Through the Rainbow
1967’s Summer of Love meant so much to so many. The Beatles put out Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – now widely regarded as one of if not THE greatest album of all time, the Metropolitan Cathedral opened its doors to change Hope Street forever and The Mersey Sound poetry anthology was published. Liverpool in 1967 was a changing point in time.
But all of these things we look back on with value are not the reason why the summer of 1967 was such an important turning point for us. Away from the flower children of San Francisco and the incomprehensible success of Liverpool’s favourite sons, things were changing in England and Wales forever.
In July 1967, homosexuality was partly decriminalised – although full equality was nowhere near achieved in this act, the reform was the first of its kind in almost 500 years. A huge overdue step that sparked something – a rush towards equality that turned illegal outsiders into proud, and most importantly, accepted citizens.
In the fifty years that have passed since the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, the understanding of LGBT+ issues and communities have changed drastically. As Liverpool Pride approaches, it’s important to address both what has been achieved and what work is left to be done as we look back on this massive milestone.
Over the past month, we’ve been speaking to some of the many faces and characters of the city’s LGBT+ community. Some of them can tell you just how difficult it was just to be yourself 50 years ago. Some of them can tell you their experiences as a newcomer to Liverpool’s LGBT+ scene. Some of them can tell you why they said goodbye to such a scene.
Every single person we’ve had the pleasure to chat to this month has got a fascinating story to tell of what it’s meant to be proud in the last 50 years and we’ve collated some of these stories to share with you. We hope you’re as proud of Liverpool’s LGBT+ community as we are ❤️.
Abigail Inglis, Digital Guru at The Women’s Organisation and Co-Founder of Future Boss Club
“I didn’t grow up in the LGBT+ community… or in fact maybe I am still growing up! And now I am fortunate enough to be part of the community.
I finally came out only last year but have been lucky enough to be part of the incredibly colourful community here in Liverpool for the past couple of years when I was a full force ally and plucking up the courage to be my true and authentic self. It took time, but I’m here now, and certainly still growing, learning and developing as part of the LGBT+ community.
I grew up in a tiny little village down south in Buckinghamshire – countryside, green grass and a non-existent LGBT+ scene! In fact, I don’t even remember there being that many ‘out’ gay people, seriously! I think I remember one boy at school coming out and that was it. I left when I was 18 years old, went to Australia for a little bit and rocked up in Liverpool aged 19 to go to University, and haven’t left since.
Liverpool’s LGBT+ scene is the only one I’ve ever known, but it’s one that I love and adore. Sure, it’s small, and can’t compare to Manchester or Brighton, but I do think there’s a big sense of community in the scene. Lots of people know each other, go out together and look out for one another, and that’s something we should be proud of.
Everywhere you can go on the scene, I have gone to and probably still go to! GBar – you’ll always have my heart. But a special mention needs to go to Sonic Yootha, this night at 24 Kitchen Street just celebrated its 2nd birthday, and it’s already becoming massive on the scene. It’s an incredible atmosphere – warm, welcoming and open with such a diverse mix of people there. The boys behind Sonic Yootha should be proud of creating something different and something exciting for our LGBT+ community.
For me, each year gets more and more special as I get to know and love more of the community and, also, to see the effort that the Liverpool Pride organisers put into making the day special for us all!
We are stronger together! This year we need to also remember how political Pride should be. Together we need to mobilise and shout. We need to live more fiercely and bravely than we have before, and stand up to hate with our best weapon, love.”
Pete Price, Radio Presenter and Scouse Icon
“I grew up in the 60s and I only really dipped into the gay scene as we lived in fear because it was illegal to be a homosexual. We also lived in fear of blackmail, suicide (because of being outed) and queer bashers who were out in force in those days.
The changes I’m delighted to say mean a lot more freedom but sadly I feel that the community have a real problem with ageism. Young gay people should remember that people of my age and many thousands others paved the way for the life they have today. Having said all of that I do believe that homophobia is alive and well in this country today.
