBT+ people and older people from Whalley Range, where the building will be situated. They will be at the heart of designing the shape of the building and services on offer. The journey of the development is being recorded through an online Learning Journal, which can be found on LGBT Foundation’s website.
Thanks to campaigns like these and #AgeingWithPride we are finally giving this generation of LGBT+ trailblazers the recognition and opportunities they deserve.”
LGBT Foundation is a national charity delivering services, advice and support for LGBT people in England.
Why Lynn is #AgeingWithPride
To mark Pride Month, Lynn, 69, talks about the importance of having a transgender memorial, being active in the LGBT+ community and enjoying getting older.
“Since I’ve retired, I’ve ended up doing a lot of trans support work and things like that, I’m very involved in the LGBT+ community in Manchester. There’s a lot of stuff going on, although it’s much quieter at the moment with COVID.
I wanted to have my photograph taken by the ‘Transgender Memorial’ in Manchester because it’s the only one in the country. In fact, I think at the time it was done it was the only one in the world! It’s a memorial to all the trans women who, because of their circumstances and the attitudes of the time, were buried in their male names. I suspect there were a lot of trans men buried with their female names as well. There’s a plaque on the memorial that says ‘You were known to us’. Your families may have denied it, but you were known to us. That’s why it was created.
That’s one of the things that affects older trans people far more than the young. These days, you can change your name fairly easily, records are changed and so forth. That wasn’t the case for us. The Gender Recognition Act in 2004 sorted a lot of those problems out. It wasn’t perfect but it helped. The older generation of trans people never got that, and many died before then.
I’m looking to get involved with a project that finds housing for young trans people, which is a major issue. Very often trans people struggle to start in life, in some cases they get very badly treated by their parents and schools. I’m aware of young trans people living on the street. And if you’re at that level as a teenager and you can’t afford adequate accommodation, you’re not going to succeed
I did do quite a bit of work with the LGBT Foundation’s helpline, particularly when they first adopted a trans-inclusive policy, about six years ago. Back then, there wasn’t anyone who had experience of trans people, not among the volunteers, or most of the staff. Although some of them were in the closet, I think. Imagine, being in the closet in an LGBT organisation! It’s shifted a lot, but at that time they had nobody who could support trans people who were struggling. So, I ended up doing that. It was quite an interesting experience.
The media has been what they call ‘debating’ trans people’s human rights by including people with an eccentric view of gender in the name of balance. It’s really offensive. Even media outlets that are more balanced than most have recently been taking a partial side to trans issues. Transgender rights are being slanted and that’s why I’m cautious about appearing in the media. It’s the whole issue of what is the journalist’s aim for their program or their article? I’m quite enjoying getting older and not having to worry about earning money. There is an LGBT+ support and social group that I go to called ‘Out in the City’. It’s mainly social, but when you’re on your own – which a lot of older LGBT+ people are – you need some contact with people. I’m pretty good at managing on my own, but I was aware that by the time I’d been in lockdown for months that it was getting to me. And there are people who have had it a lot worse. This group has helped a lot of people during this time, me included.”
Why Ken is #AgeingWithPride
Ken talks about his love of performing, the benefits of multigenerational workplaces, and meeting Sir Ian McKellen.
“I’m 74, which is exactly the same age as Elton John. We have the same birthday and we’re both in entertainment. I always liked theatre as a youngster. I first started off doing musical comedy in the chorus in a show. But after that I wanted to do drama and variety, and pantomime.
In earlier years I used to do quite a few theatre shows. I performed as Larry Grayson (the comedian), I used to take him up and down the country in variety shows. I also used to be a dame in pantomimes, which you could do a lot with, comedy songs and such. I did a couple of comedy plays in years gone by, ‘When We Are Married’, for instance. That was really fun.
I still do pantomime sometimes – although last year everything was cancelled. You do miss really it but I’m hoping to get back into a production later in the year all being well.
I don’t think of age really. I’ve been associated with so many age groups in the theatre and we always seem to get along. That’s my favourite part about working in the theatre: the people. I enjoy working with everyone – people of all ages, and they don’t treat you any differently for being older. Younger people I’ve worked with have gone off to drama school in London and said, ‘We won’t forget you, Ken!’, which is really nice. Some of us kept in touch throughout the pandemic.
