More to Me Than HIV

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More to Me Than HIV

First published in Gscene July 2020 For last years World AIDS Day I put together a public project of work joining other people living with an HIV+ diagnoses at Jubilee library.For last years World AIDS Day I put together a public project of work joining other people living with an HIV+ diagnoses at Jubilee library. For the project I spoke openly about my journey having being           Read more

More to Me Than HIV: GScene post Aug 2020

More to Me Than HIV is a project that aims to breakdown the stigma that has historically been attached to this virus.  When I saw my piece in last months Gscene to promote the More to Me Than HIV project, I was extremely proud, but a small part of me was filled with anxiety; but why should I feel this way? I have been on effective antiretroviral therapy since the Read more

More to Me Than HIV: first published in GScene July 2020

For last years World AIDS Day I put together a public project of work joining other people living with an HIV+ diagnoses at Jubilee library. For the project I spoke openly about my journey having being             diagnosed HIV+ 32 years previous. Back then there was no treatment and a lot of fear and misinformation concerning how HIV was transmitted. As such stigma was rife, Read more

Gay men

Role Models & The New Normal….

For all of us, when growing up, regardless of our sexuality, we seek role models in a variety of ways, the most obvious place to start is with our parents or guardians and then our wider family and the friends we choose to be with. Beyond that we turn to the media, be it famous people in magazines pop stars or actors and personalities on the television, or world leaders, people in power….personally, with very few gay role models around when I was growing up, I settled on Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones as my perfect male icon.

Harrison-Ford-Indiana-Jones[1]

Thankfully, television and those that make the programs happen, have been more willing to embrace peoples differences; admittedly it has taken years, but at least this media is moving in the right direction.     Read more

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Remembering the importance of the play/Film: The Boys in the Band.

I couldn’t care less what people do, as long as they don’t do it in public or try and force their ways on the whole dam world.

Alan, The Boys in the Band.

The comment above was taken from the 1968 play, The Boys in the Band. To put the era in perspective, the play was conceived a year before the Stonewall Riots in New York and a year after the passing of the The Sexual Offences Act 1967 in the UK which decriminalised homosexuality.

 

While interviewing a group of older gay men for an upcoming project by QueenSpark Books and this year’s Brighton; ‘City Reads’ My Policeman by Bethan Roberts, I was reminded of just how difficult it was for gay men to be open about their sexuality outside of the their homes or the gay bars that were hidden from public view, during the 1950’s/60’s. The play and film Boys in the Band was ground breaking as it gave gay men an unapologetic view about the lives they led, the men they loved to a wider audience outside the gay ghetto.

 

Although the play garnered favourable reviews, when the film was released two years later the Gay Liberation Movement that had formed after the Stonewall Riots, were extremely critical of the characters in The Boys in the Band. Rather surprisingly the GLM thought the characters where little more than stereotypes that did nothing to help the ‘gay cause ’. These comments went some way in helping bury the film, until it was revived again in 1996. One New York reviewer wrote, “ It’s okay to like Boys in the Band Once more”.

So what about the play and film? What were its origins? How did it all begin?

 

Mart Crowley found himself on hard times, to the point that he had to rent out his own apartment to survive. At the same time Crowley got a call from his actress friend, Diana Lynn who said she needed someone to house-sit her Mansion in Beverley Hills. Crowley snapped up her offer and found himself surrounded by luxury, but without a penny to his name. It was here that he put pen to paper and began to write the ground breaking play, The Boys in the Band.

Back in 1968 Homosexuality was still a taboo subject and many of Crowley’s friends said he was crazy for even thinking he could get a play about nine men, eight of whom were out as gay, ever produced, let alone find an audience at the time who would even care about these characters.

Unperturbed, Crowley finished the draft and asked around about getting help to get the project off the ground and asked his friend Natalie Wood who was married at the time to British producer Richard Gregson. Gregson in turn set up a meeting with an associate from his company, London International, in New York, who promptly said that they couldn’t possibly send that type ofplay out with their letterhead on it. Crowley response was to ask if they had heard of Richard Barr who had recently produced the Broadway production of, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. When the response was, ‘Of course’, Crowely said that perhaps Barr wouldn’t be afraid of his script that also tackled some heavy subjects. The agent duly sent the script and a meeting was organised the next day for Crowley to meet with Barr.

