21st Century Gay: 50 years of reform by Alan Henry

Hello everyone, please read, enjoy and share our second blog from Associate Alan Henry. This is Alan’s second blog in a series that provokes us to think about how we can all contribute to equality and human rights, and motivates us to ensure that a fairer society for everyone prevails. Following the theme of LGBT+ resilience and wellbeing, and in time to celebrate Pride in London, our next blog is a most welcome guest blogger, Councillor Ian Adams, Westminster City Council – Cabinet Member, Public Protection and Licensing; LGBT+ Lead Member….don’t miss it!


21st Century Gay: 50 years of reform

I my previous blog I stated that LGBT+ do not embody a homogenous group, but that we are, in spite of this, bonded by the division and cohesion, and the disparities and the commonalities within a unified struggle for acceptance and equality  (Müller, 2016).

In order to explore how this struggle plays out in contemporary society, my own identity and experience, which informs and is informed by the broader LGBT+ community, is a necessary point of reference in terms of resilience. Certainly one thing that I have come to realise is that at this point in our lives, Gay men who were born in the 60’s are contemplating a future that may increasingly re-impose the hetero-normative constraints of our pre coming-out histories.  Ageing in any community will bring challenges that will impact our physical and mental wellbeing and test our resilience. For Gay men, these are compounded by the apartness of our state, which despite significant and targeted reforms, remains today.

In our 50’s, Gay men fear a return to the ‘closet’ as the assumptions of asexuality within society prepare older people for manageable care (Kertzner et al,  2017). We have been constrained by expectations so contrary to our nature from birth that as children with no divergent reference, confusion and alienation has increasingly affected mental health as our emerging sexuality was perniciously suppressed.  While this is an experience I share with many, I do not feel bitter about being the product of the time in which I was born, instead I find a resourcefulness which motivates me to work to continue reforms that will contribute towards LGBT+ emancipation.

I like to think of myself as part of the ‘de-criminalised generation’; we were given leave to express our queerness in ways that were totally unthinkable to those who went before us. The unique problem that we face however is the legislative fervour up to the 1967 Act, and the lack of it now. From this springboard, we have powered through insidious attempts to restrain our human rights, most notably in the form of the populist press and Section 28, towards the awareness that positive representation and equality are reasonable expectations.  The legacy of this, nonetheless, will be a slide backwards into cultural conformity, if we cannot acquit ourselves of the far more serious and seemingly unforgivable crime of growing old.

I would argue that we are the first generation of Gay men to be given so much and then may lose the most vital part, because we have not yet mastered the art of making old age fabulous. Research indicates that barriers to this do indeed exist in our society, where a combined culture of ageism and homophobia remain as stressors on our fully lived lives as Gay men. I cannot state any kind of moral imperative, but I do see an opportunity for improved wellbeing of this and future generations in later life.

The stories that we share about our own experiences of growing up into a new age of relative liberalism, are what inform education, health and social services, media and private sector industries, where the ‘pink pound’ is recognised as a potent force. I believe that in the same way we may alter the culture of the under-informed sectors that provide services for the elderly through the zeitgeist of coproduction, we will become the catalyst for transformation and reform, and as a stakeholder in this process, my area of keen interest will be the impact of negative legislation and positive reform on Gay men of the de-criminalised generation.

Alan Henry