50 years of gay rights

Tim. Gill. Carol. Sandi. Martyn. Susan. Gerrie. Frankie. Louise. Emma. Jennifer. What were their stories?

Tim's Jeremy magazine

There was nothing quite like it. Before that there were physique magazines - pictures of people in gymnasiums doing muscle exercises. But they weren't gay magazines.”

Then, in 1969, a breakthrough. Jeremy arrived.

Tim Hughes, who worked as a writer at its Carnaby Street office in London, still has copies of Jeremy from that groundbreaking period.

Tim Hughes

Tim Hughes

He picks one out. The masthead is pink and a slogan says: “Gay gay power to the gay gay people!”

In those days “gay power” was not a widely known term. “I think this was probably the first time it appeared in England on the front of any magazine or newspaper,” Tim says.

Tim as a young man

Tim as a young man

Flicking through, there's a feature on “queer” kings of England, a gay horoscope and a piece about gay skinheads.

“It was an attempt to provide the gay world with a magazine of its own.”

Horoscope page

Horoscope page

Newsagents wouldn't stock it. So it was subscription only and money was often tight.

“We invented this thing called Jeremy Fundies,” he recalls. They were briefs bought in bulk and then sold via mail order to make money for the magazine.

It was very much a Y-front world. People had never thought about being able to wear things like that.”

But it was the death in London in June 1969 of the singer and Wizard of Oz actress Judy Garland that secured Jeremy's place in musical history.

“One day we got this phone call from the manager of a young singer who'd been very affected by the way the gay community had turned out a few months before at Judy Garland's death,” says Tim.

“The manager wanted to promote this person to the gay community.”

The singer was David Bowie.

The magazine's writers spent two weeks hanging out with him. Bowie was not yet a legend but his career was taking off, with the release of his first hit single, Space Oddity.

In the subsequent profile that Tim wrote with a colleague, Bowie is quoted saying: “I'm a loner, I don't feel the need for conventional relationships.”

The piece marked an important first step in Bowie's sexual identity.

This was the first article I think where he intimated that he might be bisexual.”

Today, with the magazine's seminal legacy safe, one mystery remains.

“I don't know why it was called Jeremy,” says Tim. His guess: “It's a bit camp - a camp boys name.”

Tim and the other contributors feature in BBC Four's Prejudice and Pride: The People's History of LGBTQ Britain.

Gill's novel
and mum's letter

Books can change people's lives - especially banned books.

Gill Williamson in Glasgow treasures a novel that helped her through the late 1960s. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall had been published in 1928 and was banned soon after.

It was a simple lesbian love story involving two women who struggle to cope with society's harsh judgment.

Gill Williamson as a young woman

Gill Williamson as a young woman

At the time, the editor of the Sunday Express said that he would rather give a child prussic acid (hydrogen cyanide) than let them read the novel.

“Poison kills the body but moral poison kills the soul,” he wrote.

By the time Gill discovered it, the novel had cult status among gay women.

Being a lesbian was never illegal but they were virtually invisible in public life at the time. The novel made her feel less alone.

It was one of the first novels I read that contained a story about lesbians. And the main character comes across as being a bit of a tomboy, and that was similar to myself.”

Gill Williamson

Gill Williamson

Gill's other significant object from that era is a letter from her mother.

Gill had just come out to her mother and moved to Aberdeen with her lover.

Her mother is sympathetic and supportive but what she writes is also telling:

“I wonder if it was something I did wrong in your childhood to make you feel that way.”

And just before signing off with love, she adds:

It is best you never let Dad know as it goes against all his principles. I think he would disown you.”

Carol's passport

Carol Steele felt like a girl in a boy's body. It was the 1950s and there was no-one to tell.

Carol Steele as a child

Carol Steele as a child

She remembers her father reading from the newspaper about a transgender person: “I was lying on the floor reading a comic and my ears pricked up - there was somebody else like me out there.”

And then at the end of the story my father turned to my mum and said 'perverts like that should be locked in a loony bin and the key thrown away'.”

Carol Steele 

Carol Steele 

By the 1970s Carol had been prescribed hormones to become a woman. Her body was changing.

