Where Were You?
by Louise Paine
(With thanks to my Mother, who has often used this argument)
As 2021’s LGBTQIA?+ history month sinks slowly in the west, (not to be confused with the 23 other days of remembrance/history/Pride that are spread throughout the entire year. Details of which can be found here https://www.theprideshop.co.uk/the-big-lgbt-calendar-awareness-visibility-and-remembrance-days-in-2021/), I thought I would share and expand on a response I made to an accusation levelled at me on a recent social media post regarding the stunning and brave contribution made by transgender people, and only transgender people, to the advances in gay and lesbian equality.
A young woman (don’t panic, she had pronouns) told me to “sit down and shut up” because, according to her, my “generation had done nothing” and “marital rape was still legal” in the 1990’s, presumably being used as an example of how my generation failed. Now, this isn’t the first time I have seen this statement, nor is it the first time that this has been levelled at me directly. However, it is the first time I have actually bothered to formulate any kind of structured response to it. So, here is an edited version with a few extra comments for good measure:
Where were you when HIV/AIDS first started to kill gay men? I remember so well when HIV/AIDS first came to light. “The Gay Plague” as it was called, or GRID, Gay Related Immune Deficiancy. I remember sitting in my all girl’s convent school VIth form common room listening to the jokes; “What does Gay stand for? Got AIDS Yet”, “How did AIDS get to America? Up the Hudson”. Oh how we laughed! Well, not me, but back in the 1980’s, this was how HIV/Aids was spoken about and nobody batted an eyelid in the main. When I moved up to University I began my campaigning life as an out lesbian. I campaigned for funding and research into this terrible disease. I went on fundraising walks, attended fundraising events, stood on street stalls. I watched as young men around me on the gay scene, in their late teens/early twenties, the same age as me, died lonely and quite frankly, horrendous deaths. I saw Kaposi Sarcomas disfigure the bright young things of the disco scene.
Where were you when we were campaigning against Section 28? This was introduced in 1988, I was 19/20-ish. I ran around with a pen, scrawling on every possible surface “stop Section 28”. I literally bought the t-shirt. I attended protest marches, I DJ’d at fundraisers, I heckled from public galleries in council chambers. Who were the people who abseiled into Parliament and invaded the BBC news studios? Stonewall was not established until 1989...my activism predates Stonewall.
Where were you when we were campaigning for an equal age of consent? Are you starting to get the picture now?
Where were you when Pride was being attacked by homophobes? My first Pride was in 1988. A wonderful, beautiful, free event. A happy protest march full of lesbians, leather queens, roller skating transvestite nuns, old people, young people, a smattering of drag queens, Dykes on Bikes. Not a corporate sponsor in sight. Anyone could join the march, there was no gatekeeping. However, you had to be prepared to be heckled, abused, spat at and physically assaulted by fascists. You had to be prepared to have religious fanatics condemn you to eternal hell. You had to be prepared for anyone to attack you, physically, verbally. There were no glittery rainbow Police with pup play fetish followers on leads to protect you. My last Pride was in 1995; it was changing and not in a way I liked. These days, I am told I am not welcome at Pride.
So, where were you? Because I know exactly where I was. I was with my lesbian sisters, alongside my gay brothers. I was living my life as an out and proud lesbian while having dog excrement being posted through the letterbox of my home, being physically assaulted on the streets while the police just shrugged their shoulders. So, next time you decide to have a tantrum maybe take a moment to consider, how did we get here? All the rights you have today didn't just magically manifest themselves out of thin air. LGB and T people are where they are today because you are standing on the shoulders of the giants of the gay rights movements of the 1970's and 1980's and we were standing on the shoulders of the giants of the previous generations of campaigners and activists, stretching back over centuries. I don't need a medal, the fact that we have the rights we do now was the goal, not personal accolades. So no, I won't "sit down and shut up", I didn't then, which is why marital rape is illegal, abused women have refuges, HIV/AIDS research is funded, the age of consent is 16, homophobic discrimination is legislated against, civil partnership, same sex marriages, same sex pension rights are all recognised, being gay in the military is no longer a crime, you name it, it’s because of people like me. I certainly won't "sit down and shut up" now, especially when the demand is being made of me by individuals who display such an uninformed and ignorant understanding of LGB history, when I am being accused of being part of a generation who “did nothing”, and especially when I am witnessing the regressive reframing of our history by people who were not even there. I hope that you can put your furious indignation to one side for a while and actually think about where your current rights came from and who campaigned for them?