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Steve Bedser

Steve Bedser – age 41 born 1965


Brought up in St Albans and recognising his homosexuality at 13, Steve came out at 19 when he moved to Birmingham for University, using the Jester and the Nightingale. He talks about the pivotal role of the Nightingale in the city’s scene, and the changes in the Village, generally. Steve talks about Clause 28 galvanising the gay community. Steve’s political life has had three phases: as an LGB trade unionist; in a voluntary capacity in HIV awareness and prevention, and as an elected Labour Councillor for Longbridge since 1997. He talks at length about the City Council’s slowly growth of support for LGB issues, led by certain key people and the impetus of the European agenda. He talks about homophobia within the Labour Party, but lack of homophobia in Longbridge. He compares the scene, and the coming out process today with 20 years ago.

London Gay switchboard - 10
Jester - 20
Nightingale- 20 50
Grosvenor - 30
Jug – 30
Silver Slipper – 40
Birmingham Pride 50
Bill Gavan – 60
Gay Village and the gay scene development – 70
Clause 28 – 80 85 87
Jill Knight 80 85
Jenny lives with Eric and Martin – 80
Politics and the gay community 85 87 300
Women’s Committee 90
Birmingham City Council 90 140 150 170 190 200 220 230 240
Lesbian and Gay Community Centre Aston - 100
West Midlands County Council 100
London Gay Centre 110
London 110
Migration, choosing where to live 110
Trade Unions/LGB politics 120
HIV/AIDs - 130
Terence Higgins Trust 130
Out gays in local government (coming out at work) 140 170 180 210
Homophobia – 150 180 210
Labour Party 150 200 210
Areas to live in Birmingham Longbridge 150 180
Being in politics 150
Bcc LGB Employees Network 160
Media 180
Conflict with faith issues 200
Equalities Unit 230 240
Comparison with other cities/Manchester 110 250
Europe/global position for LGBs 260
Influential people 270
Steve Ball 270
Voluntary/community work 280
BPCT 280
Women's access to bars 290
Coming out at school/university 310 320

10 Background and coming out

Steve was brought up in St Albans, and phoned London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard aged 13, lying about his age. “Lesbian and Gay Switchboard is a phenomenal organisation.” He used to visit the London Lesbian and Gay Centre, before moving to Birmingham for University around 1985.

20 First bar –The Jester

“At that time (1985) there was a pub and a club but not much else. The first time I went to The Jester as part of my tentative coming-out - I must only just have turned 19, it was an incredibly busy, circular basement bar. The first time you walk down the steps you think everyone is looking at you. People saw your feet, then trousers, which was incredibly daunting but once you felt comfortable it was a good place to sit and cruise and watch who was coming in. It really was an underground world, because if it had been a normal pub you’d have had the windows put in, that was a real consideration. If you weren’t there by 8p.m. you wouldn’t get a seat. It was full by 9 and closed at 10.30p.m. It was an epicentre for gay men, not many women used it. I made friends with one of the bar staff who was just a little younger than me (aged 19), and we formed a strong bond. I still see him. He’s in Manchester now”.

“In my early twenties, (late 80s) the whole premise was going to The Jester and then round to The Nightingale. You got your cash from the Barclay cash machine outside The Jester. People would say ‘Are you going round the corner?’ (to The Gale). Then there was a lot of face-to-face socialising on the commercial gay scene. There wasn’t Gaydar then. Sunday night was rammed full, a very busy night, and Tuesday was stripper night and was jam-packed. I can’t remember the last time I was even peripherally aware of a stripper on the scene but then it used to be bread and butter weekly entertainment and draw the crowds from far and wide.”

30 Other bars

“I vaguely recollect going to The Grosvenor (House Hotel) on the Hagley Road with a late night piano cabaret bar. There were also premises that moved from Albert St to Water St on the site of Subway City, called The Jug. One of the proprietors was very eccentric – Laurie (Williams). Another (his partner) was Lionel; they ran a very eccentric working class lesbian and gay venue. It was fun and an important focus for some”.

“There was also the bar round the back of the Alex Theatre – with a reputation of a wider circle, in terms of where gay men used to congregate. ‘Theatre bar’ was a good code”.

