When Timelines Collide: LGBTQ+ Life and Love
In April 2021 my wife and I celebrate 23 years together. We’ve lived and loved through an age of AIDS and Section 28, thanks to a quirk of fate missed a nail bomb attack, and have been subjected to homophobic bullying and verbal abuse. But through it all our love’s survived and thrived.
February is LGBTQ+ History Month. On the eve of my birthday, I’ve put together a very special timeline. One that reminds us all that #LoveIsLove
1968: At a Kent hospital I enter the world, kicking and screaming. A second daughter for Gwen and Alan.
1969: the Stonewall riots break out in New York City in protests against police raids on LGBT+ venue, the Stonewall Inn. Many see this as the birth of the modern LGBT+ rights movement.
1971: the Nullity Of Marriage Act passes, legally barring the marriage of same sex couples in England and Wales.
I’m a three year old with curly red hair who loves watching Play School, Jackanory and the Clangers.
1974: a beautiful bundle of joy is born in Sutton Coldfield named Taz Thornton. Only child to Chrissie and Eric.
As a curious six-year-old, I’m not that impressed with dolls. I want a Matchbox garage and cars. Oh yeah, and an action man.
1977: The Queen’s Silver Jubilee year and I discover TV royalty. I can’t wait to hear these words: “Once upon a time, there were three little girls who went to the police academy. And they were each assigned very hazardous duties but I took them away from all that and now they work for me. My name is Charlie.” I experience my first girl crush — Farrah Fawcett.
1979: I start secondary school. I’m nervous and really upset when my best friend from primary is placed in another class.
1981: a 49-year-old man is admitted into Brompton Hospital with pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) and dies 10 days later. He is the UK’s first known case of HIV/AIDS.
My second girl crush hits as a girl I went to primary school with catches my eye. I tell no-one. Everyone else seems to be talking about boys. I do my best to fit in but it doesn’t feel right.
1984: I leave my secondary modern school and move next door to the grammar to do my A levels. English is my thing.
The Lesbians and Gays Support The Miners campaign (LGSM) is launched in the support of the strikes. (The movie Pride is a great depiction of this so check it out).
1987: At the Conservative Party Conference, PM Margaret Thatcher, says: “Children who need to be taught to respect traditional moral values are being taught they have an inalienable right to be gay.”
Sponsored by my first employer, I go to St Leonard’s on Sea, Sussex to enrol on a five month intensive journalism training course. I’m one of only two school leavers in a sea of graduates. It will lead to my NCTJ (National Council for Training of Journalists) qualification — the professional gold star of its day.
At 19 I have the biggest crush on one of my sister’s best friends. She’s my modern day Farrah Fawcett, but I am dating boys in a bid to prove I’m ‘normal’. I tell no-one.
1988: Margaret Thatcher introduces Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. It states a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.
1989: My 21st year and the girl attractions are coming thick and fast now. I push them down as my journalist career blossoms.
Stonewall UK is formed in response to Section 28 and other barriers to equality.
1991: With encouragement from a family member, I marry a man I’ve been working with. He’s 14 years older than me and treats me well. I settle down and push those sapphic feelings down again. I kid myself it’s just a phase.
1992: The World Health Organisation declassifies same sex attraction as a mental illness.
1994: Liverpool soap opera, Brookside sees first lesbian pre-watershed kiss in UK TV history between characters Beth Jordache and Margaret Clemence.
I record the episode on video. I become Brookie’s biggest fan.
The same clip would form part of the opening ceremony for London 2012 18 years later. A few seconds of airtime but so significant.
1996: Angela Eagle becomes UK’s first MP to voluntarily come out as a lesbian.
1998: On a Sunday morning in January my husband and I have the talk. We agree to separate. My life has to change. I have to stop hiding and denying who I am.
In April, via a telephone dating service, I speak to an intriguing woman from Leicestershire. We have so much in common and I can’t get enough of her sexy voice.