I know that Sir Ian McKellen is still acting in the theatre. He’s going to be playing ‘Hamlet’, which is on at the Theatre Royal Windsor. It must be something now to have a big part like that at 80. As part of the ‘Pride in ageing’ opening we actually got to meet Sir Ian. It’s a programme set up in response to concerns that LGBT+ people over 50 are living in isolation or facing discrimination. Sir Ian helped set up the group and it was such a joy to meet him. He chatted with most people and was really a nice person.
I’m involved with a very good social group called ‘Out in the City’. It’s a group for people to get involved with when they’re by themselves. Tony, who runs the programme, organises various day trips. One time we went to Clayton Hall and got all dressed up, which was fun. We’re hoping to do more trips soon.
It’s much better today being a gay person. When I was first coming out it was all a bit behind closed doors. It’s much better for people today, the younger generation. I don’t condemn my younger days, but I think today is freer from my point of view. You can get married and have a partnership, which is wonderful. Today you can be in a LGBT+ relationship and actually say ‘my partner and I’.
When I’m not acting, I volunteer for the theatre. I help with the front of house, giving people their programmes and showing them to their seats. Once everybody gets settled in you can watch the production but you’re always on duty in case anyone needs anything. People enjoy you welcoming them to the theatre – it’s all a pleasure to do. I have the luxury of not having to think of my age. I’m lucky that I’m able to keep doing various things – theatre, gardening, getting out and about. I’m quite happy with where I am.”
Ted Brown is a black LGBT rights pioneer who helped organise the UK’s first Gay Pride march in 1972, featuring a mass ‘kiss-in’ that, at the time, would have been considered gross indecency, which was against the law.
When Brown realised he was gay, homosexuality was illegal in Britain – the only person he came out to was his mother. She cried and told him he’d have to battle not just racism but homophobia too; both were rife in society at the time. At one point Brown felt so dismal about his future that he considered taking his own life. But inspired by the Stonewall Riots, he found hope in Britain’s Gay Liberation Front and became a key figure in fighting bigotry in the UK.
In this interview with the BBC he tells his moving life story.
Ted Brown: the man who held a mass kiss-in and made history
Forty nine years ago today (on 1 July 1972) Ted Brown walked through central London, stopped at Trafalgar Square for a kiss – and made history. He was at the event he had helped to organise, the UK’s first official Gay Pride, in which more than 2,000 people marched through the capital before holding a mass kiss-in.
Half a century later, his memories of the day are euphoric. “It was amazing,” he says. “I felt that we were continuing the legacy of the civil rights march.” That day he took photographs of buoyant butch lesbians and men in drag, crowding around the Trafalgar Square lions and fountains, draping them with banners and demanding liberation for all.
Organised by the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), the London march followed the Stonewall uprising and first Pride parade in the US. “The basic principle of the GLF was that one should come out to show people who we actually are,” says Brown.
His work with the GLF, his efforts to improve the treatment and representation of LGBT people in the media, and his battle against abusive policing make him a key figure in both British civil rights history and LGBT history. He was one of the few Black people in the first Pride march, and remembers it being composed of “mostly young people, mostly white, inevitably, and mostly hippies. It was only five years after 1967, the Summer of Love and the peak of the hippy movement.”
This was not the GLF’s first march for gay rights. In 1970, Brown was at Highbury Fields, north London, to protest against the arrest of Louis Eakes, the chairman of the Young Liberals. Eakes had been arrested for cruising following a “pretty police” sting – where police officers posed as would-be sex partners. The following year “our youth group marched against the unequal age of consent laws”, says Brown. At the time some men were paying a heavy price for this law. “There was one man who was 21 and his boyfriend was 19, and he got a 14-year sentence. And we managed to campaign and get an appeal and get it reduced to something like three years.”
This nascent gay liberation movement was intrinsically intertwined with the civil rights movement for racial justice, Brown says. In fact, the UK branch of the GLF was formed after the LSE students Aubrey Walter and Bob Mellors met at a September 1970 conference in Philadelphia facilitated by the Black Panther Movement. And all of its demonstrations were coalitions with other liberation groups. “One of the very first GLF marches,” says Brown, “was held in Notting Hill Gate, and run by people from the Mangrove” – the Caribbean restaurant on All Saints Road, Notting Hill, which became a hub of Black organising activity, and was the subject of a recent film by the director Steve McQueen. The GLF was also joined by “people who had been involved in the miners’ strikes and the [radical left group] Angry Brigade, and had been closeted in those campaigns”, says Brown. Many of these groups marched alongside the GLF at the 1972 Pride demonstration.