40 The Silver Slipper

“Another thing that is important to the gay history of Birmingham was a phenomenally busy cottage called The Silver Slipper in Station Street, long since covered in tarmac. For young gay men in the 1970s and early ‘80s, meeting people in cruising grounds was the only option if you weren’t old enough to go into licensed premises”.

50 The Nightingale

“The big picture in Birmingham is the presence of The Nightingale and its history. It was established with a constitution like a working men’s club, by and for its members, for 30 years or more. It acquired its name from a former Indian restaurant , on the site in Camp Hill. Crucial was acquiring a liquor licence, and then Thorp Street, which is now the Ballet School. It has quite a colourful history. With the exception of a couple, most managers have parted under a cloud of financial impropriety. It is part of the history of the gay scene, but incredibly important as a safe space for gay and transgendered people. I’m convinced that the (Nightingale) model of co-operative ownership has got a different motive from pure profit, which has enabled it to do important things, e.g. I don’t believe Birmingham Pride would be where it is now without the involvement of The Nightingale. The Nightingale has had an important role”.

60 Bill Gavan and others

“That’s not to knock the entrepreneurs because Bill Gavan’s had an important role – a hard-nosed business person with an altruistic underbelly who has made an important contribution. Then we’ve got a hotch-potch, ranging from opportunist, “let’s put a lick of paint on, make money out of Pride then close” – all the way through to long-established businesses who see themselves as playing a role in LGB community.

70 The changing scene

“Now we have the Village, I hesitate to call it thriving, it’s still dingy and grotty, but with the confidence to have plate glass windows – and no-one puts them in. We have a wider range of commercial operations selling beer to punters. The scene has changed. It’s an organic process not a strategic process; we haven’t had a strategic approach to the development of the area and recently I’ve been playing a role in all the climate change that’s happened legislatively in the last five years, which has set an environment where we can comfortably say ‘This area is important to the city’. We need investment in the LGB community and one way to achieve that effectively is to do some basic lighting, pavements, street furniture in the area”.

80 The nature and impact of Clause 28

“Clause 28 was sparked from tabloid paranoia, constantly talking about ‘loony left’ authorities in London, Islington, and Camden, the places that created people like Ken Livingstone, who is now applauded as being one of the most successful strategic leaders of a capital city in the world. There was a book, which was really the red rag to the section 28 lobby, called ‘Jenny lives with Eric and Martin’, which was a children’s photo story, explaining about a little girl living with her same sex parents, in a way that today would be completely uncontroversial. It actually prompted the bigots to try to change the law, to legislate, to stop being able to talk about lesbians and gay men as positive and equal people. All that pernicious homophobic background reached a crescendo, here in Birmingham because Dame Jill Knight, the Edgbaston MP, was one of the Tory back benchers who sponsored what became Section 28 of the Local Government Act which Michael Howard, the Local Government Minister in 1987, was taking through Parliament. They tabled an amendment that asserted that a Local Authority should not be empowered to intentionally promote homosexuality and pretended family relationships. Basically it created a climate of fear in schools, although I don’t think there was ever a prosecution from Clause 28, but there was this paranoid self-censorship to stop teachers talking about LGB in even the vaguest positive terms.”

85 Clause 28 galvanised the community

“In terms of political history, in Birmingham and nationally, Clause 28 was incredibly significant for our community. It was a massive own goal for the Tories; it galvanised our community and made it political in a way we had never been before, it made us think about where we fitted into society, and gay people of all political hues discovered that they were in the teeth of a government that really didn’t like lesbians and gay men. There was a picket of Dame Jill Knight’s surgery in Edgbaston, which was incredibly important in galvanising the community in Birmingham; we were very angry and very concerned. (Steve, who met his partner of 19 years the year Clause 28 was introduced, and recently got civilly partnered, said “It was with the greatest of delight, it was a deliberate cathartic choice to get married in the Botanical Gardens in Edgbaston when Dame Jill Knight had been replaced by a Labour MP, as it was a Labour Government that brought about the changes that allowed me and Andrew to get married”).

