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Trevor Sword

Trevor Sword, born 1957


Trevor is a 50 year old gay male. He has a severe disability and is a wheelchair user.
In this interview he talks about coming out as a disabled and gay man. He talks about the gay community centre set up in the 1980’s and how that helped him to ‘come out’. He discusses the gay scene and has fond memories of the Power House and Funky Dunc. Later he discusses the AIDS crisis in detail and his voluntary work at the time. Trevor was involved in Clause 28 campaigns and talks about the effect this period had on gay culture. He later talks about disabled access and the prejudices towards disabled people. Trevor also helped organise the first Pride demonstration in Birmingham.


Early Life - 10
Awareness and Coming Out – 20
Trying to ‘go straight’ (inc recognising married friend as gay) 21 24
First sex with a man 22
The Gay Centre, Aston – 30 31 32
The Commercial Scene 1980s – 23
The Power House & Funky Duncan – 40
Social Groups : bad experience –23
National Politics – 60 61 110
Clause 28 – 80 81
Gay Pride marches 1980s - 70
Wombourne Speech – 82
AIDS and the gay community in the late 80s - 90
HIV – Aids Life Line & Mark Bestell - 91
HIV AIDSline West Midlands – 91 92
HIV Trainer Sandwell – 95
AIDS funding gone - 96
HIV/AIDS today – 96 97
Risky sex - 97
Birmingham Pride – 130 131
Disabled Access & Discrimination – 23 100 102 103
Mainstream politics - 140

10 Early life.
Trevor was born in Billesley in 1957, where his extended family had lived for three generations. He is severely disabled and uses a wheelchair. The family moved to Hall Green when Trevor was 18. Approaching his 20th birthday, Trevor’s mother died. The family then began to break up. His cousins were all starting to get their own families and society was beginning to change. His mother had been rather protective of him and so now the opportunity arose for him to spread his wings. He went into a residential unit, Prospect House, for assessment. People were meant to be there a maximum of 6 months but Trevor lived there for three years before moving into a specially adapted house in Bourneville, where he has lived for the past 27 years.

20 First Sexual awareness - 1967
“When I was ten years old there was a traumatic incident, but I now find it rather funny. I had gone to the cinema with my mother and father and I was sitting between them. It was a James Bond film and women were disrobing frequently which left me unmoved. However when Sean Connery took his shirt off I experienced an erection for the first time. It was a confusing and embarrassing moment and I thought it shouldn’t be happening”.

21 Trying to ‘go straight’
Trevor states, for the next few years I tried to ignore my feelings. I didn’t have any sexual experience until I moved to Prospect Hall and was still being attracted to men. But I was still a virgin at that point. At 20 I took the first opportunity to have sex with a woman, but all the way through I was fantasising about men. The next time I had the chance to have sex with a woman, I thought it wasn’t right for her or me, but I concentrated on her and it was a disaster, nothing much happened.

22 First sex with a man
“I came out in 1985 but there was a two to three year period before that when I began to recognise my homosexuality. I realised that something was wrong. I had no prejudice against homosexuals, but it’s a big step to accept that you might be one of them. I had my first sexual experience with a guy who I’d been friends with for a couple of years. In spite of just being mates, we’d do bizarre things like going to the Lickey Hills and sitting in his car or on a bench and having a cuddle. You don’t cuddle your mate. So much denial! Then I moved to Bourneville and an opportunity arose for him to stay overnight. We ended up having sex. Afterwards I burst into tears, out of relief and acceptance. This was what I was. From that day I realised I didn’t want to be closeted. My friend was still denying that he was gay or bisexual, so that was the death knell for that relationship, once I wanted to be open about it. People always saw us together, so if I came out they would put two and two together. The affair lasted about eighteen months and ended in about 1982 because I was moving on. I am gay. At that point I was using that word to tell people, when I felt comfortable with them. So I thought we could never be in a stable relationship given the circumstances. So we broke up. Later he got engaged, though he didn’t marry”.

23 On the gay scene – 1980s
“As an outsider back in the eighties, the gay scene was very frightening. I got the feeling that the scene was very body conscious and gay men in particular seemed obsessed with the body beautiful and the male form. With my disability I certainly don’t shape up, so it was quite difficult for me. I phoned Samaritans for information about gay support groups. They put me onto the Walsall Gay Men’s Group and Switchboard. The group met monthly in a back room of the Crab Apple pub or The Oak. It was alright, just a chat and a few drinks. After about six months I didn’t feel I was mixing well. After a not very pleasant coach trip to Blackpool, it was clear that someone had pulled the short straw pushing my wheelchair around all day. I was still dealing with my sexuality and was shocked the first time I saw two men kiss. I came home thinking that maybe I should go back in the closet”.