We click immediately. We spend our savings on mobile to mobile calls. A whole Bank Holiday watching movies ‘together’. Zoom, Facebook Messenger and Streamyard are way in the future. We fall in love the old fashioned way — through letters, cards and mix tapes.
Six months later and we move in together. It’s serious.
The House Of Commons votes to lower the age of consent for same sex relations between men from 18 to 16 for men in England but it’s defeated in the House of Lords.
1999: Taz and I are now working at the same newspaper office in south east London. An issue at work means our planned trip into Soho’s gay district is abandoned.
As we work on, a nail bomb goes off at The Admiral Duncan pub in Soho, killing three and injuring more than 70.
We watch news reports as it dawns on us that we may well have been drinking in The Admiral Duncan that night.
Pregnant Andrea Dykes, 27, and her friends John Light, 32, and Nik Moore, 31 die in the blast.
They are killed as they have a quick drink at the pub before heading to watch musical Mamma Mia in the West End.
2000: Scotland becomes the first area of the UK to abolish Section 28.
Taz and I head to Brighton for Millennium celebrations but can’t get into any venues as they’re packed out. So, instead we hear the New Year announcement over the train tannoy!
2002: The European Court of Human Rights rules that two British trans women have the right to have their gender changed on their birth certificates.
2003: Section 28 is repealed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, lifting the ban on local authorities from “the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality”.
We make the big move from Kent to Lincolnshire when Taz is headhunted for a management role.
The beautiful flatlands are to become our new home where we will make so many awesome connections. Big skies and awesome sunrises and sunsets await.
2004: The Civil Partnership Act 2004 is passed, allowing same sex couples to form civil partnerships with the same rights and responsibilities as married heterosexual couples in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Taz proposes but I stick to my principles as I want us to legally marry. Thank goodness she understands and we hold back on plans, with no idea if it will ever be possible.
2007: In Scotland a change in law gives same sex couples equality in the adoption and fostering of children.
Although we both want kids we acknowledge that time and circumstances are against us. My Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis and Taz ‘s career are the deciding factors.
2008: In Liverpool, 18-year-old Michael Causer is murdered at a party because of his sexuality. After a sustained and brutal attack while he sleeps, he sustains a fractured skull and swollen brain. He later dies in the Walton Centre for Neurology and Neurosurgery following extensive surgery.
2009: David Cameron apologises on behalf of the Conservative party for the introduction of Section 28.
About time! #LoveIsLove
2010: Taz leaves her corporate life behind to leap into the heady world of self-employment.
I’m already working for myself so we make big plans for our business, Turquoise Tiger.
With a business colleague, we launch the world’s first digital magazine for Twitter. It features celebrity interviews and mixes text, audio and video. Tweeting Times attracts thousands of fans worldwide and praise from Stephen Fry. It also features on national TV and makes it through to the finals of a social media and communications awards where it’s pipped at the post by Sky Magazine.
2011: Liverpool becomes the first UK city to designate its Gay Quarter with rainbows on its street signs. My favourite English city flying the rainbow flag with pride. Love it!
2013: The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act is passed in England and Wales.
Mathematician and Nazi code breaker, Alan Turing, is given a posthumous royal pardon for his conviction of ‘gross indecency’.
2014: We celebrate news that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 officially comes into force, legally allowing same sex couples to marry.
After 16 years together, I propose to Taz and she says ‘yes’.
On April 11, Taz’s 40th birthday, we marry at a small registry office, surrounded by close family and friends.
We like to do things differently so we have themed the ceremony on our birth years — 1968 and 1974.
We write our own vows. We walk down the aisle to the Pearl and Dean theme tune used in cinemas.
During the signing of the register we give every guest a kid’s echo mic and encourage them to sing along to ABBA’s Waterloo!
Then we end the ceremony with Remember You’re A Womble.
Our wedding cake is three tiers with miniatures of us, our pets, the Wombles, a Herbie The Lovebug VW Beetle and a Doctor Who ‘scarf’ wrapped around it. The cake has been made in beautiful rainbow colours.