 

From this meeting nine actors where gathered, (with most of them losing their agents who believed that the actors would be tainted by acting in a play predominantly about gay men’s relationships). A workshop was put together, off, off Broadway and ran for five nights. Every night was a sell-out with the one hundred seat theatre being packed out by an all male gay audience. Encouraged by the positive response Crowley and the producers took a gamble and raised the funds needed to take the play to a bigger theatre and audience. The play ran, off Broadway for a very successful one thousand and one performances.  Despite the cries from all the doubters, the play quickly became the hot ticket in town with major celebrities of the time, including Jackie Kennedy, Groucho Marks, Marlene Dietrich and Carol Channing all coming to see the show.

To everyone’s amazment the play moved from New York to London and was then translated and played to packed audiences around the world. The cast included: Emory (Cliff Gorman), the effeminate interior designer, Michael (Kenneth Nelson) the lapsed Roman Catholic, alcoholic, Larry (Keith Prentice), and Hank (Laurence Luckinbill) a couple who disagree over the importance of monogamy, the morose, and at the same time acid tongued queen Harold (Leonard Frey), who’s birthday everybody is celebrating, as well as Donald (Frederick Combs), Bernard(Reuben Greene)  and the young, dumb, prostitute cowboy, Tex,(Robert La Tourneaux) who becomes the butt of everybody’s jokes, and finally, Alan (Peter White) who may or may not be gay. With the passing of time each of these characters are still recognisable not because they are stereotypes, but because they represent a part of human nature that exists in many of us today, regardless of sexuality or gender. 

 

The Boys in the Band went on to be made into a film, using the same Broadway cast which Crowley (who produced and wrote the film) insisted was part of the deal, even though it meant he lost out on more lucrative deals from film companies who wanted to hire more well known actors for the parts.

Crowley was also keen for Robert Moore, who had directed the play to be part of teh production, but was told that a more experienced directed was required.

William Friedkin (who went on to direct the French Connection) was brought on board and helped create a brilliant film that begins with so much light and laughter and then gradually descends into a much darker piece as truth, pain and heartache is brought to the fore.

Forty-four years have passed since the play was first shown, yet the message of love, friendship, secrets and lies are as strong today as they were back then, but perhaps more importantly the films historical and political place and the fact it opened the doors to Queer Theater should not be underestimated. http://youtu.be/zOakue0MiZs

A new production of The Boys in the Band is presently playing at Brighton’s Theater Royal, staring amoung others, Dave Lynn, Stephen Richards and Jason Sutton. a review of the show can be read at blog.zhooshbrighton.co.uk

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LGBT Sports: A Blog of Two Halves.

LGBT and Sport: A Story of Two Halves.

I really look forward to the day when words like, brave, shocked or courageous are no longer used when sportsperson tells the public that their sexuality isn’t heterosexual. Having watched the Channel Four programme, Britain’s Gay footballers (a misleading title as apparently there aren’t any) saw Amal Fashanu, niece of  Justin Fashanu, go out on the field to find out why there hasn’t been any ‘out’ gay footballer’s before or after her uncle.

Over the last twenty years this same question has been asked time and time again, with the same reason being reeled out that it is either fear of the fans chanting homophobic abuse, or that it is the footballer’s managers keeping the idea alive that an ‘out’ gay footballer would be less bankable. Of course this belief is only kept true while premier league footballers are discouraged from ‘coming out’; and as for the chanting? Well to a degree that is part and parcel of the game, something Amal witnessed when she went to a home game at Brighton football stadium. Here the chants were more tongue in cheek, with the Brighton football team hearing cries of “We can see you holding hands” and “Does your boyfriend know you’re out”. Neither of these battle cries were directed at a particular football player, and in reality, not homophobic. However, when Sol Campbell (a heterosexual footballer) defected from Tottenham to their bitter rivals, Arsenal United back in 2001, he found himself the target of an extremely vile chant from the Tottenham supporters: “Sol, Sol, wherever you may be, you’re on the verge of lunacy and we won’t give a fuck when you’re hanging from a tree, you Judas c**t with HIV. Campbell rightfully complained and said if this was shouted out on the street then that group would be arrested. At first the police said it would be impossible to make any arrests due to the vast number of the crowd, however, video footage was later used with several Tottenham fans receiving a fine and a three-year ban from all matches. With arrests now being made against fans who chant homophobic abuse from the terreaces, along with Premier footballers being slapped with huge fines for sending homophobic tweets, we can at last see gay hate within football being taken seriously.

