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Archive for September, 2016

Gay and Ageing -LGBT Health Summit Keynote Address September 2012

 My talk was one of the keynote talks at the LGBTQ Health Summit in Canterbury Kent UK in September 2012


I have just 5 minutes to talk about 42 years of being gay in Kent, and I have time only to make a few stops in the journey, but I start with an important event before coming to Kent.

In 1968, for the very first time, I said to someone ‘I’m a homosexual’ (I didn’t know the word ‘gay’), and a five ton weight just fell from my shoulders, and that weight has never returned.

 In 1971 my first partner David and I went to see the manager of the Halifax in Canterbury  to apply for a joint mortgage. He was totally flummoxed by such a request and said ‘But what happens if you two split up?’  ‘Dont you ask heterosexual couples the same question?’ I asked. ‘Oh he said, I hadn’t thought of it like that’.

 In 1972 about 30 of us were the local branch of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality though we didn’t dare call ourselves that, and at our Christmas dinner called ourselves ‘The Canterbury Debating Society’. We met at the Friends Meeting House in Canterbury and at some meetings the caretaker used to cover the floor with the most pungent polish so that our eyes smarted and watered.  When I complained he said ‘if you don’t like it then you can go elsewhere and take the rest of your filthy sodomites with you’. You don’t let bigots get you down.

 In 1980 a group of us formed the East Kent Friend telephone helpline. We bought a phone installed it in the bedroom of a friend’s flat in Canterbury and activated the line every Tuesday evening. We were terrified someone would find out where we were and vandalise the flat and had been advised that technically we were not legal and that the police could arrest us for promoting indecency. But we continued and over the years of Friend it is amazing how many callers were helped because of that line.

 In the mid 1980s the terror of AIDS arrived. Deaths were described as brain tumours, or cancer or heart attacks, but deep down we knew that  AIDS was the cause of death. When in Kent, a Buddy system was created for those with the disease, refreshingly we were not short of volunteers. I pay tribute to my Buddy, Jerry, a lovely man. He was terrified of his condition being known and refused to register with a GP in Ashford where he lived, in case people got to know about him; after all some people had been burned out of their homes. I shall never forget that phone call from him one Monday at 8 when he said ‘Roger can you come over, I’ve gone blind’. Fear was endemic in those days, and at his funeral the undertakers were purposely not told of his condition; the cremation was scheduled the last of the day and the dreaded words AIDS and gay were not even whispered .

 In the 1990s gay teachers like me had Section 28 strung round our necks. For political reasons we had been forbidden to teach or say anything about homosexuality to our pupils, and I feel that I need to apologise to my gay students of those days when I did not offer the kind of support they deserved as they coped with their emerging sexuality.  Even when section 28 was repealed the leader of Kent County Council declared that Kent would have its own version! But he failed.

 From the late 1990s a brave new world came into being for us LGBT people, one I thought I would never live to see and for me it is wonderful. Civil registration, laws outlawing discrimination all have reinforced my pride at being a gay man. Sitting in a Kent LGBT/Police liaison committee chaired by a deputy chief constable who happened to have once been a pupil of mine was a strangely liberating  experience. And here having a health summit with an official welcome from the mayor of Canterbury is surely a sign that our world is changing.

 And where do we go now? Well it is obvious that issues about our status, security, health and well being remain and it remains true that the price of our freedom must be eternal vigilance. Laws do not quickly change hearts and minds. This Summit addresses many concerns except, may I say, in one respect insufficiently. Recent research about Kent suggests that 100% of us LGBT people will die! Did you know? Also there are more of us over 65 than 16 or under and so the LGBT community is getting older like the population at large and we have important and unique needs too. I still believe in the idea of community, for us LGBT people, and that must involve respect, concern and care for all whatever the age.

 Significantly, in his book ‘You’re Looking Very Well – The Surprising Nature of Getting Old’  Lewis Wolpert  gives evidence that younger people who have a negative view of old age actually die younger.  So please be a community and care for us oldies too – you might gain a few more years as a result.

I wish the summit well.









Gay and Ageing -Alive, Alive O!

Yesterday a squirrel sat in the road who, as I trundled towards him, was clearly daring me to do the ultimate thing and run him over. I didn’t. I stopped.  We looked at each other and then he ran, victoriously onto the bank.

On two separate Thursdays, I passed schools where I saw 16 and 18 year olds in clearly carefully considered clothes, together or sometimes stoically alone, walking the pathways to the entrance lobbies to receive their examination results. From one school there emerged a boy, with the most incredible smile on his face. There’s no feeling like success, is there?

And so everyday, for three weeks, my drive to Canterbury has consisted of different and memorable experiences which have had the delightful effect of diverting me from the tedium of the journey. A journey which ended invariably in the same parking spot, and  a short walk to my destination. Yes, you guessed it. Its the Oncology Department. ‘Cancers R Us’!

On my first visit there was a huge feeling of dread as I pushed open the doors to this new and forbidding world, but there was also a  defiant, sort of gladiatorial feeling in me too, wanting me to shout, ‘those of us about to die, salute you!’.

It was all unnecessary. Where were the harridan receptionists who I was prepared to suggest lent me their broomsticks? Where was the endless waiting? Where were the situations to complain about?  What were these people thought they were doing with their friendly welcomes? Their smiles? Their bowls of Quality Street chocolates.  And the gentle apology that my appointment tomorrow might be just 5 minutes later than scheduled? Whatever next! This was all too disarming for words.

I took my seat. Got out my trusty ipad and prepared to achieve a thorough reading of my downloaded newspaper. No such luck. My name was called before I had got through the headlines. That’s not good enough! What do hospitals think they are doing taking away an old man’s right to read the whole of his newspaper before his daily treatment begins!

This department, like so many, is staffed by the United Nations. Mostly young; friendly and helpful; and desperate to pronounce my name correctly too, though sometimes failing badly. But I felt safe.

I put on the gown specially provided for my radiotherapy. Not exactly Armani, and more like 1950s clothing for breastfeeding women, but, hey, rainbow tops will surely come, one day!

I looked around and took it in. This was surely the sort of place where Frankenstein did his business. Where wires would be stuck to my body. Where there would be whirrings, and electrical shortings, and with thunder and lightning to go with them. Where, as a result, my body would be so full of nuclear fission that I would glow in the dark. Where my partner would be able to stick wires on me in order to boil a kettle.

Some pulling of me then took place until I was clearly in the correct position. Some inaudible numbers spoken and agreed upon. A brief look at my body and then the words, ‘Be back soon’. My God! Was I, semi naked, laying in a vulnerable, not to say S & M like posture, going to be there until they were back from lunch?

I lay there but soon it all started. The machine trundle into action. It did a 180 degree journey around me and part of it, while above me, moved in a circular fashion too. There were different noises, a green light and, it made me think, given a different situation and mindset, there were all the makings of a pretty demanding theme park ride too. But in fact, the situation was a doddle. The staff returned, made sure I was dressed properly for my public, and sent away with the words ‘See you tomorrow’.

Last Thursday, after 3 weeks, the receptionist took my attendance sheet. Smiled. Drew a tick on it; put a smiley face below it;  wrote 10/10 for attendance on the sheet and I went on my merry way. Has it worked? Am I free? Who knows. But I know that they have tried, and will continue to try, and what I am required to do in response is to grasp each day and to live it. Focussing my life not on the ‘then’, or the ‘when’ but the ‘now’

Not a bad maxim for all of us, eh?.



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