24 Married friend comes out
“Then a friend from my political circle rang me to tell me that he had got divorced. At the end of the phone call I thought ‘He’s gay’. He was talking about having highlights in his hair and a number of other things. He came around for a chat and I said ‘I think you ought to know that I’m gay but finding it hard to meet other gay men.’ However he didn’t come out to me for another six months”.

30 Lesbian and Gay Community Centre, Aston. Corporation Street. Birmingham
“The Lesbian and Gay community Centre in Corporation Street, Aston near the Fire Station had recently opened. My friend said it looked quite accessible, so I went and that’s when I started to come out. It was a coffee bar with some socials and some gay related films. It was where I got my confidence and made my longest standing and dearest friendships. If not for the Centre I’m not sure I would have completely come out. The Centre was just not based on the commercial scene.”

31 Disability and the Lesbian and Gay Community Centre
“To some extent there were still prejudices but there was a culture of much more acceptance and there were another couple of people with disabilities. I was the only one in a wheelchair but it was completely different. You didn’t go to pick up, just to meet other gay men and women, and to be yourself.”

32 Closure of the Gay Centre.
“It was really sad when the Centre closed down. It existed for about three to four years with major funding from the then West Midlands County Council and then we lost the funding. No one had much commercial acumen also no one was aware of the safety issues, especially for women, with the approaches to the Centre being through dark underpasses. All this happened much earlier than the development of the gay village. The Jester and Partners were around then and the Nightingale, but the Centre was for people who didn’t fit the commercial scene”.

40 The Power House
“Eventually I made friends and got the confidence to go out on the scene. There was a one nighter at the Powerhouse. Thursday night was gay night, and it was the best venue in Birmingham. It’s still there, called something else. It has been a club since the 1970s. Everyone went every week and it was very friendly, much better than the Gale (Nightingale) in Thorp St, for me, where there were steps to the dance floor so I couldn’t dance unless someone else was going and could take me, whereas at the Power House there was easy access to the dance floor. I became much more part of the gay community as a whole. Funky Duncan, now dead, was one of the best DJs in the country. His lighting team, the Sadistic Sisters, were internationally known. It was phenomenal”.

60 Politics, Liberal Party and SDP 1980s
“I was a member of the SDP in the 1980s. I had been involved in politics for a while, in the Liberal Party. I was disappointed with the way the Liberals dealt with the Jeremy Thorpe issue. He was charged with the attempted murder of his gay lover. The Party was supposed to be Liberal, but I felt they didn’t deal with it very well. Then there was a period when I was doing A levels and a degree, so my membership lapsed. I felt that there needed to be a realignment of the centre left so I joined as a founder member of the SDP.

70 Gay Politics
Trevor made a natural transition into gay politics. He says, “The people at the Gay Centre were much more political than the ‘disco bunnies’ on the commercial scene but were seen as a bit exotic on the gay scene. They would go to the London Gay Pride demonstration which in the 1980s was very political. 10,000 people would attend. It was huge. It was great fun, very light-hearted but it was political, whereas now Pride is about getting off your face, looking gorgeous and copping off. That’s fine but the gay parade we have now in Birmingham, is more important than the jamboree with the stalls and the money. It’s about making sure that people know there is a gay community. Even now it’s quite brave to hold hands in the street. The first time I went to London Pride this was my experience. You all go to a pub and as you head towards the Jubilee Gardens underpass on the South Bank, you see more and more gay couples holding hands. That exhilaration of seeing so many gay people in once place at one time blew me away. It was a political statement to hold the hand of your lover in a public place. It still is. Our civil rights have moved on dramatically in terms of the law but there is still a long way to go”.

80 Clause 28
“I got involved in campaigns, firstly against Clause 28 back in 1988. It was one of the best things that happened to the gay community. The Clause caused such anger amongst non politicised lesbians and gay men at the end of the fear and homophobia that had been whipped up by HIV/AIDS, that it made them get political and go on marches and fund raise”.

