By David Murrell | 15th February 2021
Growing and learning about myself in the 90s and 00s, access to gay learning material was very hard to come by, and consequently, I love educating myself, especially on good LGBTQIA+ history, laws, communities and sexual health.
This February, a month highlighted for the history of LGBTQIA+, I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight a few past and present UK laws around homosexuality and give you a small view of what I have witnessed and felt in my glorious 28 years on this planet.
This isn’t abolished until 1861, but you’ll still get 10 years imprisonment for the ‘crime’ of being gay. However, 24 years later on, the law still states that a witness need not be present to witness such a ‘crime’, so even being a homo in your own home was a no-no!
(Age consent was only actually equalised in 2001!). Just 4 years before I join humanity in ‘88, the British Government adds ‘Section 28’ to the Local Government Act which states that local authorities and teaching institutions: “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" so you can’t see, hear, smell or touch gay anywhere - it’s gone. It also states that they must not "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship". So, you can’t learn about homosexuality at school - but that’s the main place you learn all about how to interact with people and how you learn to love outside of your family.
I’m 11. I finished primary school as a well-mannered Catholic boy with loads of friends (maybe a few more of them were female but that was because I was really good at skipping and making daisy chains) and learnt loads of things we were going to use as we headed off to secondary school.
I knew I fancied boys and found them attractive - and I also understood this as wrong. I did know that being gay was ‘bad’. We all used to describe things we didn’t like as ‘gay’ or use it as a casual insult to someone - but that wasn’t me. I was so scared of labelling what I was feeling as being gay that I denied it to myself and anyone that may have asked out of kindness or cruelty.
I wasn’t stupid. I had heard of gay stories and people. I knew it was me and I was sure of how I would be treated and accepted. As with most queer people, I didn't grow up as myself. I grew up playing a version of myself that was a sacrifice of my authenticity to minimise humiliation & hate. I also knew that no one was going to help me through this. I was only going to have to learn for myself and educate myself on who I was and what my life was going to be.
The lack of education in the schooling system on what it meant to be gay had a massive impact on who I thought I was. The only education I got from school on homosexuality was a two week class in Religious Studies titled: ‘The Catholic Church V Homosexuality’. Titled like a lawsuit. The ‘versus’ is enough for you to know that I was not encouraged in any way to be who I was. I was also removed after the first lesson for asking too many questions and ‘not being open-minded enough’ for the relationship Catholicism allows me to have with homosexuality.
There was no Sex Ed for me, either. I learnt how to participate in heterosexual intercourse. I learnt about the dangers of unprotected sex with a woman and the diseases I could contract - of course, all of these were detailed and taught under female-male sex. I had no idea about male-male sex. The lack of sex education meant that the sex I began to have when I was younger was risky and life threatening. I had a HIV scare once when I was 16 and it knocked me for six. I immediately started asking questions and finding out what I needed to be able to enjoy sex.
The right to marry will follow 9 years later. Around this time I discover Queer as Folk. I used to stay up late watching it on Channel 4 with my duvet over my TV so my parents wouldn’t see the light and know I was up. I start feeling things I have never felt before. PRIDE. I see three guys, albeit fictional, enjoying their lives as out gay men. So I started researching TV programmes, films, books. Any article I could find was mine: I was reading it and digesting it. I was discovering not what I am but who I am. In two years time, at the age of 13, I had amassed mountains of knowledge on Queer culture and history, and was so comfortable with who I was that I decided to come out. It was tough in an all-boys Catholic school to defend your rights, to hold yourself high and to escape unharmed. I didn’t manage to do all of these every day but I damn well tried!
I continued to educate myself and learn from others that I met along my way, too. I became a primary school teacher so I could oversee the learning of young minds and make sure they were not being restricted. I went on to teach and educate in areas of sexual health in secondary schools so that we could minimise young people falling into the same danger as our brothers and sisters during the AIDS pandemic. I still continue to educate myself and others in an ever-emerging world.
I feel, as the current generation of gay youth, we have a certain degree of weight upon our shoulders to be role models. Whilst we have plenty of role models that we can now look upon, the AIDS crisis wiped out thousands of LGBTQIA+ people that would have been our role models. They would have continued the fight for equality. They would have been sitting next to that lonely gay man you see at the bar and snigger at as a teenager. They should be here with us - and we owe them the recognition of their experiences, and to continue telling their stories.
We are all a part of the same tree, so let’s help each other grow. My recommendations:
- Giovanni’s Room - James Balwin
- The Charioteer - Mary Renault
- Yay! You’re gay! Now What? - Riyadh Khalaf
- The New Queer Conscience - Adam Eli
- Queer as Folk
- It’s a Sin
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