A commentary and resource on Law and Sexuality by Professor Chris Ashford and guests
Antony Grey was one of the great gay campaigners. His work with the Albany Trust marked a shift away from what he called ‘lefty loon’ LGBT politics and a move towards working with the insiders to affect serious political change in the legal status of LGBT citizens. Leather jackets and kink wear were ditched for suits. Grey was conscious this was intentional. He was conscious that it was a strategy to achieve a specific goal. Bite your tongue, hold back on your real thoughts. Play the game.
For years, particularly after the Local Government Act 1988, that’s exactly what activists did. We played the game. We’re just like you. We’re not radical, we’re not crazy alternatives. We’re the same as you. We deserve the same rights as you. So, the LGBT community spoke to the straight majority. It worked. A remarkable period of gay rights was ushered in with progressively less opposition with each move.
Writing in 1992, Grey observed that ‘street theatre, however spectacular, is no substitute for the prosaic, colourless daily grind of political persuasion which in the end depends upon knowledge, competence, integrity and good repute’ (p266).
Grey would also caution against the exclusion of LGBT elders, the mature still having a valuable perspective on matters of sexuality. Yet he also noted that it would always be the youth that would be at the forefront of sexuality. Think about the shifting attitudes to the fluidity of sexuality and gender, the embracing of multi-partner relationships, and a fundamental re-construction and the relationship landscape and I would argue we are living in one fo the most radical times for gender and sexuality. Grey – writing in his 60s – noted that ‘sexuality will always be of the greatest interest to the young as they discover is potentially ecstatic joys and sometimes lacerating miseries’ (p274).
Yet at a time of unprecedented gay rights, can we stop ‘pretending’? Can we ditch the suits? Whilst there was always the suit wearing moderates, for others moderation was a tactic. Have we forgotten that? Have we – LGBT activists and the community – forgotten the role we were playing, and why? This is I think significant when one considers the yawning gap between the radicalism I see from my students, PhD students and a young generation of thinkers and activists, and that of the established gay-rights political elite.
Last night saw the Pink News Awards take place. Pink News provides a vital platform for LGBT voices and the founder/owner Benjamin Cohen has been a significant voice for LGBT rights and visibility, notably in the context of same-sex marriage. Yet, he has embraced insider status with remarkable earnestness. This is not a criticism. Few of us can resist the heady scent of power. I don’t think I could.
I took a quick look on their website just now for a full list of winners can couldn’t find you. That tells you a lot. It’s about the gathering, the bringing together of political insiders, and the production of click generating stories from high-profile speakers. The main story? Theresa May (still UK PrimeMinister as I type this) talking about same-sex marriage as her ‘greatest achievement’ (she was Home Secretary at the time) and promising LGBT inclusive sex-ed (I’m slightly baffled as to what that actually means in terms of action). The Mayor of London was there (yes, it’s London-centric too for that it where the power lies), along with Corbyn (well, he might win the next GE so you’ve got to cover all bases), and a host of second tier Cabinet ministers past and present.
Why? What for? There are truly extraordinary activists changing communities around the country. There are thinkers and campaigners re-framing the way we think about gender and sexuality. They could do with a bump, the publicity, and the recognition of an event such as this. We’re still wearing the suit, but I’m not sure we still know why. We’re till playing the game, but what’s our goal? What do we win? Maybe it’s time for new rules and a new game. We have the power if only we have the courage to realise it.