87 Stop the Clause

“I was very involved in B’ham and Aston Uni Gay Societies; I and a woman, Rachel, decided we needed to do something about Clause 28, so we produced leaflets and on New Years Eve 1987 when it was going through Parliament, stood outside The Nightingale, we didn’t go in, but handed out leaflets to people on their way out saying ‘Happy New Year but you need to know that the government are intent on introducing this terrible law and we need to do something about it.’ That galvanised a community response from quite a wide range of people – the students, socialist activists like myself to middle-class people recognising a pernicious attack on our civil liberties, coming together and raising money, going on demos, hiring coaches. We got involved in a lot of the marches, in Manchester and London, and got adept at making and selling sandwiches on the coach, to pay for the next coach! On a shoestring we were putting together leaflets and literally passing round a bucket at meetings asking people to pay for the next thing. One of the things we did was a book burning, where we mocked up books by lesbian and gay authors and ritually burned them in the square outside Central Library.”

“I clearly recall political activity where I was on television speaking out against the Clause, probably through the student union; it was a time when we did things as a collective, without hierarchy. My boyfriend then was the only man in a household of lesbians, there were those social networks, I formed social and political networks that endure today. If another section 28 came round today I would dust off my Filofax of 20 years ago and there would be the architecture of a political campaign for the lesbian and gay community. Some of my oldest friends are people I first became aware of because of the work we did together on the stop the clause campaign”.

90 Protest against abolition of the Women’s Committee

Steve recalls during the late 1980s, “There was an incredibly contentious decision, as a result of protest and picket of the Council, where it was decided to abolish the Women’s Committee of the Council and merge it into the Equalities Committee. There was a view that equalities could be dealt with as an amorphous issue, but we thought abolishing the Women’s Committee was retrograde, if you looked at what was happening in London, where there was also a Lesbian and Gay Committee, and we would have had aspirations to have created committees, not reduced them, and that was incredibly acrimonious. I think it was born of the timidity on the part of the ruling Labour group, that they didn’t want to be seen as one of the ‘loony left’, they wanted to be seen as less controversial, and that has been my view consistently since joining the Council ten years ago." (1997).

100 The Lesbian and gay Community Centre, Aston

In the mid 1980s, Steve recalls the Lesbian and Gay Community Centre, Aston, on Corporation Street. “That was closed because it lost funding from West Midlands County Council, giving credence to my hypothesis that the West Midlands is conservative with a small ‘c’. As a community centre it never particularly worked, as with many front line services for lesbians and gay men, it became a magnet for people using it for their coming out process, rather than for provision of the service. It never felt like a particularly resilient place that I wanted to go to; I think there was a youth group.

110 London was the place to be in the 1980s

Steve contrasts the Lesbian and Gay Community Centre, Aston, with the London Lesbian and Gay Centre in Farringdon. “I used to go there all the time in my late teens and early twenties, just to sit alone and be gay drinking tea and eating vegetarian quiche. It felt materially different to any of the services on offer in Birmingham. There was a sense that to be gay, and fit into a visible functional community, it was London or London. If you grew up gay in the West Midlands in the 80s or 90s one of the things on your agenda would be about leaving the West Midlands; I suspect that there was a level of migration to London. It will be interesting to see in 20 years time, in the way lesbians and gay men fit into society, what changes that makes to migration patterns”.

120 LGB and Union politics

Steve was an activist in the Trade Union Movement in NALGO and UNISON, including being the national LGB co-ordinator for a number of years, then he changed job and location, and was back to square one – the trade union movement couldn’t cope with him living in the West Midlands but working in London, which he did for a while.

130 HIV/AIDS awareness

Steve then got involved in Gay Men Fighting Aids (GMFA) and was one of the founding Directors. “I worked in Birmingham with an agency called SLAP FM (an HIV/AIDS prevention charity) specifically looking at gay men’s prevention of HIV/AIDS. It had a total existence of about five years. It was a real gap, the NHS not understanding gay men and not wanting to confront the reality of gay men’s sex. They were very shy of some of the more graphic detail needed to understand HIV prevention. We did that and it morphed into THT (TheTerence Higgins Trust)”. Steve withdrew from them involvement in community projects when he became a councillor in 1997.

140 Out gays in local government

Steve says “I was the only out gay councillor when elected (in 1997), I know there are other gay men, and always have been in the Council, but only in the last two or three years are there ‘out’ gay men, and I am unaware of any lesbians or women I would pick out as being potentially lesbian even if they had chosen not to disclose to me. I think that lesbians are very underrepresented in the local government structures”.

