LGBT+ History Month: What’s Changed?
When I thought about writing this blog, I found myself with one question: so what’s changed?
Much. We can get married, we can get divorced and straight people can now have a civil ceremony – thanks to the LGBT+ community!
From the age of 15 I knew I was different, but in 1970s West Belfast I had no language to describe how I felt, or indeed who I was, as it was more about avoiding the riots on the Falls Road and getting home safely from school.
As soon as I could I left for London, and in true Irish immigrant style I got the boat to England with £80 in my pocket, borrowed from my dad. I took with me all my worldly possessions – including a rucksack full of tapes. I was 24.
I slept on the floor of a friend of a friend for months, but soon I was working at UCL and got to hear of the Lesbian and Gay Centre in Farringdon. Well, I found my home as soon as I walked through the door. I was in heaven and I had found my people! I became a volunteer, baking cakes in the café, and working behind the bar on the nights of the lesbian disco. What more could I want? So I thought, this naïve young woman from Belfast.
It was not long before I experienced homophobia and hatred from people who would not tolerate seeing two young women together and in love. Society soon rained down its heteronormative attitudes, and so my activism days began. I have always been driven by my desire for fairness and equity, and when it was deeply personal to me, even more was my desire to challenge the homophobia that felt so wrong and so brutal.
So I marched on the streets of London long before Gay Pride became what it is today. At the time there were separate Lesbian Strength marches, and the first one only had a few hundred women. I was proud to be one of them.
I miss the marches and the demonstrations, and I wonder: have we become immune to the homophobia and hatred that still exists in this country and across the world? In particular, have we become immune to the murder of so many trans people? To me, this is still heartbreaking. I miss feeling the strength of my community around me.
Things have come a long way. I love hearing requests on the radio from lesbian and gay couples asking for a song to be played for their wife or husband – and the DJ does not baulk. Who would have thought it?
But, there is more to be done. There is no time for complacency. All things are not equal, so: stand up. Be counted. Challenge the hatred and the homophobia. I have been doing it for years, and progress is good, but it is tiring without support. Be a true ally – stand with me and make a difference to young LGBT+ people today who are frightened – and excited! I’m 58 now!
Sinead is Director of Development and Innovation at Inspire North.