Of course, chanting is all part of the game, it’s what makes football special, but there is no room for racial or homophobic abuse in sport in the Twenty-first Century. There has been a drive to bring up the issue of homophobia in football with Red Card Homophobia in a similar way that the  Kick it Out campaign tackles racism in football, but no high-profile (straight) football player has been willing to back the Red Card Homophobia campaign for fear of being thought of as gay. Although the PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association) are taking some notice of tackling Homophobia in football with a new poster campaign, but they seem to still be dragging their feet saying it will take many years for all those involved in football to change their views on there being an out footballer playing for a premier league.

This idea that all those involved in premiership football can keep saying the time isn’t right, maybe in five, ten fifteen years time we will see an ‘out’ footballer player is just allowing homophobia to continue to thrive. The majority of other sports people who have decided to stop hiding their sexuality and have ‘come out’ have said it’s the best thing they have ever done, simply because they can be themselves. Let’s hope that we don’t have to wait another twenty years for a footballer to come out. Who knows, a forward thinking manager may take the reins soon and see that a promising gay footballer player can be out and proud about his sexuality and when he does his sexuality will be secondary to his ability to play a great game of football.  

Second Half.

February 2012 is LGBT history month and to coincide with the upcoming Olympics for the second year running the focus is on sport. With only another 161 days to go, the world will be focused on London and the opening event. Even those who hardly give sports the time of day will surely have a sense of pride as we all come together and root for our UK sports men and women to gain as many gold medals as possible.

Of course there will be many LGBT people, myself included, who will be reminded that sometimes sport can make us feel excluded. I can still remember standing in the freezing rain on the school sport field, knowing that I will be last to be picked for the football team. A humiliation made all the worse as I watch Adrian Scarf being picked before me, even though he had chronic asthma and no sense of direction. But then I discovered I was rather good at other sports like hurdles, relay, discus and javelin. By achieving in these areas I was able to dismiss the idea that I didn’t like sports, I just didn’t like being singled out as being rubbish at contact sports.

Admittedly, when I left school and discovered the gay pubs and clubs I left all interest of sports behind me and would only mention the Adrian Scarf story, dismissing sports altogether, (let’s face it, a camp story will usually overide a converstaion about school sports!). I’m sure many other LGBT people have told simular tales, which have helped feed into the myth  that LGBT people have little or no interest in sport. However, over the last couple of decades this view has been challenged in a variety of ways. Back in 1982, San Francisco saw the start of the now hugely successful Gay Games, while here in the UK there are now  gay rugby teams including , the Kings Cross Steelers, Bristol Bisons RFC  football teams, London Romans Football Club, London Lesbian Kickabout and trans swimming group, Marlin Swimming Group  and more locally the LGBT sports organisation, BLAGS, showing  that there is a thriving LGBT sports community. Another important element in changing the perception that sport and LGBT people don’t mix is having high-profile sports men and women publicly ‘coming out’.

Away from the football stadium, it would seem that such rampant homophobia is not as prevalent in other sports, there are at least one LGBT sportsperson who is openly gay in their chosen sport. In the UK the most recognisable out sportspeople to recently come out include, International Rugby Referee, Nigel Owens, BBC sports presenter, journalist and jockey, Clare Balding, Welsh Rugby player Gareth Thomas, Power-lifter Chris Morgan and England’s cricket wicket keeper, Steven Davies. Premier footballers should take note; Rugby didn’t fall into disrepute, Cricket wasn’t swallowed into a pit of despair and most importantly, sports fans continue to love, praise and support their chosen game and sportsperson regardless of the players sexuality.

It may take a very long time for some people in sport and supporters, particularly football, to pull their knuckles off the floor, and raise their eyes to the light and see we are no longer living in the dark ages and that there are some fantastic sports people out there who just happen to kick, throw, lift, dive or even bat for the other team.

