Many Falls come before True Pride…..

This post is very ‘left field’. It has little to do with any retail market place. Or maybe it does , as any commentary on the human condition effects every aspect of society.

I make two apologies …

1. I have not written this post . Of course , I have written this preamble, which should be pretty obvious as I keep using the first person.

2. I apologise, in a sort of way, for those who will have already read the contents in a recent Facebook post. But as I know the author wants as many people as possible to read this, then if I only reach another half dozen , then I shall retract the repeat apology and consider that I have helped a little more in sharing this message.

I make no apology, whatsoever, about the rest of this post. I would just ask you to read it.

So the following is written by our daughter…..

On Being Queer in London and Essex – 1993 to 2019

I don’t often write anything personal on social media as I’m a private person however in recognition of Pride this year I wanted to share an ordinary persons experience of growing up and being LGBT from 1993 (when I came out) to 2019. To be clear and out I am exclusively attracted to and romantically love women. I don’t hate or am repelled by men in any way; I just don’t fancy them or could ever fall in love with a male. I am female in body but also identify as non binary (neither male or female) and fall on the trans spectrum. Very few people know this. Perhaps I’m still don’t feel entirely able to be open about this as gender identity is still very much beyond most peoples understanding at this time. But this is who I am.

Since I came out many things have changed, most notably the law and general society, however homophobia is still very much alive as the recent incident of two gay women being physically assaulted on a bus in central London shows. I don’t need anyone to like this post but I would please ask you to share, if you agree with the underlying message, so this reaches as far as possible.

In 1993 (my third year of secondary school in Woodford) when I came out I did so as I’m not someone to hide or be ashamed of who I am. I had been that way since I could remember and it was nothing but natural to me. At that time Section 28 (Thatcher legislation) was in full force and prevented any support or intervention to protect me in school. There were numerous other pupils who targeted me, mainly verbally but on occasion physically, during school time over the course of three years. At no point did staff intervene or show any support – I even recall one teacher telling me off for reacting verbally when a group of boys in my year taunted me openly with homophobic names in a classroom. I don’t know if the teachers were afraid to intervene or simply agreed with these attempts at bullying but not once did anyone challenge them. In fact the only intervention was a referral by school for a psychiatric assessment after I came out. I didn’t need psychiatric support, I was happy with who I was, the only reason I needed any support was because of how others/society treated me and people like me.

So I learnt to fight back and stand up for myself very quickly. I had a group of friends who were supportive, and this grew in time as I stood firm in who I was, but they were limited in the force of peer pressure and wanting to fit in themselves. I endured school but this made me more determined to be out and proud. I simply found my own community of LGBT people in London and gravitated towards them before finally leaving school at the earliest opportunity and going to a sixth form college/university. I’ve not retained contact with anyone from my educational years which is common for LGBT people, as although I always made friends easily, our pathways and experiences were so far removed from one another.

I had to lie about my age and pretend I was older from the age of 13 until I was 18 as no youth groups for under 18 were allowed to exist by law for LGBT. Due to the age of consent laws many of my male gay friends under 21 were at risk of imprisonment if they entered into any relationship that was automatically afforded and encouraged by society for the same peer group who happened to be heterosexual. Without this pretence I would have had no means of support at all. This meant I had to socialise around pubs and bars mainly and enter into an adult and very real world very early on. This opened my eyes to diversity for the first time as the community consisted of people from all backgrounds, race, religion, class and identity. I met young people, teens, who were homeless because their own families had thrown them out and abandoned them after discovering they were gay. Women and men who had survived sexual assaults because of their sexuality. People with substance issues and mental health problems because of how society and their families treated them. And just ordinary people trying to live and love like everyone else free from fear and prejudice.

Marriage, children, protection by law if your partner was to die, pension rights, and the right to enter all professions did not exist for our community. In Ireland it was an illegal offence to be gay at all until 1993; the world health organisation had only just removed homosexuality as a mental disorder from diagnostic manuals. I came out in a world where I soon learnt I was lesser and had none of those rights heterosexual people are automatically granted. The foundation and glue for the gay community existed on solidarity and love alone.

The pubs I frequented were subject to hate graffiti and groups of straight males lying in wait for us outside at night. Once the windows were smashed and glass scattered everywhere inside the pub. Several times people I knew were physically assaulted and even at risk of sexual assault in London for leaving such premises.

I was attacked physically twice. By a group of men. I was asked to renounce my sexuality to save being hit. I wouldn’t so I was held over the train platform in Hackney. I was scared out of straight pubs especially in Woodford where I lived and even now I have a fear of entering any bar which isn’t LGBT. I was verbally abused 100’s of times, beyond count. I maintained a list for a while in 2000 (which I found recently) but gave up after recording 20+ incidents in three months. I’ve been threatened by a gang of 10+ men in Leyton and challenged them alone resulting in an apology. I’ve been called names and jeered at by children and whole families in supermarkets, from cars, in parks. Summer meant, and still does, a higher risk. Winter is safer due to the cold and darkness. I’ve been called a queer, a faggot, a f-ing dyke, a poof…any gay slang term you can imagine. I’ve been spat at the first time I held hands with another female in Soho. I’ve been threatened with death by a gang if I continued to ride the Walthamstow to Liverpool Street train line. A passerby intervened (a woman) and I will never forget her act.