150 Being the ‘gay councillor’

“I am the Labour Party Councillor for Longbridge Ward, there are precious few lesbians and gay men in Longbridge, and my activity with the lesbian and gay community doesn’t win votes for me; I guess there’s an argument that it might lose votes, I’m not particularly worried about that. I’ve always been acutely aware that I never wanted to be ‘the gay councillor’ though there are occasions where I have been. The upside is that has achieved me some status within the gay community, and I hope to continue to benefit from well meaning individuals who have been sterling support for my election campaigns because they think I am a useful person to have on the City Council and they have wanted to see me stay there”.

“Being a Councillor is a job that I am still learning about, I seek to shape and influence, I’m not one to make rousing speeches; I understand the system and how those discussions behind the scenes shape, influence and support and guide, so I’ve been the kind of person the Pride Committee have called when it’s all going pear-shaped two days before the event. I’ve been the person that’s been sought out if there’s a particular issue. I’ve always been quite assertive when I’ve come across things in my day to day council business, I’ve had the portfolio for adults and communities, and for housing, if I’ve seen things where there has been manifest injustice I’ve asked the question, ‘What does this mean for lesbians and gay men?’ because I think those questions need to be asked. I wish I wasn’t the only person asking them but if I set the example, I hope it might be a question that will be emulated by others as well. I can’t claim that I’ve changed the world, and I think there’s a long way to go on the City Council, but I think there have been certainly in the last five years, tremendous strides, where I’ve made it known that I’ve been keeping a careful watching brief.

160 Employees Network

“For example the development of the employees Forum (The BCC LGB Employees Network). It’s been a tremendous success, I can’t take any credit, but I hope I’ve played my part in safeguarding their prosperity as an organisation, and I’ve been involved in other initiatives as well”.

170 Wolf-whistled in the Council Chamber

“The first time I stood up in Council to make a speech (1997) I was heckled and wolf-whistled, because I was known to be gay. I would deal with very assertively now if it ever happened, I’m sad to say that some of the people who were part of the problem ten years ago still enjoy status on the Council”.

180 Coming out in the Sunday Mercury

“I made a deliberate decision, when I stood for Council, I ran a vote for me campaign in a measured and balanced way, and decided that when I was elected, I would get the coming out of the way. I was elected on the Thursday and was the page 3 pin up in the Sunday Mercury on the Sunday, basically saying, ‘I’ve been elected to the Council and shock horror, I’m a gay man’. But I had control of that news agenda so it was a glorious non-story, but no-one else could ever do a ‘guess what he’s gay’ story. They went out, scouring the streets of Longbridge, doing vox pop, to find someone who would say something nasty about me, and they failed miserably! I’m very proud of my association with Longbridge and I have never ever experienced a moment of homophobia in Longbridge, not once, it could have been said behind my back, but I’ve never been made to feel uncomfortable about who I am in Longbridge, I’ve always been dealt with and engaged with as the Councillor. In terms of faith in human nature that’s been important, because Longbridge is a white working class suburb and there’s a range of stereotypes that might go along with a place like Longbridge which have never proved themselves to be true in my experience. The Sunday Mercury story was an important way of saying that I couldn’t be outed because I’d outed myself, and even 10 years ago, that was one of the things I had to think carefully about. I’ve been re-elected three times so it’s had no effect, last time there were three seats up for grabs and I got the highest number of votes so I got the four year seat; I think I’m judged more on my ability as a local councillor than I am as a gay man”.

190 Birmingham City Council attitudes

“I have always described Birmingham as being conservative, small ‘c’ and homophobic, small ‘h’, I think things have moved on, where we are now it’s probably unfair to call Birmingham homophobic, small ‘h’, it’s that kind of city. I was never particularly aware of the functions and roles of Council, prior to becoming elected, I had a low level awareness of what City Councillors did, the machinations of the City Council were not particularly on my radar.”

200 Conflict with faith issues

“I think the Labour Group in Birmingham have been somewhat tardy in their understanding of equalities issues. The debates have been shaped and distorted by some of the important discussions we have had to have about race, which hasn’t given a platform for any discussions about sexuality. There are tensions as well, some of the discussions about BME communities, embracing the traditions such as migrants from Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi traditions, and also the incomers from Irish communities with their strong Catholic heritage, those faiths of Islam and Catholicism don’t make easy bedfellows for discussion on the role and status of lesbians and gay men in society, so I think there’s been a conspiracy about keeping a lid on our community, which I’ve always found quite difficult to lift”.