I lived on The Wirral all my life and spent most of my time in Manchester or London. This was because of the fear of being seen in Liverpool – let’s remember Liverpool is a town not a city.
My Liverpool Pride highlight is the ex-Lord Mayor Gary Millar and Steve MacFarlane, standing on St. Georges Plateau announcing to the world that they were married!”
Collette Collinge, Retired Art Teacher
“I’m a child of the mid-fifties, so that makes me 62 going on thirty in my head.
I was born in Rossendale in a very small close knit community with very little understanding of the word “Gay”. There was nothing socially for anyone gay living there.
I had a very funky mum and a strict dad. Although my mum died before I came out, I think she knew and would have supported me. My dad would have been somewhat recalcitrant but would have eventually conceded.
I left to study Fashion & Textiles in Liverpool in the late 70’s/early 80’s. I was never much of a “scene” person but when I did go out it was usually to the Mardi Gras, Bears Paw and the usual haunts around what is now termed Liverpool’s gay village.
I’ve been to London Pride, Brighton, Manchester and Liverpool although my partner isn’t really that keen but used to frequent the same clubs as I did.
We are both proud to be who we are and we never hide the fact, we live openly and honestly. We have been together for 27 years, and in our mid-forties we adopted our little girl – at a time when very few gays got through the adoption process. Yes, we did encounter homophobia within the social service/adoptive machinery, but we are not quitters and our girl is now a beautiful well-grounded twenty-two-year-old.
As for my Pride experiences, well I love it. We did stop taking our little girl to Manchester Pride for a while as it was a little too graphic even in the day time for, shall we say, a family experience.
I’ve always enjoyed the feeling of community, fun, laughter and support at the Prides. Oh, and of course sharing the girls powder room with the transgendered! ;-)”
James Roberts, Retired Spanish Resident
“I was born in Liverpool in 1948, and after feeling out of place even as a child at the age of 17, I was introduced to a pub called The Magic Clock. It felt like arriving home, even though it was a dangerous place. In fact, a large problem came from within the gay community – some really brutal queens who would turn on their own in a second.
But in those days Liverpool was quite a rough city with only two pubs – the Magic Clock and the Royal Court, which was a bit more up-market or so it thought – I’m sorry to say it was down to cottaging and all the dangers that were brought with it. Would you believe the police actually set up entrapment!? Thankfully I never fell foul of that.
The best place then was Manchester, which had a couple of clubs (and yes, you could actually dance!). The downside was the long way back home along the East Lancs Road at about 3am but it was worth it.
At the tender age of 20, I moved to London. It was like finding heaven (the club came later). I now live with my partner in southern Spain, but return to Liverpool each year to visit my parents’ resting place. But we do spend a few days there and I have to say, what a change! We both love it.
I don’t know any new places now but love to find a bar where some fairies like us could enjoy a quiet drink (any ideas?!). I find it incredible how much things have changed in quite a short time. The gay community should be proud and Liverpool also – I love it there.”
Keziah McKenna, Student Accomodation Manager
“I was born at the very end of 1993, so the era I grew up in is now, I think I’m still growing up in it.
I grew up in a small town in North Wales. I feel there is a difference in attitude simply because in Liverpool the size of the city and the different types of people make me feel like it’s easier to be who you are without drawing attention to yourself, except when you want to! In which case there are so many venues to exhibit talent. There were one or two LGBT people in my home town, but they were gay men. So figuring out my identity as a gay woman in this community has been an interesting road.
As much of a cliché as it is, I came out during my time at University after falling in love with a woman. I had never been of the mindset that I was of one orientation or another, but being with a woman struck me because of how natural it felt. It was a big realization moment for me. 3 years down the line we’re going strong.