There were no laws to protect us and criminalise this behaviour. I reported it for a while but heard nothing from the police ever. The only time the police approached me in East London were to suspect me of joyriding (my own car) and burglary (of my own flat).

Teachers, the police, organised religion, the state, the government, people. I grew up thinking they were all against people like me. Family values meant the exclusion of gays – family was, and still is, who has my back and I have theirs regardless of blood or DNA. I felt excluded, alone and it was frightening. In the UK in the 90’s and into the 2000’s.

As time went on things got better as I moved from Waltham Forest back to Woodford then to Buckhurst Hill. Society started to change, laws protected me and I felt safer. Never safe but safer. Some neighbours took time to warm to the presence of LGBT on the street and every single holiday (until this day) has to be planned with great care around location. I have experienced holidays were everyone would stare at me with my partner and make us feel unwelcome. Comments made and threatening looks in some areas. So for now I can’t visit countries that many other people take for granted…parts of the USA, some Caribbean islands, parts of Asia, Africa and even Europe. Simply because I am at risk of imprisonment or death at worse; at best a holiday of pretence or discomfort.

Sadly in the last couple of years I’ve been reminded of how homophobia still lurks beyond the surface. On public transport, people close to me. Public toilets are a daily concern – I’ve been asked to leave many toilets or gendered spaces. I’ve had a whole group of middle aged women congregate outside a toilet I was in in Ilford asking the attendant to ask me to leave. I’ve experienced recent direct homophobia at my gym in Chigwell including not being able to use the changing room for two years after one incident making it clear I’m not welcome. I will always challenge and stand up for myself but it gets tiring and exhausting. People still think it’s okay to make light banter of ‘gays’ but it isn’t – this is all part of what leads to more serious incidents. Like any prejudice. I’ve had white straight middle class men comment that they need a straight pride as heterosexual men are they are now the oppressed party. I remind them that the National Front may still exist if they feel the need to rally in this way. I would never think it okay to comment that a White Pride is needed or joke about colour, the majority have their own culture reflected and validated every single day as I do in my skin tone. I don’t know what it’s like to be an ethnic minority but I do know that they will face barriers I will never know exist. I know they will feel that same sense of exclusion at times and fear in certain parts of the country. I know being both an ethnic minority and gay is even harder.

I would give many examples of people close to me and how they face prejudice and discrimination today. But I won’t because in the LGBT community we understand the need for discretion and respecting many of us can’t still come out for fear. We still don’t have any role models above us in day to day life to guide us. We have no template for getting old yet. We have very scarce resources for older people, I hope that changes by the time I get there.

I am still expected and asked to be patient and sensitive towards people who need to adjust to being around someone like me (LGBT) who may feel discomfort. I’m not sure we would feel it is acceptable (although I’m sure people like this exist) to ask a person from an ethnic minority background to be sensitive to a white person who needs to adjust to the visual difference in skin colour. I would refer to the experiences in this post and question why I am still expected to be sensitive to people’s fears and prejudices – surely the onus isn’t on the minority but on the majority to be sensitive. I don’t need to be liked but I do ask to be respected and not pre judged. I would ask anyone reading this to understand the huge courage that people take to come out and to attempt to live freely. The fear that never quite goes; the daily risk assessing of every room and situation you enter. The daily effort of always having to prove you are a positive representation of being Queer so as to change peoples views slowly. Pride isn’t about having a party and dressing up; it’s about being visible and safe for a day, remembering our shared history and learning from this.

But it’s not all bad…I’m fortunate to have parents who support my choice in partner, to be relatively comfortable financially (lower income areas can be higher risk of physical attack), to be confident as a person and to have some very good close friends who I consider my family (all LGBT). It’s also taught me the importance of standing up for others, questioning everything including those in power, the need to be focused and determined, to seek respect not a wish to be popular, to not be afraid to stand out, to fight my corner and those around me, and to never judge until you know someone. I am happy and comfortable with who I am and who I love.

I will end with a quote that I will never forget seeing on the wall of someone close to me many years ago when I was 19. I truly believe in these words and feel they apply to any minority or oppressed community. Indeed they apply to everyone. “First they came …” is the poetic form of a prose post- war confession first made in German in 1946 by the German Lutheranpastor Martin Niemöller. It is about the cowardice of German intellectuals and certain clergy (including, by his own repeated admissions, Niemöller himself) following the Nazis’ rise to power and subsequent incremental purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

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