Just after we celebrated 44 years of Pride in London, Matt Newbury has pulled together an incredibly diverse list of people and things we should be proud of in 2016.
Colombia has just become the latest country to legalise same-sex marriage, making it the fourth in South America to do so after Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay (in Mexico you can get married in the capital and certain other states). It’s been quite an amazing 12 months or so for marriage rights, with Ireland and the entire USA legalising same-sex weddings last year, and Greenland and the Oglala Sioux Tribe in South Dakota doing so in 2016. Look out for both Jersey and Finland joining the ever expanding list by this time next year. Even if you don’t ever want to get married yourself, you should all able to – so this makes us incredibly proud.
The LGBT+ Press
While we aren’t ones to blow our own trumpets (some of us are getting a bit too old for that, anyway…) we’re still here and the fact that you are holding a printed LGBT+ magazine in your hands is pretty amazing. The gay press has been there over the last four decades in one form or another, tracking the changes, documenting the struggles and letting us know where all the very best parties are. At a time when all print media is struggling, that’s pretty impressive.
Our Sense of Humour
We do seem to seem have a natural gift for witty remarks and humorous observations and finishing sentences with a punch line. We are also quite partial to slipping in a double entendre at every given opportunity — somewhere in the world there are actual gay bars called The Stroke Inn, The Swallow, The Filling Station and The White Swallow. It’s also why there is such a long history of LGBT+ comic actors, writers and TV personalities. However with great power comes great responsibility. We are also quite prone to bitchy remarks and cutting sarcasm for comic effect, which should obviously be kept to a minimum, for maximum impact!
Transgender issues have really come to the fore over the last couple of years, with the multi-award winning Transparent on TV, The Danish Girl in the cinema, and Lavern Cox (Orange Is the New Black) becoming the first openly transgender person to appear on the cover of Time Magazine and to have a wax work figure of herself in LA’s Madame Tussauds. Meanwhile Caitlyn Jenner has appeared everywhere from her own reality show to the cover of Vanity Fair, via the toilets of the Trump Tower (where she videoed herself going for a pee, in reaction to statements made in the American Presidential circus).
While several high profile Hollywood actors remain steadfastly in the celluloid closet, James Franco seems to be wildly throwing himself `at every gay part going. As well as films about gay activists like Milk and I am Michael, he’s also starred in Interior.Leather Bar (about the infamous lost 40 minutes from the film Cruising). If that wasn’t open-minded enough, his latest film is King Cobra, a true murder story that rocked the gay porn industry. He says that gay characters are just more interesting to play, explaining that “I’m gay in my work and straight in my life.” It’s a great attitude and the polar opposite to some other Hollywood stars.
Our Ability to Party
We do seem to have an inbuilt desire to party and I’d like to think we are pretty good at it. It’s why we get invited out so much by our straight mates – they know that we’ll be the life and soul of the party. Having the freedom to party more than our heterosexual friends (who are often lumbered with needy children to look after), certainly makes them jealous, so why shouldn’t we be proud of this? That said, we’re certainly not proud of some of the states we have stumbled into work in the next day.
Not only are Years & Years still enjoying incredible success, spending most of this year on a world tour, lead singer Olly Alexander remains a great spokesperson for LGBT+ issues. As a gay songwriter, he has stated that he’d like to see far more use of the qualified male pronoun by gay singers in their music, while he’s also supported Stonewall’s anti-bullying campaign “No Bystanders.” He’s also described Germaine Greer’s comments about trans women as “horrifying” as well as using interviews to support safer sex and testing. He’s also been very open about his own mental health issues and his struggles with depression and anxiety. He also produces some damn good music too!
Of course there are numerous criticisms that can be aimed at dating apps and some of the people who use them (don’t get me started…), but they do provide a lifeline to isolated places. Indeed in countries where LGBT+ people are persecuted, like Russia, Egypt and Iran they have become a vital source of communication. Grindr CEO Joel Simikhai says he is proud the global app helps people socialise online in places where it might not be safe to do in public.
Sir Ian McKellen
As both an actor and activist, Sir Ian McKellen is a remarkable figure. Over his extraordinary career he’s won just about every theatrical award going, while he also co-founded Stonewall in response to Section 28 and was certainly influential in its repeal. When not playing the likes of Gandalf or Magneto or treading the boards, he’s visited school assemblies as part of Stonewall’s Education for All campaign, marched on numerous Pride parades and is a patron of Oxford Pride and The Albert Kennedy Trust.
We have a long and affectionate relationship with drag queens, who have kept us entertained with their big hair, outrageous costumes, catty banter and questionable singing for since time immemorial. Some have become the stuff of legend like Mrs Shufflewick, Adrella, Dockyard Doris and, of course, HIH Regina Fong, while others even broke into the mainstream and onto our tellies, like Dany La Rue and Lily Savage. Although the gay scene has been decimated in recent years, you can still catch hardworking traditional drag acts like Sandra, Dave Lynn, Dusty O, and Titti La Camp keeping us bent double on a regular basis. While keep an eye out for the next generation of cutting-edge performers like Jonny Woo, John Sizzle and Scottee as featured in the documentary Dressed as a Girl or the cast of Drag Queens of London.
We’ve certainly come a long way since Chris Smith became the first British MP to come out of the closet in 1984, beginning a monumental turning of the tide in British politics. Today, 35 Labour, Tory and SNP MPs have come out, giving Westminster the highest proportion of LGBT+ politicians in any national parliament in the world. That’s definitely something to be proud of.
