This September, Leicester’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender centre celebrates 40 years of offering support and help to people of all ages in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. Great Central had a chat with the centre’s Project Manager Dennis Bradley to see how far they’ve come, and what still needs to be done.
After a spate of homophobic attacks in the city in 1976 and the years before, people got together and decided that there was a need for a place where gay people could get information on how to be safe. “They decided to set up a helpline,” Dennis tells us. “It started in a couple’s front room, and for about 10 years, that’s what it was. People took calls throughout the evening; anything from ‘where’s the local bar?’ to ‘where’s a safe place where we can meet people?’. Questions that particularly a lot of younger gay people today think are a bit absurd, considering social media.”
“We have changed the law, now it’s time to change the attitude of society”
The centre started out as a campaigning organisation. “What we do today and what we did in the 70’s and 80’s has changed substantially. The law was quite different back then, and we had a lot of areas that we campaigned for or against. The things that have changed are the vast majority of what we have campaigned for over the years. Whether or not it was equality before the law so that gay people were able to serve in the armed forces, or that the age of consent went from 21 to 16 – as has always been the case for heterosexuals – the majority of these laws have been rewritten so that they’re quite neutral when it comes to sexual orientation.”
Even though society has come a long way over the years, there are still a lot of laws that make it clear that we’re not yet where we’re supposed to be. Gay couples that get married today, do so under the 2013 Same Sex Couples Act. Heterosexual couples do so under the 1949 Marriage Act. This means that there are differences in marriage licenses and in rights when it comes to pensions and inheritance, for example.
But there are more differences: in order to be legally married to a person of the opposite sex, the law says that the couple has to have consummated the marriage. “Our legislators are obsessed with sex. The law for opposite sex couples specifically says what consummating the marriage entails. Most countries just go over it; you get married, and whatever happens after that, they don’t really want to know – but not in the UK.” When it came to this part of the 2013 Same Sex Couples Act, it turned out to be a bit more complex. “They had a bit of a problem, because they didn’t really know how to define consummating the marriage with same sex couples. They didn’t really want to discuss it, so they just decided to leave it out completely. In a lot of ways, marriage for same sex couples is not the same as it is for opposite sex couples. If it was, we wouldn’t have two laws.”
Over the years, people might have become more tolerant of the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual community, but that is not necessarily always the case for the Transgender community. “Many of the transgender laws have been rewritten as well over the years, but social acceptance for the trans community is very much behind,” knows Dennis. “A lot of what’s happening in the trans community today greatly reflects what happened in the L, G and B communities 20 years ago. Not that long ago I was handing out flyers in the high street with a member of our volunteer team who is transgender. 20 years ago, people used to take flyers from me, put them in a little ball and throw them at me and tell me exactly what they thought about me. Nowadays, they’ll take the flyer from me, say thank you, and walk along. They’ll take the flyer from our volunteer and will do the same thing they did to me 20 years ago. They call her names, spit at her, push her. I see this, and I think: ‘Oh my, this is where I was 20 years ago.’ I can see that there’s still a struggle in terms of equality for the transgender community. At least in public, people don’t voice the same concerns about the L, G and B communities as they do currently about the trans community.”
Every five years, in the UK, the number of people who identify as transgender doubles. “However,” says Dennis, “that doesn’t mean that every five years, all of a sudden, we have twice as many transgender people in the country. It just means that they feel comfortable enough to begin the process of telling their friends and the wider world that they identify as another gender than they were born into.”
That’s what the centre’s all about; providing a safe space for people of all ages to ask questions, and come to a conclusion about who they are, with the support of their peers. Over the years, Leicester’s LGB&T centre has achieved a lot of goals and has been able to make a lot of changes happen through campaigning. Even though they’re not done fighting for equal rights for the Transgender community, Dennis tells us that as part of their anniversary they are redefining themselves as an organisation. “If we’re no longer mainly a campaigning organisation in terms of politics, then what is our purpose? We have changed the law, now it’s time to change the attitude of society and help people understand why those changes are necessary. We have to show them that you get much more out of a better society, one where we have equality and diversity.”
Running the centre isn’t always easy, especially as funding is not always flowing in. “Just to keep the lights on in this building and offer a place that’s safe for people of all ages, costs us about £120,000 a year. Compared to some other voluntary groups and organisations, that might sounds like nothing, but the centre helps up to 100,000 people.” In order to be able to keep their doors open, staff members of the LGB&T centre cooperate with organisations like De Montfort University to help them with events such as their Pride Month that takes place in February, or they give classes on equal rights to companies. “One thing we always say at the centre is that we’re not here to separate ourselves. We’re here to help the wider public understand that, actually, we’re not special, we’re just as boring as everybody else.”
Sadly, homophobia and transphobia still exists in our society. “Kids still show up on our doorstep, having been thrown out of their homes because their parents don’t like the fact that they’re gay or transgender. We still get calls from people who’ve been a victim of abuse at work, or are being bullied at school. The centre is here to help, not to beat people up. We’re here to actually support society to understand why diversity and acceptance is the right course of action for all of our country.”
Untold Stories Exhibition
Leicester LGB&T centre displays the Untold Stories exhibition, giving a voice to the local LGB&T community about the obstacles they’ve had to overcome at different times in their lives over the last 60 or so years. Some of the more than 100 recordings can be found on www.LGBT-stories.org, and the visual exhibition can be viewed at the centre. For more information or if you want to view the exhibition, give the centre a call on 0116 2547412, or drop them an email at firstname.lastname@example.org