50 Years Since Stonewall

When I got off the train at London Bridge this morning, two women, holding hands, kissed and waved goodbye to each other. I smiled and thought, isn’t it amazing that we live in a society where that’s possible. And then I thought, what’s amazing is that I think that’s amazing.

In many ways the society I live in has progressed its attitudes a long way. This year’s Pride seems particularly significant because it’s 50 years since Stonewall. As I walked over the Millennium Bridge towards St. Paul’s, I saw the rainbow flag flying outside City of London School for Boys. If they had flown that flag when my partner was at school, his education experience would have been much more empowering.

I grew up at a time in the UK when Thatcher imposed Section 28 banning schools from talking positively about same sex relationships. I remember the vitriol that was espoused about ‘people like me’ on the BBC. I remember the ‘scandal’ of a same-sex relationship being portrayed in Eastenders.

Now, at 45 years old, when I feel vulnerable, I keep all my emotions inside. I try not to show them because I don’t want to be judged unfairly. I wonder how much of that is down to feeling that my true self was imprisoned when I was a teenager.

Attitudes have progressed a long way. I turned up to Pride in Copenhagen a couple of years ago by mistake (I had no idea I was there on Pride weekend). There were loads of families there, all the political parties had floats in the parade. People there seem to have made a psychological journey from unacceptance, to tolerance, to acceptance, to celebration.  And yet there are still gay hate crimes. In this month’s Elle Decoration magazine, editor Ben Spriggs talks about being hospitalised by an attack on him and his partner in a gay bar just two years ago in Liverpool.

Who was it who said, “seek first to understand, then to be understood”? For me, the way forward, whether it’s LGBTQ+ issues or other areas of difference, is through understanding, acceptance and collaboration. Only then can we reach solutions that people can live comfortably with, that are truly progressive.

I look at politics today and it saddens me deeply. Where is ‘understanding’ or ‘acceptance’ in our Brexit debate, let alone ‘collaboration’. I look at our political leaders and think, where are the leadership role models? I see their combative behaviour, the backstabbing, blame and childish jeering in the House of Commons and it leaves me feeling under-represented and powerless. It’s so far from the model of Human Leadership that I believe in.

My job at NKD, is to shift thinking and change behaviour. Sometimes I question that. Do we have a right to change the way people think? And then I reflect deeply, and realise that, yes, we do have a right. Because society only progresses and individuals only progress if they continually learn, if they are brave and empathetic enough to see through others’ eyes and change their own opinions to something better and more inclusive.

So, it is amazing that same-sex couples can show their affection in public. My marriage to my partner Charlie was the best thing that ever happened in my life. So, a society that runs on understanding, acceptance and collaboration, that is my hope for the future, that is my “amazing”.