“The Boss” became the first in a line of artists and companies boycotting North Carolina over anti LGBT+ laws that have removed anti-discrimination protections. Incredibly, that even requires people to use public toilets that correspond to the gender they were assigned at birth. Following the lead of the Born in the USA singer, other acts to have cancelled appearances include Ringo Starr, Pearl Jam, Boston, Cirque de Soleil, Nick Jonas and Demi Lovatio, while Paypal scrapped plans to build a global operations centre in Charlotte, Deutsche Bank have cancelled an expansion there, and several film companies are refusing to film in the state.
The outgoing 44th president of the United States has achieved a staggering amount for LGBT+ rights during his presidency, including nationwide marriage equality and the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military. He also signed in LGBT+ hate crime prevention legislation and is a supporter of same-sex couples being able to adopt children. While he faced a staggering amount of opposition along the way, he has managed to achieve the impossible in a country where not everyone (we are thinking the Bible belt and North Carolina here) is quite as forward thinking as he is. We salute you. Obama Out.
When President Obama appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show earlier this year, he managed to turn around the host’s praise for his LGBT+ policies, by talking about her own influence on the US public. “Changing hearts and minds, I don’t think anyone has been as influential as you on that,” said the President. “Your courage—and you’re just really likable. You being willing to claim who you were, that suddenly empowers other people and then suddenly it’s your brother, it’s your uncle, it’s your best friend, it’s your co-workers and then attitudes shift. And the laws followed, but it started with folks like you. I’m so proud of you.”
In a really lovely story, Canadian diver Jamie Bissett came out as gay at the end of last year and then also announced he’d been dating another high ranking diver, Tanner Wilfong, for more than two years. Bissett seems set to compete at the Rio Games, although due to a back injury, it seems likely that Wilfong will sadly only be supporting his boyfriend from the stands. He has said he is aiming for the 2020 Olympics instead. Another diver who won’t be at Rio is Australia’s Matthew Mitcham who retired in January, although our eyes will again be on GB’s Tom Daley (for the right reasons, obviously…)
Older Gay People
We should never forget the tireless and brave campaigning that has led to enjoying not only some of the best equality laws in the world, but has also led to a complete shift in public opinion. And that’s something to be incredibly proud of. If you are a younger person, have a chat with them and never take the freedom you enjoy for granted.
With gay people woven into the very fabric of musical theatre, it remains one of the most creative, fun and fabulous entertainment genres out there. It’s a great time for outrageous musical entertainment at the moment. Both Priscilla Queen of the Desert and The Rocky Horror Show are still both touring the country, causing the most unlikely of people to camp it with their theatrical attire, while Kinky Boots is doing something similar in the West End. We are really hoping that Fun Home, the hit lesbian-themed Broadway musical about sexual awakening set in a funeral home will transfer to London soon, while musical versions of both Brokeback Mountain and Pride are both in the pipeline.
Gay’s The Word
The only specifically LGBT+ bookshop in the UK opened its doors back in 1979, taking its name from a musical by Ivor Novello. As well as selling books, the shop has also served as a community and information resource. Various community groups have used the premises to meet including Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, featured in the film Pride. Over the years the store has battled raids, court cases and the threat of Amazon and online sales. Today the shop in Bloomsbury still sells everything “from the profound to the frivolous and from the liberating to the indulgent”. Pop in and buy something and show your support for this wonderful little business, we should all be proud of.
We are really proud to continue to support the some amazing gay charities and the work they do, whether that be providing sexual health advice or supporting venerable young people. Stonewall continues to work towards equality for all, whether that be in the workplace or the school yard, while GMFA now provides advice and support for all health issues that disproportionately affect gay men. Broken Rainbow is on hand with support for victims of same-sex domestic violence, while The Albert Kennedy Trust supports young LGTB homeless people in crisis. These charities and many others rely on the support of the gay community, so let’s keep supporting them and the amazing work they do.
You have probably read the phrase “homosexuality exists in every single species on the planet, but homosexuality is found in only one: humans.” Same-sex attraction amongst animals is a great way of demonstrating that homosexuality is natural, and some species are particularly helpful. Gay sex makes up 94% of sexual activities amongst giraffes, while up to three quarters of relationships amongst vampire bats are between females (we’re saying nothing). The sea is also a hot bed of same-sex shenanigans. More than 80% of New Zealand Sea Lions males mate with other males, while three quarters of bottlenose dolphins hang out in same-sex pairs and often mate for life. Nearly half of killer whales also engage in gay sex, which might explain while the sea is so salty (sorry, I couldn’t resist…).
Our Diverse Community
Recently there was an uproar about a t-shirt sold by an online brand that said “No Fats, No Fems” referencing a phrase frequently seen on gay dating apps. Following a social media backlash, the makers took to Twitter to claim it was “satire” but were soon shot down by socially aware people who are proud of the fact that our community is made up of people of different shapes, sizes, ethnicities, backgrounds and personalities. As you wander around Pride London, look around and take in the completely mix of people around you, celebrating their sexuality as well as their differences.
British TV Drama
Not only are we seeing more and more gay characters on soap operas these days (and even permanent ones who don’t do a runner or die in tragic circumstance), there have also been some brilliant, if not controversial characters popping up in British drama as well. We’re thinking Tom Hollander’s deliciously villainous turn as Corky in The Night Manager and Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent et al in the equally stunning London Spy. With all this spy and espionage stuff doing so well, we’ll be having a gay James Bond next.
Over the past four decades, Pride parades and events have sprung up across the globe, a rainbow cocktail of political awareness, celebration and eye-opening fashion choices. And these events are something we should all be proud of, as these gatherings have changed social attitudes and helped us fight for and win many of the rights we enjoy today. But most importantly we should feel proud of the people in countries around the world with substantially less tolerant attitudes, who literally risk their lives to hold Pride parades. Don’t forget to raise a toast to them at some point during this year’s Pride in London.