She had landed her dream job as a research scientist. But the company medical triggered a summons from her boss.

“He said, 'We've heard back from the medical report and we will not allow anything like that to happen in this company,'” Carol recalls.

A cleaner at the firm arranged for the union to go out on strike in solidarity. But Carol decided against going public.

“I didn't want to be recognised and ill-treated on the streets. In the end I said, 'Thank you so much but no, I'm going to disappear and start my new life.'”

In 1975 came an important landmark.

Carol received a passport in her new name. She remains deeply fond of that dark blue UK passport.

That for me is one of my favourite relics from the past. I was formally recognised as me, as being female.”

She still has a photograph of herself on a beach in Biarritz six months later - a woman on holiday, no longer a person trapped in the wrong body.

Finally, in 2004 the law changed to allow trans people to amend their birth certificates. The next year Carol received hers in the post.

In the column for sex it said 'Girl'. I just sat there on the bed and sobbed my heart out. It was the final piece in the jigsaw.”

Sandi's divorce papers

They look like ordinary legal documents, but for Sandi Hughes they marked the end of her family life, the loss of her four children and the beginning of a new life as a lesbian.

Growing up in Liverpool in the post-war decades, Sandi would read True Romance magazine.

Sandi Hughes

Sandi Hughes

“It was about a man and a woman falling in love, living happily ever after. So I was looking for that kind of lifestyle,” she says.

Sandi married the first man who said he loved her.

They had four children together in five years. He was a sailor and away at sea most of the time. “So I was like a single parent. But I loved it.”

A snap of Sandi's children when they were young

A snap of Sandi's children when they were young

After six years he came out of the navy and they began living together.

I loved my kids but I was really aware of not being happy.”

Sandi was faced with an agonising choice. Spend the rest of her life being someone she wasn't, or try to be true to herself as a lesbian.

Divorce proceedings began. “This is the court case for custody,” she says leafing through documents. “And it was all built around me being gay.”

She was asked to make a terrible choice.

The judge said you won't have custody of your daughters because you're a lesbian and unfit to be a mother to them. But you can have custody of your son.”

She was shocked.

“I felt a bit of a cold sweat come over me and thought wow I must be really bad if I can't have my daughters. And I remember thinking there and then, how can I separate them, how can I take the boy out of the family?”

She couldn't split the family up. It was time to say goodbye.

I knelt down until I was their height and gave them all a hug. I had a really heavy pain in my chest - that must have been my heart.”

Sandi moved to a bedsit and tried to rebuild her life. She got a camera and began documenting her new life.

She made friends in the gay community. One of them was an aspiring performer - a young, out and proud Holly Johnson, who became lead vocalist with the 80s band Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

Sandi's old friends - including Holly Johnson (r)

Sandi's old friends - including Holly Johnson (r)

“Back in those days it wasn't about falling in love and settling down happily ever after. It was about telling each other our stories, how we came out, who we were, what we expected. It was like we were all new and fresh at being gay.”

Eventually she became part of her children's lives again.

Martyn's gold card

It was a theatre, a social centre, a church. A place to go to be sad, a place to escape the tyranny of work. Coming here you realised there was a community. People were out and proud. I always felt I'd come home.”

Martyn Butler

Martyn Butler

Martyn Butler is talking about Heaven, the legendary gay club in London's Charing Cross.

He was one of the lucky few to have a Heaven Gold card.

Martyn's Heaven Gold card

Martyn's Heaven Gold card

Queen's frontman Freddie Mercury, and the comedian and broadcaster Kenny Everett, were also said to have one.

Heaven gave Martyn a place where he could feel normal.

1980s at Heaven

1980s at Heaven

I was a young gay boy, 16, from South Wales. I was only really happy when I suddenly found myself among 2,000 people.”

Part of that, he thinks is from being deaf.

“Coming into a nightclub everybody is equal. The sound is so loud that you have to shout.”

Martyn went on to become head of lasers, creating spectacular light shows for the clubbers. He still has his crew T-shirt and is proud of his time at Heaven.

We'd come from a very, very dark period. Don't tell anyone, be afraid of the police. And by 1982 we had our own music, there was already a sense that we were taking control.”