Posted on by Glenn Stevens in Brighton & Hove, LGBT, Zhoosh 8 Comments

Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Out! Out! Out!

“Politicians, ugly buildings and whores, they all get respectable if they last long enough.” These words from actor john Huston in the film Chinatown, feel rather appropriate when considering the release of The Iron Lady, starring the scarily convincing Meryl Streep, as Maggie Thatcher.

Now that Thatcher no longer has the ability to breathe fire of fear into anyone, there will no doubt be those who will watch this film, championing the girl of a grocer, who came to power and promised her voters to make the world a better place…

Of course there are many who benefitted from Thatcher’s breaking up of the unions, selling off our utilities, and giving many people the opportunity to buy their council homes; but all to quickly the dream turned sour, with a generation now paying for a decade of excess and greed. But there is also a more sickening legacy from Thatcher’s era that the film makers have glossed over. These include; the introduction of Clause 28 and the lack of care or understanding regarding the devastating effect the AIDS crises would have on the UK’s gay community.

At the beginning of the AIDs epidemic in 1981 when large groups of gay men, drug users and hemophiliacs, began getting rapidly ill and dying, both Thatcher and Ronald Regan decided to ignore the impact this new disease was having. The national press was quick to flame the fire calling AIDS a ‘Gay Plague’. Those diagnosed with HIV found themselves treated with fear by the general public as well as the health professionals. For example in the early days of the disease, those seeking treatment would find health professionals using the  barrier method, wearing gloves, masks, gowns and hats; making those already feeling alienated even worse. However, there was a huge response from the LGBT community, with support groups springing up, doing much of the work that was lacking from the Conservative Government.

Six years into the epidemic, the Conservative Government brought us the Don’t Die of Ignorance campaign, which basically said ‘Abstain from sex and you’ll be fine.’ The campaign failed to address the real issues and year on year those diagnosed HIV+ has continued to rise.

In 1994 a new AIDS campaign was produced at the cost of £2 million pounds including a pocket guide “Your Pocket Guide to Sex” aimed at educating 16 – 25 year olds on safer sex. However, the Conservative Government got all hot under the collar and had the whole project deleted from existence, much to the disgust of its author, Nick Fisher.

“I don’t believe this government has teenagers’ interests at heart, it has become a political exercise to be seen to be stamping on things that are considered rude. Have they actually thought about how many teenagers are getting pregnant, how many are screwed up because they don’t know whether they are gay or straight, how many are not using condoms because they don’t know where to buy them or how to use them properly? If people are so messed up about sex that they deny its existence on such a massive scale, then there really is something wrong.”                             Nick Fisher.

Fast forward to present day and we find that once again Thatcher’s legacy living on, with the Conservative Government unwilling to provide funding for HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns.

With funding for HIV treatment costing the NHS 1bn per annum, there seems little reason to celebrate the mass destruction Thatcher has caused in her lifetime; and then there’s section 28.

Things first kicked off with the Daily Mail newspaper ranting that there was a campaign by the liberal left to pursued children to be homosexual, feeding the public with the idea that homosexuality was a choice which people could be persuaded to make. Books like Jenny lives with Eric and Martin were used in the propaganda war, with suggestions that such books were being used to undermine the heterosexual family.

Although no school was prosecuted, Clause 28 stopped many schools from teaching or talking about alternative sexualities, which without doubt had an effect on many young people growing up as either lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender with feelings that they are in some way wrong to have these feelings. It is all too easy to think there are many support groups like the brilliant Diversity Role Models for young LGBT teenagers to get in contact with, but back then there was no internet and just a couple of gay magazines which were only marketed at the older LGBT groups.

One of the best things to come from Section 28 was the way the LGBT community pulled together, stood united and fought back. Lesbians assailed into parliament, while others stormed onto the live set of the BBC’s Six O Clock News, with one woman managed to chain herself to Sue Lawley’s chair. From here, MP’s and famous actors like Sir Ian McKellen came out, as did film director, Derrick Jarman about being HIV positive. These high-profile people added their voices of support and helped form LGBT action support groups including Stonewall and OutRage and even a couple of protest songs

When the Labour Government came to power, they began to pave the way for the Clause to be removed from the statutory books. It is worth noting that those unelected people in power in the House of Lords tried time and time again to keep Clause 28 in place, however, the Clause was eventually scrapped by the Labour Government pushed through the abolishment of the clause on the 18th November, 2003.