Brown, 71, was born in New York to Jamaican parents – his mother was a pharmacist and his father a garage attendant. By the time he was born his parents were no longer together and their relationship was frighteningly turbulent. When Dorothy Walker was pregnant with Brown in 1949, his father was determined to keep her away from Brown’s older sister, Jewel. One day he invited Walker to the new home he was sharing with an American girlfriend and gave her a cup of coffee, which he had laced with drugs. He then called the hospital, says Brown, telling them: “This woman is crazy.” Walker was detained in Pilgrim State hospital in Brentwood, New York, where Brown was born on 1 February 1950. “Some people say that explains a lot,” he laughs.
When she was released, Brown and his mother moved to Harlem, where he attended the Catholic Our Lady of Victory school – the only place where he could meet up with Jewel. The divorce courts had given his parents shared custody of his sister, but his father would stop his mother from picking her up at weekends. “I’ve met my sister since, recently, and she explained how they would actually hide her in the laundry in their home and say she wasn’t there. They told my sister that she wasn’t wanted by our mother.”
Despite this parental animosity, Brown describes a happy life in Harlem, surrounded by other Black children. “I remember a lot of games we used to play, I remember loving the streets. We had a lot of basketball courts.” He was also aware of the cultural legacy being built around him. “Black sports people were having great achievements, particularly people like the Harlem Globetrotters. They, along with musical artists like Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, Ella Fitzgerald, were achieving great fame and positive images for the Black community.”
Yet he was under no illusions that he could ever be safe in a world where anti-Black violence was so visible. He was five when the 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi, and remembers television coverage of the child’s murder. Even though he didn’t live in the south, the young Brown was terrified it could happen to him. “We were being warned about white people in the streets, being told by our parents to be very careful. Even in Harlem, although it was a predominantly Black area, we still had incidents of white people coming into the area and behaving irresponsibly.”
A year later Brown and his mother were hit by the full force of a more legal form of discrimination. His mother was involved with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – and was listed by the FBI as a “troublemaker”. On 23 April 1956, Walker, Brown and his younger half-sister, Jackie, were deported to Jamaica. The official documentation for her removal states that Walker was “a person of poor character, having been involved in disturbances instigated by the NAACP”.
Walker’s partner at the time, Jackie’s father, was a white Jewish man and could not relocate with them; he died before the pair could be reunited. Brown’s biological father was due to be deported too but, unbeknown to Brown and his family, he had married his American girlfriend. “Literally, as we were going up the steps to the SS Arcadia, the ship that was going to take us to Jamaica, he whipped out his marriage certificate, which gave him American citizenship. And that saved him.” It was the last time Brown would see his father.
While for his mother it must have been a traumatic experience, Brown was less troubled. “For me, the deportation just seemed like an adventure. I was going on a ship, to a country that I’d never seen before.” And childhood in Jamaica was fun. “I was running barefoot in the streets. A lot of Jamaica, although poor, was very beautiful.” Yet even here he could not escape prejudice. His mother found a job as a pharmacist in Canada, and he and his younger sister were left in Jamaica. But the family members who were happy enough to take in his sister would not accept him. “We didn’t have to guess that they were keeping my sister because she had light skin – they actually told us. Our family said: ‘We’re not taking Ted – he’s too dark.’”
When his mother could support them, the children joined her in Canada, and then together they took a ship to the UK in 1959. Coming hot on the heels of the first Windrush arrivals, his mother, now pregnant with Brown’s younger half-brother, Bobby, had a single suitcase and two young children. Yet as they looked for accommodation the signs they saw said: “No Blacks, no dogs, no Irish”. The family were forced to sleep rough for a few weeks, before they found a room in Brixton, south London, with peeling wallpaper, warmed only by a small paraffin heater. Later, when Brown was about 12, they moved to Deptford in south-east London, but left for Greenwich after the National Front pushed dog waste through their letterboxes and broke their windows.
It took a film, Carmen Jones, to make Brown realise he was gay. “There’s a scene where Harry Belafonte plays Joe, and he tries to push a Jeep out of this creek. And he’s all muscles. And my little heart was beating.” The thrill of this epiphany at 13 was soon clouded by Brown’s sense of isolation. But he began to suspect that his best friend, another young Black boy, might feel the same way. “We didn’t have sex or anything. I just got a feeling. There were various things about our behaviours.” Brown was never certain, but the boy’s death by suicide at age 15 left him distraught. “I kind of understood, because later, partly due to depression about what had happened to him, I felt very much the same way.”