Susan and Gerrie's
civil partnership

“We knew from our first kiss that we would always be together,” says Susan Douglas Scott.

But for most of their lives there was no way for gay people to make a legally binding, public commitment to one another.

The Civil Partnership Act in 2005 changed all that.

Susan and Gerrie Douglas Scott

Susan and Gerrie Douglas Scott

“We had already made our vows to each other about 10 years before on a little boat in Perthshire,” says Gerrie Douglas Scott, Susan's partner.

But for us to make that public statement with all our friends and family around about us was very important.”

In 2014, after gay marriage became legal, Susan and Gerrie were the first women in Scotland to marry. First minister Nicola Sturgeon was a witness.

It has been a stunning turnaround in gay rights, says Susan:

For those two changes to have come within a decade - it's just amazing.”

Susan and Gerrie on their wedding day

Susan and Gerrie on their wedding day

Worn with pride

They were colourful and punchy: “Heterosexuality Breeds”, “Liberated Men Are More Fun”, “Gay Liberation Front”.

A badge was a mini manifesto. The message was pinned to your jacket.

“Gay liberation was accessible,” says Angela Cooper, a student in Manchester during the 1970s.

“Anyone could put on a badge and become part of the gay liberation movement.”

It was about being visible and political.

The GLF was in favour of not just gay rights but tearing down the system and starting again.

It saw a link between capitalism, social division and repression.

“The first requirement of the Gay Liberation Front was coming out,” recalls GLF activist Stuart Feather.

“So you put this badge on, you'd be on the tube and people would say 'what's the Gay Liberation Front?'”

And the conversation would begin.

Frankie's quilt
for Georgie
Georgie Long and Frankie O'Reilly

Georgie Long and Frankie O'Reilly

The doctor sat us down. He said: 'The two of you should go home, put your affairs in order and enjoy whatever time you have left. You've both got the Aids virus.'”

Frankie O'Reilly and his partner Georgie Long were 25 years old. They had met at primary school in Northern Ireland and been inseparable ever since.

It was the 1980s and HIV - the virus which can lead to Aids - was a terrifying new phenomenon.

“People started dying who were diagnosed after us,” Frankie recalls. “The fear set in.”

One day they were at Ikea looking at blinds. Georgie suddenly started having a seizure. For the next six months he had 40 or 50 seizures a day.

Near the end, Georgie was interviewed about living with Aids. “You can make yourself a prisoner within yourself,” he said.

“I should have been talking to other people. Everybody's in the same boat. There's nothing to be frightened of, there are people out there who care.”

Georgie being interviewed shortly before his death

Georgie being interviewed shortly before his death

Georgie died on 26 October 1992.

Just before Christmas that same year, a grief-stricken Frankie enrolled on a course at the London Lighthouse, an Aids hospice.

He wanted to make a section of the UK's Aids Memorial Quilt. The idea had started in the US and was now taking off here.

People took a piece of fabric and sewed a panel for a loved one who'd died. Each panel was then added to others to make a huge patchwork quilt of memories.

Frankie made a striking design in red, black and white.

I'm really glad I made it, as 25 years later it's still there.”

It gives the dates of Georgie's birth and death, where he grew up - “Derry” - and three photographs.

There's one photo of him as a young boy. We rarely think of gay men before they were adults. It's to remind people that he was once someone's baby.”

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Underneath the photos there's a picture Georgie drew in his final year - a hand holding a crystal ball.

In 1994, Frankie saw the 384 panels which made up the UK quilt - they were laid out in full at London's Hyde Park and covered nearly 7,000 square feet.

For a decade the panels were stored in a garage in North East England, but they are now kept in a storage unit in the South East.

Sections of the UK Aids quilt in St Paul's Cathedral, London(Getty Images)

Sections of the UK Aids quilt in St Paul's Cathedral, London
(Getty Images)

Last year some of the quilt sections, including Georgie's, were exhibited in St Paul's Cathedral for World AIDS Day.

“I found it more powerful this time,” Frankie says. “In the late 80s we went through that awful period when everyone was dying.”