I think the decriminalisation of homosexuality was a huge milestone of course. But there is still such a long way to go. And the nature of the problems faced has changed completely. We do not face prison for being who we are, but we still face violence, stares, and ridicule on a daily basis. Every time somebody calls something ‘gay’ as a synonym for something embarrassing, or hashtags #nohomo because it is important to make sure nobody thinks you are gay, we take a tiny step backwards. Casual homophobia is rife, and often goes unnoticed by non-LGBT people. And for a closeted person, this may be what convinces them to not come out.
However, we do have more visibility in mainstream media. And although we aren’t nearly equal in terms of representation, 50 years ago there was none at all. Representation matters, and I can’t wait until we don’t have to search for it.
My favourite Pride moment at a Pride festival is actually trying to drive through a city centre when Pride was happening and I couldn’t move for music and Pride flags. Being completely surrounded by celebration was wonderful. My personal favourite Pride moment was going out to a big fancy restaurant with my girlfriend when we first got together and leaning over the table to kiss her. Something nobody had ever done for her before.”
Daniel James Findlay-Belfield, Merseyrail Station Assistant
“I came out in 2001. I had a very rose-tinted view of what I thought it would be like on the ‘scene.’ I had a very rude awakening when I was largely ignored when I went to bars and clubs and quickly realised it wasn’t for me. I went to places in London and joined an LGBT youth group in Greenwich, but I didn’t really fit in there either.
I’m totally non-scene now as I don’t really belong in this ‘community.’ Since then, I’ve ‘come out’ as a railway enthusiast and met lots of friends that way, and I’m much happier. In 2014 I went to my first musical after saying for years I didn’t like them as I didn’t want to be “that kind of gay” – now I go at least 2-3 times a month, mostly to the Liverpool Empire! I really ate my words!
I believe theatre and trains are my ‘scene’, not a bar or club. I’ve never been in a relationship since coming out at 19, and I’m 35 now.
I have been in Liverpool for 5 years (15 in the North West), but I no longer feel on the outside ‘looking in.’ Instead of feeling sad about never having had a partner, I decided to embrace my interest in trains and make it my career and 2 years ago I got a job with South West Trains at Clapham Junction station. I worked really hard and finally managed to get a position with Merseyrail and I’m really happy. I have been to two Liverpool Prides, just to see Sonia’s sets both times.”
“I can’t say I grew up in a LGBT+ community as I didn’t come out until I was 26 in 1999. But I fully remember being scared to come out at work for fear of being sacked. I also remember the impact the secrecy had on me psychologically. It took me a long time to come to terms with my self-loathing and that I really wasn’t going to Hell for being gay.
I would say LGBT+ people are much more accepted in the UK than ever before and it’s so cool seeing kids just getting on with it and being who they are openly. However, I’m fully aware we’re still a long way from utopia and so I feel like we should be doing more.
I grew up in Hereford. I have no idea about the scene there or even if there is one as I didn’t come out until after I’d left. The scenes I was involved in were Reading (2 gay bars in the whole of the city!) and Manchester (seeing it gradually go downhill after Queer as Folk was very disheartening. I’m told it’s like a ghost town now! 😞).
I think my Liverpool Pride highlight has to be 2015 as it was great to see Pride regain its community spirit after the huge misstep the year before when they split it in 2 with the ‘pay wall’.
It’s fabulous that Liverpool has a Pride – I can’t believe they didn’t have one until fairly recently! – and I love the march. However, I think it should do more to promote the community organisations that take part in it – especially Michael Causer, since it was created in his name!
I also think the LGBT+ community is fab and I love the breadth of things there are for us. For example, I’m 44 now (so long past my clubbing days) but, thankfully, there’s social groups, book groups, film groups, writing groups… all sorts I can be involved in and still feel part of the LGBT community! It’s one of the many reasons I love Liverpool! 😊”
Liverpool Pride takes place between the 29th and 30th of July this year, where we’ll be celebrating 50 whole years of being loud and proud and telling our stories. Will we see you there?