Interestingly, when David Cameron was an unelected Conservative member, he spoke out against a repeal of Clause 28 and accused Tony Blair of being ‘anti family’. Although he has since apologized and said equality should be taught in schools, the new legislation, Sex and Relationship Education (SRE), guide mentions that schools are obliged as a minimum to talk on issues of HIV and AIDS, but there is still no legal requirement for schools to talk about LGBT relationships. This may certainly leave many young people believing the way they feel is wrong and unacceptable, showing just how Thatcher’s legacy continues to do more harm than good.

Instead of spending money on seeing Meryl do an impersonation of Thatcher, I have invested my money in the Chumbawamba single, a celebration of Thatcher’s demise to be released on the day she pops her steely clogs.

Posted on by Glenn Stevens in film, Health, HIV/AIDS, Human Rights, LGBT, Zhoosh 4 Comments

Count Down to World AIDS Day

A report from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) showed that last year, 3,000 gay and bisexual men received a positive HIV test, the highest since records first began twenty five years ago. This announcement can be seen in two ways; the ongoing campaign for sexually active people to be come forward and take an HIV test is proving a great success. On the other hand, the campaign urging people
to look after themselves and each other and practice safer sex is not getting through.

Read more

Posted on by Glenn Stevens in Brighton & Hove, Gscene, Health, HIV/AIDS Leave a comment

“The Need to Renew the HIV+ Message.

30 years ago when the realisation that sexual intercourse was a dangerous pastime, everyone was bombarded by the Conservative’s safe sex television and leaflet campaigns. Images of icebergs and tombstones filled our consciousness along with the tag line, “Don’t die of ignorance.” From then on in the safer sex message cropped up in stage plays, (The normal Heart), films (Longtime Companion) and soap opera storylines, (Eastenders) reminding all of us almost on a daily bases that HIV existed and that as a LGBT community we had to take responsibility in looking after ourselves and each other, and we did. From the terror of what this virus was doing to people we loved, support groups sprung up in the backs of bars and people’s homes making sure the message of safer sex was out there, loud and proud and that anyone who needed
care and support received it. As the years have rolled by, the subject of HIV has slowly dwindled away from the wider public domain, with the issue given an airing to the masses once a year on December the 1st, World Aids Day. Read more

Posted on by Glenn Stevens in Health, HIV/AIDS, Human Rights, Positive Nation, THT 5 Comments

Speak Out Against Homophobia.

Here in the UK, the LGBT community can celebrate the many rights we have all fought for and won over the last few decades, from having homosexuality abolished as a criminal offence, the equal age of consent and most recently the right for same sex couples to have their union together acknowledged in the form of civil partnerships. Looking at such ground breaking achievements it would be easy to think that we can sit back and relax because all the big battles have been won; but this really is not the case.

For every outdated piece of legislation that has been overturned there are still those who see homosexuality as second class to their straight counterparts and this is passed down to the next generation through a variety of ways. Last week it immerged that Google had rolled out a new app giving mums the opportunity to answer twenty cliché questions to determine if their son is gay.

Some of the ridiculous questions that the makers claimed would determine the outcome of their son’s sexuality included,

  • Is he a fan of divas (Madonna, Britney Spears)?
  • Does he spend time getting ready before being seen in public?
  • Does he like musical comedies?

So what if someone, gay or straight, takes a while to get dressed up to see Madonna in a musical comedy, but the way these questions are backed up by,

  • Does he like football?
  • Does he read the sports page in the newspaper?
  • Has he ever been in a fight?

It become perfectly clear that the people who put the app together are suggesting that if someone’s son doesn’t conform to the outdated gender norms, they are less of a man and as such are seen as inferior to others in society. Of course the people behind the app would say that such questions should not be taken so seriously and they are just a bit of fun; but it is these same outdated views that bullies use to undermine their peers from the playground to the workplace and keep many people from declaring proudly that they are gay.