210 Homophobia in the Labour Party

“I’m a labour councillor out of political conviction. If I was making political choices purely on my sexuality, then historically the labour party might have been a difficult place to make my home. There’s an element of compromise, but my gay identity’s incredibly important. I’ve always been out and am aware that that’s setting some sort of role model, but I’m not elected by the gay community; I try to do my bit using my role as a councillor to do good things but it’s the Longbridge people who vote for me and who I’m accountable to. I’ve had different senior jobs over the years and not personally felt the hand of homophobia inhibiting my career or life choices. I’ve not been the victim of horrible harassment; I’ve been queer-bashed but not horribly.

“I am a bright articulate, professional, accomplished gay man, I’ve dealt and moved beyond homophobia in many guises in my life, homophobia is someone else’s problem; but ironically, the one place I’ve experienced homophobia is in the Labour Party. I get that feeling there’s homophobia in the room within the Labour Group in Birmingham in a way that I’ve long since stopped feeling in other areas of my life”.

220 Birmingham City Council employment and service delivery

“I think we’ve (Birmingham City Council) got a long way to go in our employment practice; we’ve got even further to go in how we deliver services to people. When I ask the question, ‘what does this mean for lesbians and gay men?’, I’m pleased to say that people take that relatively seriously now, not least because they have a legal duty to, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that they understand what has to be done”.

230 The Equalities Directory

Steve gave an example of The Equalities Directory, published by the Council’s Equalities Division around 2005, with a ‘chapter’ on services for lesbians and gay men. “Actually it was just a complete joke, and all you would have needed to have done was stroll into the gay village, pick up a copy of Midland Zone magazine and lift the classified ads from there and you’d have increased the utility of the Directory tenfold. That there are equalities practitioners in the City Council who didn’t have the nouse to take a community magazine as a starting point for services for the community, just beggars belief”. (Birmingham Pride Community Trust has now input to the next edition). “That was the second time they got it wrong, and they’d been given the exasperated but ultimately constructive feedback on the first occasion and promised they would act on it next time. I get angry because if that system failure had been about services for the Afro-Caribbean community, rightly so, it would have been a scandal of national repute. The fact that it was our (gay) community that they got it wrong for, twice, didn’t register anywhere except with my blood pressure”.

240 Good leadership from the Council Chief Executive

“I would pay tribute to the current Chief Executive of the Council (Stephen Hughes) who has been very modestly understated in his determination to make a difference for lesbians and gay men. Looking back, Stephen Hughes will evaluate as one of the people who has made a difference, he has done things he didn’t have to do. He’s given support and leadership that has been very welcome. We’ve achieved things in Birmingham in spite of the Equalities Division, there are individuals that have worked hard, but there are also individuals who would seek to undermine any notion of lesbian and gay equality.”

“We’ve achieved a lot in the past ten years, there’s been an osmosis that’s made the council chamber a more tolerant place to be, but I wouldn’t pretend it’s fixed. The current ruling group, (Tory leadership and Liberal Democrat coalition), the Tories are exclusively white, predominantly middle aged and presumably heterosexual, there is limited opportunity to increase diversity with the Liberal Democrat coalition, only recently has there been an Asian man, and I think there’s only been one woman in a cabinet of ten. That tells you something important about the roots of people giving leadership to Birmingham; though I’m not painting those people as unfettered homophobes.

250 Birmingham is behind other cities

“Crucially, if you compare the demographics of the population and the demographics of the leadership of other core cities you discover there is a huge cultural imbalance between the way we’re led in Birmingham and the way other cities are led. We’ve still got a long way to go in comparison with other cities. When you compare Birmingham’s track record with cities like Manchester, or even Liverpool, Birmingham doesn’t rank particularly highly in where we’re going. You would struggle to get the key opinion formers to articulate anything that would get you excited about the lesbian and gay community. Think of the bodies sitting on the Birmingham Strategic Partnership, the Cabinet, the movers and shakers, precious few would even have the LGB community on their radar as being important.”