81 Clause 28 Marches London and Manchester
“There was never a Clause 28 demonstration in Birmingham, the gay community wasn’t confident enough but we went to marches in Manchester and London. On the massive London march some extreme left wing militants from the SWP (Socialist Workers’ Party) tried to climb the gates to Number Ten Downing Street. This made the police jumpy. When we reached the main rally outside the War Memorial park there were police on horse back. They surrounded us and we thought they were going to charge. It was terrifying, especially for me in a wheelchair. The march leaders calmed them down and got rid of the trouble makers; people were looking at us with slight amusement to complete anger. A couple of the chants we used went like this………………….
‘2,4,6,8 Is that copper really straight?’
‘Give me an O O O - What have you got? - OOOOOOOOOOOO!’
And ‘We’re out, We’re gay, but we ain’t going shopping!’”

82 The Wombourne Campaign.
“The only local campaign I can remember was against Wombourne, a little Council in the Black Country, Staffordshire way. The Tory leader of the Council said, ‘This AIDS is doing us all a favour, all the gays should be gassed.’ A bunch of us picketed and were arrested. I was involved in the background work for that”.

90 AIDS and the gay community
“The real politicisation of the gay community started with HIV/AIDS. Until becoming involved with AIDSline, Trevor didn’t think that he knew anyone with AIDS. He says, “I got involved through compassion and anger and because it was a political issue. The attitude in Birmingham was you were OK if you didn’t shag people from London.” Later he realised that AIDS sufferers were there, people he’d known for years, but they hadn’t felt comfortable enough to tell anyone.

91 Involvement with AIDSLine West Midlands
“I’d moved on from the Gay Centre and was involved at that time with AIDSline West Midlands, in 1988”. He did phone work and buddying, and also started to do some education work. He then got involved in organising the group and then became the Chair for three years.

“A gay health worker named Mark Bestell, a Liberal Party member and Shirley Williams’s agent up in Crosby, now dead, came down from Liverpool to be the manager of AIDS Life Line, run by the Health Authority. He stirred things up, he got things done. He was quite Machiavellian and ruthless but he didn’t bullshit. He wasn’t very diplomatic but he had the Liverpool sense of humour”. There was a lot of friction between the two organisations, but in his period as Chair Trevor tried to bring the two organisations closer together and dovetail their two campaigns.

92 Funding for AIDSLine
During the time that Trevor was Chair, the group began negotiations for three quarters of a million pounds; AIDSline West Midlands was seen as the main organisation, able to deliver and therefore got the money. They had three paid workers, a training group, and a buddying group and carried on with the phone counselling. They went into schools and set up training for health service staff on LGB awareness and AIDS awareness. Trevor was amazed at the amount of ignorance! “We were a voluntary agency providing the training for health professionals!” They had originally worked from volunteers’ houses and had training days at Springfield Medical Centre in Selly Oak, but the funding enabled a move to Digbeth on the corner of the High Street, opposite the Police Station, where they were based for the next 4- 5 years. Several years after Trevor had ceased to be involved, it folded due to lack of funding and other factors.

95 Sandwell Social Services
Trevor then got a job as a trainer with Sandwell Social Services as HIV training officer. His job was to provide awareness training for staff from Directors to home care staff. One course he delivered so convinced them that other issues which needed addressing, such as equal opportunities and people living with AIDS, that they started running sexuality awareness courses. The training included getting people to touch condoms, and to try to get staff desensitised to other people’s sexual behaviour. There was varied reaction from staff but unfortunately one home carer made a formal complaint, accusing Trevor of peddling filth., but the complaint didn’t get very far. Nonetheless Trevor preferred the home carers as a group, who were more likely to be honest, whereas the social workers had the right language and knew what to say, which didn’t mean that they meant it.

After three years, Sandwell created a new post of HIV worker. Trevor wasn’t qualified so they agreed to give him CQSW training but then the funding was cut and although he was doing the work, he didn’t receive the training. He saw more cuts coming, and knew his job would go, so he left in 1997.

96 HIV/AIDS funding gone
Trevor continues,” The halcyon days of funding are gone. There aren’t many HIV workers now. They were falling over each other in the late eighties. It’s all changed since then. There is less advertising and terrifying amounts of ignorance now. In the eighties and nineties there was recognition, but like the Forth Road Bridge you must continually educate. The sad thing is that the politicians thought they could take the funding away because they thought that they had educated everyone.

