Way back in the summer of 1985 I received a death threat. It was a Sunday evening, I was about to enter my final year at university and I happened to be alone in the house I was sharing with three other women.
There were two phone calls. The first time round, the caller was too chicken to speak. Minutes later, the phone rang again. This time we exchanged sentences. The voice on the other end was genderless: I really could not tell if it was a man or a woman.
But I do know the person was on a payphone. In those days British payphones were coin-operated and when you ran out of money, they would beep. I definitely remember the beeps. Our conversation went like this.
Caller: ‘Is this 39?’ (Referring to our house number)
Me: ‘Who’s this?’
Caller: ‘We know your type.’
Me (heart thumping): ‘Who is this? What do you want?’
Caller: ‘We don’t like your type. We’re going to bomb you out.’ Click.
That was the grand finale.
Was I terrified? You bet. There being no cell phones at the time, I dialled the number of every house I could think of in an attempt to locate my housemates. Half an hour later, we held a house meeting. We rallied others. Friends came round and stayed. Many more women of ‘our type’ passed through the doors of that house in solidarity.
The caller(s) never carried out the threat. It didn’t matter, though. Threats like these play on your mind.
While pretty much any of the women in our house could have been described as a ‘deplorable’ (to borrow Hillary Clinton’s infamous phrase), I have little doubt that the caller was targeting me. I was out of the closet even then; in fact, the previous academic year, I had served as Southampton University‘s Lesbian & Gay Officer. The threat was made because we were a household of women, one of whom – me – had dared to declare my sexual orientation in an age when most people turned pink at the mention of lesbians.
For weeks afterwards, I was wary whenever I went running. Not many people were road running in Britain then, either, which made me a well-known sight. I was living in leafy Southampton and whenever I pounded the pavements, I imagined someone jumping out from behind a tree along The Avenue and throwing a grenade in my face. I thought about all this, but I never allowed fear to stop me. If you let terrorists stop you, they win. And I was not prepared to let them win.
Last year someone said to me that sexual orientation should not be a matter of ‘pride’: it should simply be. In an ideal world that’s true. Alas, we don’t live in an ideal world. We didn’t live in one in the mid-1980s and we still don’t live in one today.
What’s been happening in Britain lately?
Two lesbians in London were brutally beaten on a bus after they refused to kiss for a gang of men. A homophobic attack, obviously, but there’s another side to this assault. For bizarre reasons, many heterosexual men get off on the idea of two women together. If you’re a man, next time you watch porn involving two women, please think about the ramifications of your consumption.
The other awful sight has been of Muslims harassing children and teachers outside a school in Birmingham. On the one hand the protesters declare that they’re not homophobic, on the other hand they don’t want their kids learning that there are – surprise surprise – children in this world who grow up with two mummies and two daddies.
There are several troubling aspects here. First, the matter should not even be up for discussion. To paraphrase Labour MP Jess Phillips, ‘You can’t cherry-pick your equality.’ Secondly, a deliberately intimidating atmosphere has been created outside a school in the guise of ‘protest’. Thirdly, the protesters don’t even have children at the school. Fourthly, the protesters freely admit they haven’t read the textbook they’re objecting to. Add a final troubling factor – how they’re being supported by some woolly-headed liberals – and you’ll understand why I chose to attend London’s Gay Pride this year.
I’m so glad I did. The march was the biggest we’ve ever seen. There was, as always, a fantastic atmosphere. It lifted my spirits. And it helped me appreciate why Gay Pride is still needed.
For as long as our sexual orientation is an issue for someone else, Gay Pride is needed.
For as long as there are people too afraid to come out or too embarrassed to say the words ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’, Gay Pride is needed.
For as long as we’re beaten up and called names, Gay Pride is needed.
And it is especially needed for the sake of the children whose parents would rather we kept silent.
On Gay Pride Day we are obviously visible, we’re loud and we celebrate. People can see that we’re ordinary folk from all walks of life. (If you doubt me, click on this link for an array of dazzling Instagram pictures.) It’s sad that we still need to reinforce the message in 2019, but we do.
I went to Pride on 6 July, 2019, to stand up and be counted. For the first time in years I felt it was important to proclaim loudly and clearly: I’m gay. I’m here. I am. Amen.