For 12 years it was nursing people and carrying coffins. Just over 30 years later we've now come through that. And I'm still here.”

Louise's cassette
and magazine

Louise Carolin puts the tape in the cassette player. She presses play and suddenly it is 20 February 1988 again.

The sound of people chanting, cheering, whistles. Then her commentary: “Under the bridge now, we're running... There are some really nice people up on a balcony clapping and cheering... People are dancing in the streets here, the police are looking on.”

The 1988 Manchester demonstration against Clause 28

The 1988 Manchester demonstration against Clause 28

Louise was 21 at the time. She had travelled up to Manchester with a friend. They were at a mass demonstration against Clause 28, later known as Section 28.

It is a notorious chapter in LGBTQ history.

Section 28 was the Thatcher government's attempt to ban “the promotion of homosexuality”, a backlash against gay rights.

The legislation followed tabloid outrage over a book called Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin, which told the tale of a little girl growing up with her dad and his gay lover.

“It was really personal because that legislation was about protecting children,” Louise recalls.

This idea that we were somehow a threat to the children... it was so toxic.”

Louise Carolin's old union cards

Louise Carolin's old union cards

But the legislation had an unintended consequence.

Although we were angry, although we felt threatened, Section 28 actually brought a community together and kind of galvanised people.”

Louise Carolin

Louise Carolin

Louise made the tape of the demonstration because she was writing for Shocking Pink, the lesbian magazine for young women.

She still has a copy of her article.

It quotes actress Sue Johnston, famous at the time for playing Sheila Grant in Brookside and more recently for her role as Barbara in the sitcom the Royle Family. Johnston told the crowd:

“When I first heard about Clause 28, I thought about Hitler's burning of the books and we all know what happened over there, and it must not happen over here!”

Louise's Shocking Pink article reports that the crowd responded, “with roars of 'SHEILA, SHEILA, SHEILA!'”

Sue Johnston in the magazine - Shocking Pink

Sue Johnston in the magazine - Shocking Pink

Six years later Brookside would go on to make history, by screening the first pre-watershed lesbian kiss on UK television.

That demonstration gave everyone hope, Louise recalls.

We were so hungry for affirmation. For people to say this was wrong.”

Emma's service papers

It was six o'clock in the morning when they came for Emma Riley.

I was asleep. There was a knock on the door. They came in and they said get up, get downstairs, you're under arrest.”

And then they went through all her possessions.

A colleague had told the Royal Navy police that Emma was a lesbian. They took her letters, they took Suede's debut album - it shows two women kissing on the cover - and her video of comedian Julian Clary.

“Because, of course, if you have a Julian Clary video you must be gay,” she says wryly.

Emma Riley

Emma Riley

Up until 2000, servicemen and women could be arrested and court-martialled for being lesbian or gay.

Emma joined the navy in 1990 and was drafted to HMS Cornwall as a radio operator, part of the first batch of women to be on the ship. She says she was seen as officer material.

I very much enjoyed the work and I was good at it.”

But three years later her secret was out.

Like hundreds of other personnel each year during the 1980s, she was thrown out of the armed forces because of her sexuality.

Her service papers give the bland official version:


Emma's discharge sheet

Emma's discharge sheet

And below that a stamp:


Not only was she out of a job she loved, she had to come out to her parents.

“I was so terrified of how they were going to feel about it, how disappointed they were going to be.”

But in the end her anxiety was misplaced:

They were brilliant. I'm extremely lucky to have the parents I have. They said 'Don't worry, we love you'.”

Emma in uniform with her parents

Emma in uniform with her parents

Jennifer's boots

“My friend Tina said they were like wearing little clouds on your feet in heaven.”

Jennifer Black

Jennifer Black

Jennifer Black is wearing the Ugg boots she bought exactly four years ago - on the day she transitioned to being a woman.

As a child she didn't feel right as a boy. When her father took her to the doctor aged 14 she'd been told it was just a phase.

For 40 years she lived as a man, got married, had a family.

Jennifer before she transitioned

Jennifer before she transitioned

In 2013 she realised she had to do something about it.

These boots mean so much to me. It was the start of a new life.”