We become the first gay couple in Lincolnshire to officially tie the knot.
On April 12 we hold a pagan style woodland ceremony where we invite our Facebook friends to join us. We expect only a few people to turn up but are overwhelmed when guests pack out two big car parks, bring loads of food and gifts and witness our second ‘I dos’ with songs and drumming. Perfect.
The Scottish Government passes legislation allowing same sex couples to marry in Scotland.
2015: Ireland votes to legalise same sex marriage, becoming the first country in the world to do so with a referendum.
In Birmingham city centre we stand with hand written cardboard signs offering ‘free hugs’. As usual, the stories we hear from huggees and the smiles on people’s faces makes our day.
2016: Prince William becomes the first member of the royal family to appear on the front cover of gay magazine Attitude and condemn bullying of the gay community.
2018: UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, issues an apology expressing “deep regret” for Britain’s role in imposing colonial laws that criminalise LGBT people across the commonwealth and the legacy of violence and discrimination existing today. At this time 36 of 53 commonwealth countries still have criminalisation laws.
2019: I celebrate my 51st birthday in Liverpool and include a visit to the Museum Of Liverpool to see their Tales Of The City exhibition featuring stories, objects and memories from the local LGBTQ+ community. It’s ace and is the inspiration for this piece. Thanks MoL.
Taz and I are invited to take part in the BBC’s Listening Project. We’re recorded talking about coming out, family life as two openly gay women in Lincolnshire, diversity, equality and the importance of being true to ourselves. Our conversation will be in the archives of the British Library forever. We’re later invited back into the BBC radio studios to discuss our topics live on air.
November: Bullied Back To Life, a book by Graham Harris, featuring chapters written by Taz and I, is published in aid of anti-bullying charity, BulliesOut. In it I talk about my own experiences of homophobic bullying.
Taz is asked to deliver a TED talk on homophobia and diversity awareness. After much soul searching, she agrees and delivers A Dangerous Rainbow at TEDx Holgate Women. She focuses on delivering up to date statistics on homophobic violence and bullying, and speaks about the “Liberal Blindspot” — our allies often don’t see a problem, so don’t believe one exists. The positive response is overwhelming.
2020: UK MP Layla Moran becomes the first parliamentarian to come out as pansexual in an interview.
Taz’s Dangerous Rainbow talk goes live on the TEDx Talks YouTube channel. Homophobes start flooding her social channels with hateful messages. Despite being advised to delete and block, Taz responds to every one in an attempt to open discussion and eradicate division, ignorance and baseless discrimination. A few of those conversations are worthwhile. Every win counts. She writes about her experience of attempting to turn ignorance into understanding.
February 29 and we’re on our way to London to see Dolly Parton’s musical 9 to 5 in the West End as a birthday treat. It’s our last night out in the capital as Covid arrives and lockdown is just around the corner.
Out becomes Disney and Pixar’s first short film to feature a gay main character and storyline.
2021: More Lockdown.
We order online shopping, we work from home, Zoom fatigue becomes a thing.
Dog walks, exercise in the garden, virtual tours and challenges, clapping for the NHS and shopping for funky face masks become a highlight.
But we are grateful.
Grateful for all the LGBTQ+ trail blazers and their allies who came before us, those who walk among us and those yet to come.
Grateful for those health workers on the frontline in the fight against Covid.
Grateful we have each other.
Grateful we are alive and well.
Grateful we celebrate 23 years in April this year.
Asha Clearwater is an NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) qualified journalist who’s been a news reporter, features editor and arts editor, as well as editor of several national business magazines.
Today, through her business Turquoise Tiger, she coaches SMEs on the art of great storytelling to promote their products and services.
Asha occasionally freelances as a writer for national magazines and is even behind some of the information boards you’ll find strolling through Woodland Trust Forests.
She is also curator of TEDxPeterborough. www.tedxpeterborough.com