97 Risky sex
These days if you go on to Gaydar on the internet, people are seeking unprotected sex. People must know the risk. A lot of these are older gay men, guys who have lived through the worst of the AIDS crisis and should know better. It’s become a bit of Russian roulette, the next risky sex, like S and M, living on the edge, almost a thrill . Like cottaging the chance of getting caught heightens the sexual thrill. It’s very complex. Someone I know very well will not have any other kind of sex other than unprotected and he has a lot of casual partners. I’m pretty sure that he is HIV positive. Initially he said the only guys that he had sex with were also HIV. But I know that he uses ‘dark rooms’, how does he know who is HIV+? It baffles me and makes me angry, they’re putting themselves and others at risk, it’s a complete lack of respect for yourself and others”.

Being disabled.
100 Attitudes to disability in the 1980s
Trevor, who is severely disabled and uses a wheelchair says “Attitudes were very different twenty years ago both to being gay and disabled. We’ve moved on. The reaction to me as a disabled gay man has not been easy. It would have taken longer had it not been for the Lesbian and Gay Community Centre. Just because you’re a member of one oppressed group doesn’t mean that you’re not perfectly capable of oppressing others. We all do it. It’s no different for gay men and disabled people. I remember feeling very uncomfortable on the commercial gay scene because of people staring.

An example of the attitudes was, after I‘d been part of the gay community in Birmingham for some time, a group of us gays had gone to the Power House, and while I’d gone for a dance, a guy had asked another of my friends ‘Is Trevor gay?’. My friend couldn’t believe it, and asked him, ‘Why else would Trevor be here, going to the Community Centre etc?’.! It had clearly never dawned on that guy that disabled people could have a sexuality.”

102 Attitudes to disabled gays in the 90s
“A thing that made me very angry happened about ten years ago. ‘Boyz’ magazine (a weekly scene orientated magazine available freely in the commercial venues, paid for by advertising) ran a feature which they called ‘Charity Fuck’, the implications were that if you had sex with a ‘cripple’ or an old man, you were doing it because you felt sorry for them. You wouldn’t dare run an article like that in the straight press but they felt they could. I wrote to them, but they got away with it. Pretty unpleasant, but that sort of thing still exists.”

103 Lack of disabled access c2007
Trevor states, “Even now there are only three or four venues that are accessible to me. I can’t get into Angels, The Village or Partners. I can get into The Nightingale now, ten years after the Disability Discrimination Act, but 70% of venues are still not accessible. The toilets are a joke. Missing’s disabled toilets double up as the drag queens dressing room and you have to wrestle with frocks. You can’t just go to the toilet discreetly, you have to go to the bar and ask for the key, they come with you to take stuff out. You may as well have a big sign saying ‘I’m going to the toilet’. I can’t think of a single gay venue, other than the Community Centre, and the Powerhouse gay night, which ticks all the boxes. The Gale is probably the most accessible with a toilet and a lift, though there have been times when the lift didn’t work; I can get into Missing but it’s not ideal. Trevor says, “There are still a lot of people whose needs are not being met. The Council should provide encouragement, incentives and funding to venues to make them accessible. Similarly Pride.”

130 First Gay Pride in Birmingham 1997
Trevor joined the Birmingham Pride committee in November 1996, which was set up to organise the first Pride in May 1997. Trevor was the Secretary; there were about ten people involved on the executive committee and they brought in other people. Bill Gavan was Chair, and they often held their weekly planning meetings at Subway City or The Wellington. Trevor says, “Everyone was flabbergasted that Birmingham had pulled it off. They thought it was going to be an extension of ‘Five Days of Fun on Partners’ car park! There were about ten thousand people, or more, in Hurst Street. It was a beautiful day; quite surreal really. All these gay people dressed up to the nines with balloons etc. There were community stalls and the commercial venues provided the beer and dance tents. It was a cooperative effort between the community and commercial interests. What was so nice about it was being in Birmingham and holding hands and kissing on our own patch and it worked. This was about being out and out there, this wasn’t London or Manchester. It was another big step for the Birmingham LGB community, after the period of HIV/AIDS and Clause 28 in the late 80s. The next important step was when the Parade was introduced; personally I think that it’s the most important feature of pride. Not this year though. It was too wet. I may be out and proud, but I’m not going to get pneumonia”.

Mainstream Politics.
Trevor talks about his political career. “ After I left Sandwell I was unemployed. I wanted six months off. I have got more involved in politics again in the last few years and have been Lib Dem candidate in the Parliamentary elections. It’s a white, working class constituency and difficult for an out gay man. That was a busy and exciting time. Perhaps I could try for the Council elections. A third of the seats in Birmingham are Lib Dem.”