His friend’s death drove him to come out to his mother. “I had to tell somebody. And she cried on my shoulder. I cried on her shoulder. She said: ‘Well, you’re going to have to deal with the racism, and also society’s hostility to homosexuals.’” Brown was initially stunned at his mother receiving the news with nothing but love and concern, but she told him about hearing the speeches of the gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, describing the civil rights movement as a coalition that advocated the liberation of gays and women, too.
Not long afterwards, on 22 November 1965, Brown’s mother died. She was just 50. She had a concurrent heart and asthma attack in front of Brown and his siblings. “I tried to give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and ran out to the telephone box to call the ambulance, but they didn’t turn up for 20 minutes. By that time she was gone.” He credits her with imbuing him with the spirit of revolutionary love and rejection of bigotry.
Due to the age difference, Brown and his siblings were sent to separate children’s homes following his mother’s death, and his isolation deepened. He recalls a school trip to Brighton where other children spoke of their ambitions for the future – the dream job, marriage and kids. Ted could not see any of this for himself. “I had no idea what I was going to do. I didn’t know any other gay people.”
When he returned to the children’s home that day, he decided he would end his life. But he was saved by the realisation that his younger brother and sister would have no one to keep an eye on them. “I was looking at it from the point of view of when I’m 25, when I’m 30, if I don’t meet anybody, or my younger brother and sister find out I’m a homosexual, I’ll be alone.”
Then, at 19, he experienced a watershed moment. It was 1969 and he still knew no one who was openly gay, but he came across a news report on the Stonewall riots. The report explained how “some queens with handbags were fighting with the police at a bar in New York,” he says. To Brown just hearing about other gay men taking action together was incredible. “I remember doing cartwheels all around the living room.”
The next year, in November, he went to watch the landmark gay film Boys in the Band. Outside, members of the GLF were leafleting. Brown went along to the group’s third meeting, at the LSE, and remembers how exciting it felt. “I’d never been in a room with other homosexuals who were angry about the way that we were being treated, and wanting to fight back about it,” he says.
Finding the GLF allowed him to see a future for himself for the first time, while activist spaces gave him a clear purpose, friendships and lovers. After his early years in the GLF, Brown set up his own organising collectives. He led the Black section of Galop, the Gay London Police Monitoring Group, set up in June 1982 to address homophobic policing, but left after a furious confrontation with a white gay man in the organisation who used a racial slur and told a joke about how white girls only went out with Black boys “to get their handbags back”. Brown went to work for Lewisham Action on Policing, set up following the New Cross fire in January 1981.
Brown also founded Black Lesbians and Gays Against Media Homophobia, and in 1990 began a year-long struggle against Black British tabloid the Voice, to force an apology for its homophobic coverage of the footballer Justin Fashanu. On 29 October 1991 the paper published a full-page “right to reply” – an article by Brown entitled: “Fighting racism and homophobia – a united battle”.
The group also campaigned to remove “murder music” by dancehall artists such as Buju Banton from BBC radio and other audio outlets. After Brown appeared on youth programme The Word to protest against Banton in 1992, a group of fans came to his home in Brixton, confronted him for trashing Banton, and beat him unconscious. When the police visited him in hospital the next morning, they appeared so uninterested in taking the matter further that his partner, Noel, had to provide them with a notepad and pen, Brown says. Brown complained about the police’s nonchalance, “but it was a dead end, really”. Despite this violent backlash, Brown is adamant that Black communities are no more homophobic than white ones, pointing to the “Brixton fairies” group that squatted on the Railton and Mayall roads in Brixton in the 70s.
Securing more positive coverage for LGBT people and fighting against the media’s homophobia are Brown’s proudest achievements. He vividly remembers as a 12-year-old reading an article headlined: “How to spot a possible homo”, but today “people who are homophobic are no longer in the position of being able to get away with it unchallenged, which was the situation which existed right up until 1969. They could say and do whatever they wanted to LGBT people and not face any challenge. We now feature in television, radio and media much more significantly.” Now his anger is focused on the hostile media environment for trans people, describing it as identical to the degrading and cruel treatment of gay people in his youth.
