New extract from ‘Counter Culture UK’ by Jack Bright

LGBT CULTURE: What’s so wrong with being a freak anyway?

In post-war Britain homosexuality was seen as both immoral and socially unacceptable which led to tremendous suffering among those who were unable to openly express their feelings and others who were criminalized for same-sex relationships, such as code-breaking genius and father of the computer Alan Turing whose incredible life was recently filmed as ‘The Imitation Game.’ Screenwriter Glenn Moore, who picked up an Oscar for his adaptation of Andrew Hodge’s book ‘Enigma’, said at the award ceremony:

“When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt I did not belong. And now I’m standing here I would like this moment to be for that kid out there who feels she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere — yes, you do. I promise you do.

“Stay weird, stay different and when it’s your turn, and you are standing on this stage, please pass the message on to the next person who comes along.” (24th February, 2015, The Independent.)

Dirk Bogarde’s brave film ‘Victim’ in 1961 was the first British film in which the word ‘homosexual’ was mentioned and during the sexual revolution of the 1960s the closeted gay scene created a market for gay art and photography, most apparent in the emergence of magazines displaying the male physique. Artists like David Hockney made sensual paintings of gay relationships and male nudes and writers such as Christopher Isherwood pushed the boundaries by writing about a day in the life of a gay professor in his novel A Single Man (1964) which was adapted for film in 2009 with Colin Firth in the title role. But for the moral majority, non-conformism to strict gender roles was still considered a threat to society.

The riots which broke out on June 27th 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in New York were the beginning of the gay community’s fight back against the persecution of its members by the police in America, and it led to the founding of the Gay Liberation Front.

A year later Aubrey Walter and Bob Mellor founded the UK Gay Liberation Front at the LSE in London with around 17 people who met in a basement .Later that year, they went on to organise the first public demonstration in the UK by lesbians and gays, to protest against the police practice of entrapping gay men into performing acts of gross indecency, usually in public toilets.

By 1971 there were hundreds of gay activists regularly attending meetings all over the country. In one well-planned protest, a group of GLF members staged a dramatic invasion of the opening of the Festival of Light, a Christian celebration organised by Mary Whitehouse at the Methodist Central Hall, where gays and lesbians kissed publicly and symbolically let mice go free from their cages, before turning out the lights.

Peter Tatchell was an early member of the group:

“GLF was a glorious, enthusiastic and often chaotic mix of anarchists, hippies, leftwingers, feminists, liberals and counter-culturalists. Despite our differences, we shared a radical idealism — a dream of what the world could and should be — free from not just homophobia but the whole sex-shame culture, which oppressed straights as much as LGBTs. We were sexual liberationists and social revolutionaries, out to turn the world upside down.” (Guardian, 13th October, 2010)

Into the age of same-sex marriage: the LGBT community is divided.

Despite the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act having been elevated into law in early 2014,[1] and perhaps lulling some into a sense of security not achieved by civil partnerships, LGBT people are still disproportionately affected by a number of issues not affecting their straight or gender-confirming counterparts. Moreover, with a number of legal rights having been afforded to LGBT Britons in a relatively short space of time since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, there appears to be a tension between those who celebrate being able to fit into the ‘norm’ (whether achieving the archetypal traits of straight or gender-confirming people or carving out their own space within it) and those who still want to rebel against it and stand apart.

Brendan O’Neill writing in The Telegraph reminds us that the original members of the Gay Liberation Front were opposed to marriage which they thought was an oppressive institution, and were far more revolutionary in their aims than today’s campaigners, wanting to transform society rather than conform to it:

“The Stonewall radicals wanted liberation, not equality, and they wanted to destroy marriage, not buy into it. The Gay Liberation Front that emerged out of the Stonewall riot insisted that “complete sexual liberation for all people cannot come about unless existing social institutions are abolished”. (Feb 6th 2013, Telegraph)

There is no doubt that marriage, and the enshrining of legal protections for LGBT people into law, has irreversibly affected the way the LGBT community sees itself, and has started a dialogue concerning where we find ourselves in this new chapter. Having taken strides towards equality, and though coming far from where we began to achieve the recognition of our rights in 1967, there is still much room for progress.

One definition of counterculture of the type LGBT culture might be considered to consist in reads: ‘a subculture whose values and norms of behavior differ substantially from those of mainstream society, often in opposition to mainstream cultural mores.’

While some members of the LBGT community in the UK feel they are becoming more accepted by the mainstream, hate crime and homophobia are still commonly experienced by many.

This book is being crowdfunded via Kickstarter — see more here.