260 Influence of Europe, and global comparisons

“Europe has brought about the changes in this country. Birmingham City Council hasn’t done this because they suddenly like lesbians and gay men and want to right a social injustice, all these changes have come about because of the changing legal climate, set by direction from Parliament, because the people crafting the laws have been one step ahead of what’s coming in from Europe, and organisations like Stonewall have been incredibly effective in terms of shaping the agenda. The thing that’s made the difference is Europe, setting international standards of justice for our community, while we can be happy in the way things have changed for us (in the UK) over the last 20 years, we have to recognise that our status is markedly different from our brothers and sisters elsewhere on the planet; there are still men and women who are being imprisoned and killed and tortured because of their sexuality. What we have achieved in the UK in the last decade, we need to make sure is achieved internationally, and it is Europe that will set a benchmark which will be difficult for the rest of the planet to ignore.”

270 Influential people

“There are good people in Birmingham who have been jumping on the opportunity to make the changes; some of those are lesbians and gay men, who’ve just kept their eyes peeled and recognised an opportunity, and others have been colleagues in the straight community who’ve recognised the injustice and wanted to do it because it’s been the right thing. That’s what’s driven the changes in the Council, not a general decision in Birmingham to do anything for the LGB community”.

“People like Karen Creavin and Ruth Middleton have made important contributions. The contribution of Steve Ball in shaping Birmingham is huge. His personal energy and commitment, his resilience taking the Birmingham Pride Community Trust forward is really important”.

280 Working in a voluntary capacity

“In the past, I had a greater involvement in Birmingham Pride Community Trust. At the start, we came up with a construct of different types of people, including the tarnished twinkies – incredibly lonely, vulnerable, unsupported young people, the kind of people who lived sad and empty lives in very poor quality housing, by themselves, didn’t work, came out in their one bit of designer clothing and flourished like moths round a flame for two hours on the Birmingham gay scene and then disappeared again. We also talked about the lost professionals – we were acutely aware that in a city the size of Birmingham there must be a swathe of professionals - lawyers, teachers, accountants, doctors etc who just happen to be lesbians and gay men. We were trying to work out where they were, they’re not accessing a gay scene dominated by pub and club opportunities for the young, but they weren’t being visible, they weren’t networking into the community infrastructure”.

“At the other end of the extreme, I’ve recently joined the Lunar Society, an organisation of the great and the good in Birmingham, and there is only one name on that that I recognise (as lesbian or gay). In terms of the representation in the city it’s very sparse, so sometimes, Birmingham feels like a small pond, and I wish it was a bit bigger. It places a burden on a small number of individuals, we still have yet to achieve a properly meaningful, community capacity representational infrastructure. Where we have got to has been a long time coming, it places a burden, for example on the role of Steve Ball. He does what he does as a volunteer, what I do for the lesbian and gay community I do as a volunteer, and sooner or later we burn out or just haven’t got the capacity to fit it in. We’ve got a long way to go to make sure the kind of thing we can contribute becomes systemic, and happens because it’s somebody’s job to do it and not because an individual has decided they want to make that particular contribution”.

290 Gay community more mixed

“There are some obvious changes in the gay community, inevitably for the better. The scene is more mixed, if I wanted to go to the old Nightingale with any women friends, I had to phone in advance to ask if it was alright if I brought a woman with me, I don’t think that was ever refused, but it just doesn’t compute now, the absolute male domination of the scene has been consigned well and truly to history”.

300 Gay scene less political

“I don’t think the scene has got politics (any more), I’m aware that I’m seen as an eccentricity, as someone who will talk in political terms, actually amongst my friendship networks, we don’t talk about politics because people aren’t interested. I wonder whether we have a romantic recollection of what the scene was like 20 years ago”.

310 Coming out at school now, with support

“It is not unusual now, for a young man or woman to come out at school, to expect to be supported by their teachers, and by their peers, in the process of coming out, in my day, you left the coming out process for when you went to University. It’s not unusual for 15 – 16 year olds to be making full use of the commercial scene in Birmingham as an empowered equal, so that sense of struggle just doesn’t compute for them”.

320 Loss of the ‘coming out’ story

“I came out properly at University in my early 20s (in the mid-1980s), and a common currency of making relationships with other people was talking about your coming out story, this was an important bit of personal information about you fielded in transactions with other lesbians and gay men. I don’t get a sense that the coming out story is of consequence any more, it’s very different to how it was ten or twenty years ago. If you think about the histories of people a couple of decades older, coming to terms with your sexuality in the context of it being criminal – things have really moved on”.