He has not attended Pride for years, believing it has lost its political edge. “It’s being sponsored by brands like Coca-Cola, and some military and police organisations, which are completely contradictory to Pride’s original aims.” He notes how Pride in London has rejected concerns about Metropolitan police involvement in the parade, something he believes ignores the history of police brutality and entrapment the gay community has faced, and which he joined Galop to address. When lockdown suspended 2020’s celebrations, Brown and his old GLF comrades organised their own march along Haymarket and Regent Street on 28 June, which met the Black Trans Lives Matter march. For Ted Brown, it was like being back in 1972 again.
Looking Back With Pride
“After Stonewall, it was like the sun had come out,” recalls David, 75, in Looking Back With Pride, part of British Vogue’s second annual Pride video series celebrating LGBTQIA+ communities. In the affecting short film, David, Peggy, 73, Ted, 71, and 69-year-old Adele reflect on their memories of coming out, the remarkable change they’ve witnessed in their lifetimes, their hopes for the future, and what they’d like to tell their younger selves. “I’m optimistic about the future because I’ve seen what can be achieved,” says Ted. “We overturned almost 2,000 years of homophobia. We’re determined to fight, and I know that we will win.”
Pride Radio Shows&Top 10’s
Rachel Oliver presents a transgender themed music show for those who are trans themselves, those who are allies of the trans community and those who simply want to learn more about the trans community, which includes facts, stories and some amazing songs! Listen here
LGBT+ Musicians: 10 Pioneering Artists
Whether standing firm against adversity, fighting for rights and medical research, or providing a platform for those whose voices were hitherto unheard, these pioneering LGBT+ musicians have added their own splash of colour to the walls of popular music’s everlasting corridors. Listen here
10. Dusty Springfield – Arrested By You
9. Janis Ian – At Seventeen
8. Joan Armatrading – Love and Affection
7. Melissa Etheridge – Bring Me Some Water
6. Rufus Wainwright – Going To A Town
5. Labi Siffre – So Strong
4. George Michael – Faith
3. Elton John – Tiny Dancer
2. Jimmy Somerville – For A Friend
1. Years & Years – King
10. Michael Bolton – How Am I Supposed To Live Without You
Older LGBT+ people fear going ‘back in the closet’ in retirement
Schemes in Manchester and London are providing tailored healthcare for older LGBT+ people – but charities say it isn’t enough.
LGBT+ people fear they will be forced “back in the closet” in their older years, due to a lack of care available in their retirement.
Currently there is no retirement provision specifically for LGBT+ people in the UK and people in the community say it’s something they badly need.
Tony Openshaw, 66, is the chairman of Out In The City, a social group for Manchester’s LGBT+ over 50s. He has faced prejudice in his past and fears confronting it again in the future.
“I was evicted from a house when I was in my early 20s because I was gay,” he said.
“The landlord took me to court and his solicitor said: ‘This is a homosexual’ and the judge said: ‘That’s outrageous. He should leave’. I was given seven days to leave.”
Mr Openshaw said experiences like this meant he would feel more comfortable if LGBT+ retirement provision existed. “We’d like to retire and still be ourselves and not have to go back into the closet,” he added.
It’s 52 years since The Stonewall Uprising
The Stonewall riots (also referred to as the Stonewall uprising or the Stonewall rebellion) were a series of spontaneous demonstrations in response to a police raid that began in the early morning hours of 28 June 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighbourhood of Manhattan, New York City.
Riot Act is a solo verbatim show, created entirely, word for word, out of interviews with three key-players in the history of the LGBT+ rights movement; Michael Anthony Nozzi; a survivor of the Stonewall Riots, Lavina Co-op; an alternative ‘70s drag artist, and Paul Burston; ‘90s London AIDS activist.
This critically acclaimed audience favourite is a breathtaking, rip-roaring, whiteknuckle ride through six decades of LGBT+ history, taking the audience right up to the present day.
Provocative, tender, truthful, funny, political and personal, these are stories of gayness, sexuality, activism, addiction, family, childhood, love, sex, drag, community, togetherness, conflict, identity, youth, ageing, loss, fierce queens and a Hollywood diva.
Riot Act is a celebration of LGBT+ activism across the decades, pulling no punches, hilarious and inspiring … it’s a riot.