A prime example can be seen in football. At present there is a campaign DVD due to be launched, titled; Homophobia: Let’s Tackle It! with the makers hoping to follow the success of, ‘Show Racism the Red Card’. The makers had wanted a gay footballer to front the DVD, but have been greeted by a brick wall. Not since Justin Fashanu, (who committed suicide in1998) has there been another professional footballer ‘come out’ as gay. They also found it impossible to get a straight footballer to speak out against homophobia, for fear of a backlash from the terraces and in the press.

It is without doubt that the main reason for such an absence of ‘out’ footballers speaking out on the issue isn’t down to gay men, as the app questions would suggest, not being any good at sport but more to do with homophobia still being rive within the ‘beautiful game’.

In the same week there was a conference for the Orlando Republican presidential debate. During the session Stephen Hill, a US soldier serving in Iraq, spoke via video link saying he was pleased he was able to be open about his homosexuality now President Obama had abolished the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that had meant gay and lesbian service men and women would be fired from their post if their sexuality was exposed. The response from the chair came that should the Republican Party take office again, the ban on homosexuals in the forces would be put firmly back in place. The people behind such thinking are fully aware that there are hundreds of gay and lesbian people working in the arm forces, but to show that gay men and women are working in environments outside the clichéd stereotypes would show that the only thing different between sexualities is the gender we decided to sleep with.

These are just a few examples of how a part of society believes that to be gay is something that must be ridiculed, hated and stamped out. We may have won some big battles, but we must keep our voices heard loud, expose gay hate in all its forms, and stamp out the hatred so the next generation will only find homophobia in the history books.

Posted on by Glenn Stevens in Human Rights, Leisure, Zhoosh 1 Comment

Authors Asked to Erase Gay Character.

Stop discrimination

You’re a writer, you have worked hard on developing a plot for your young adult, fictional novel. You have created a character you love and you know will reach out to your readership. The excitement builds as you get a call from a literary agent who says they love the book but… for the manuscript to be more palatable to the publishers they want you to write out the black character and make him white. The outcry would be huge, with such an idea hitting the six O clock news. Yet it was only twenty years ago when children’s author Malorie Blackman was asked to do just that.

 So when she was told that last week, two American writers, Sherwood Smith and Rachel Manija Brown, were told by a literary agent that their young adult, post-apocalyptic novel, Stranger, was of interest, but only on the proviso that they re-wrote the gay characters as a heterosexual couple; her adamant response was, “Are we still not over this nonsense? Read more

Posted on by Glenn Stevens in Fiction & Books, Human Rights, LGBT, Literature, Zhoosh 11 Comments

Help Stop Anti-LGBT Campaigner’s of Hate

Help Stop Anti-LGBT Campaigner’s of Hate.

Throughout the years there have been countless cranks, politicians and religious fanatics ready to jump on the bandwagon to spout words of hate against the LGBT community; some are destructive, while others are just plain ridiculous. Who can forget the right wing views of Reverend Jerry Falwell who suggested that Tinky-Winky, (an animated foam form) from the children’s TV programme the Tellytubbes, was gay.

 “He is purple – the gay-pride colour; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle – the gay-pride symbol.”  Rev. J. Falwell. Read more

Posted on by Glenn Stevens in HIV/AIDS, Human Rights, LGBT, Zhoosh 6 Comments

Mental Health and Emotional Wellbeing.

All of us from time to time will have days when we just can’t find a smile to put on our face. Having a blue day, feeling under the weather, (particularly if that weather is stormy and grey) a bit depressing. Thankfully the majority of the time we find that by the end of the day we have found some way in resolving such matters and are able to wake up the next day with that smile firmly in place.

However, for some people getting up in the morning can become a daily challenge as they feel they can not face the world and in turn find themselves trapped. Such feeling may stem from, problems at work, money worries, relationship difficulties, coming to terms with your sexuality, particularly for those who are LGBT and living in a household that have expressed a dislike for all things “queer”. For others it may be receiving an HIV diagnoses and all the mixed emotions that can be potentially thrown up. Read more

Posted on by Glenn Stevens in Brighton & Hove, Health, HIV/AIDS, Human Rights, LGBT, THT, Zhoosh 5 Comments