All tickets must be bought in advance; you will not be able to purchase tickets on the door. You can book for all shows online here. The Box Office phone line is open on Mondays and Wednesdays, 10.00am – 4.00pm (excluding bank holidays). For phone sales only, call 0161 624 2829.
Sir Ian McKellen: ‘What does old mean? Quite honestly I feel about 12’
“Oh, birthdays,” Sir Ian McKellen growls, on the occasion of his 82nd (25 May). “At my age I don’t do birthdays.” The wider world has not yet been informed, however, and cheerful cards have come in stacks to McKellen’s London townhouse. Messages chime in on his computer and two landline phones ring on his desk, one after the other. “But, darling,” McKellen says, answering a call and interrupting a well-wisher mid flow, “I’m trying to avoid it all this year. Actors don’t need this special attention. We get cards and presents on first nights. Everyone makes a fuss of us. Birthdays are wonderful things for people who don’t get treated as special all year round.”
Sir Ian McKellen is perhaps the best we’ve got, that ideal embodiment of Tolkien’s Gandalf across six Hollywood movies, a landmark Richard III on stage and screen, Magneto, a critically acclaimed Macbeth, Sherlock, Edward II, Rasputin and later this year he will play Hamlet, for the second time in his career. He has also played seven of Shakespeare’s kings on stage, also Romeo, Iago, Claudio, Coriolanus, Faustus, Napoleon, Inspector Hound, Captain Hook and Widow Twankey.
“When I was young I was always playing old parts,” McKellen says. “And, of course, I was having to imagine it. Because what does ‘old’ mean? I had no idea! Now that I’m old I do know. And I also know what it’s like to be young. Because as you get older, inside, you’re ageless. Inside? Quite honestly? I feel about 12.”
Why is it that actors can go on and on into their 80s and even 90s when artists in other disciplines tend to fade away earlier? “It’s the nature of the job that allows us to carry on, I think, rather than the nature of the people we are. Don’t forget, actors are only the conduit, not the source. So we’re not – as a writer would be, as a composer, as a painter – having to re-imagine the world around us or within us. We are presented with the material. And then we just have to bring it to life. Some actors retire, but usually because they can’t learn the lines any more. That hasn’t been the case for me. Fortunately. At the moment.”
When McKellen wasa little boy, he fell in love with a summer-holiday friend called Wendy. They wrote each other letters for a time. They were about 10. And that was it, the last heterosexual relationship of his life. By the time McKellen was a teenager he knew he was gay. His mother died of breast cancer around then and he never had a chance to speak to her about it. Perhaps in Greater Manchester in the 1950s (McKellen was raised in Burnley, Wigan and Bolton) there wasn’t much that could be said. He never told his father either. The fact that both his beloved parents died without knowing this one essential fact about him remains a great regret.
Having to hide his sexuality, however, turned out to be a total boon for the career. Being gay in those days necessitated a talent for disguise. And McKellen found in acting a profession that rewarded this talent. He appeared in plays as an undergraduate at Cambridge – correctly sensing that this was where he would get to meet the colleges’ other gays – and later as a graduate he got a job in regional theatre in Coventry.
He knew people who were arrested, “simply for having sex”; but McKellen admits that for large chunks of his youth he more or less ignored the discriminatory laws at play in Britain. As a closeted gay man in stable relationships, he felt he could afford to. “I didn’t feel particularly disadvantaged by the very harsh laws that prevailed up till then. The laws were absolutely cruel, but I didn’t take them personally. And I only began to think about it, and realise what the situation was, when the Thatcher government decided to introduce the first bit of anti-gay legislation for nigh-on 100 years. That I took personally.” To make a political point, he came out. He was in his late 40s and well established by now as an actor on stage and screen.
McKellen actually found he thrived as an openly gay actor. He was the arch villain Magneto in the first of several X-Men movies in 2000. Between 2001 and 2014 he was the arch goodie Gandalf in six of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations. After decades of being buttoned up about his private life, he started to write an honest personal blog from the set of Lord of the Rings in New Zealand in the early 2000s. He has since maintained the habit of public diarising, sometimes publishing snatches of memoir on McKellen.com, his website.
The Hope Speech
Ian McKellen reads Harvey Milk’s Hope Speech, first delivered on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, encouraging people to celebrate their differences and offering hope for the future.
At a time of political turmoil, unprecedented world events and an increasingly divided society, what does inspiring leadership sound like?