Gays of Manchester: Across the Generational Divide
In the first of the series we bring together 2 gay men separated by 42 years to ask them about gay life. For this article we have Harry who is 21 studying fashion management at the University of Manchester and we have Paul who is 63 and a freelance computer programmer.
With the Government recently reviewing sex and relationship education in schools what is your recollection of sex ed in schools?
Harry - So the first time it was introduced was around year 5 or 6, it was very basic and consisted of a few videos. I learnt the majority of my sex ed outside of school as my family are quite good on teaching that to us. I'd say a little bit towards the end of Primary School and then a lot more in secondary school.
Paul - In my school which would have been the early 1970's there was no sex education at all. The only thing they did do in my last year there was show a video of a rather grainy movie called Helga which was about pregnancy and childcare which was a bit late as half the girls had left as they were already pregnant!
And was there anything related to LGBT issues back then?
Paul - In Oldham, no.
And for you Harry?
Harry - Not in my schools, no. I only learnt about LGBT after I'd finished school. It was a lot more of a topic in college. There was an LGBT society. There was no indication of in school where I used to live.
Do you know what Section 28 was?
Harry - I don't unfortunately.
Section 28 was a Tory amendment from the 1980's which banned the discussion of LGBT issues in schools between 1988 and 2003.
Paul - Well I marched on Parliament 30 years ago. Edwina Curry came out to meet us and said she'd do what she could but it was a done deal in those days because it was a rather right wing government. Although I think Mrs Thatcher did quite a bit of good this was one of the things she messed up unfortunately.
And Paul this is more a question for you now, what is your recollection of the HIV/Aids Crisis in the 1980s and 90's?
Paul - For me I learnt about it in 1986 when I was away in South Korea. The newspapers were absolutely horrific. It was a gay disease and we all ought to be locked up and it just wasn't a good time at all. Nobody really knew what it was all about, there was a lot of scaremongering and we're a bit more enlightened now.
Harry, did you know that the original name for the disease was GRIDS, gay related immune deficiency?
Harry - No, I'd not heard that term before.
Paul - It had a couple of other names too. One of those was anally injected death syndrome....it wasn't good.
Do you think HIV is treated as such a big deal as it was even 10 years ago or do you think attitudes have moved on?
Paul - I think attitudes have moved on. Now it's controllable and people take pills for it like they inject for diabetes, whether that's good or bad I don't know.
What's your opinions on PREP?
Harry - I think PREP is a great idea, easily accessible, get it from anywhere. I think that it is something that more people should be aware of cos they always say at the sexual health centres that it's available but I don't think people necessarily know.
Paul - I differ slightly. PREP to me means that you're passing responsibility on to somebody else and you shouldn't be taking pills to prevent HIV. There's a lot of other ways to prevent it which doesn't mean just keeping your trousers on but PREP is an enormous drain on the NHS which is something you could take of yourself .
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the LGBT community today?
Paul - Now that's a good question. I think the 'L' and the 'G' bit is quite sewn up as most people don't give a damn if you're l or g. 'B' sometimes gets a bit of a bad press as some people say they can't make their minds up but it's the 'T' that gets most the bad press with people calling it a phase like they used to say if you were gay. There's a big 'T' spectrum.
Harry - I'd probably say that in terms of being lesbian and gay that I think that we have come along way and I think there's still a little way to go but it's less of a stigma. I agree with Paul that's more to do with people who are experiencing a change in gender or transgender because it's more of a new topic in a way. It feels like there's a lot of stigma and people don't really accept it like they do with gays and lesbians.
Paul - True, I can go in any bar in Manchester but someone who is trans, no, they'd have to be very careful where they went so I understand why they stay around the Village.
In terms of same-sex marriage do you feel that is the pinnacle or is there more to still be done?
Paul - Well, what more is there to be done? I think the mistake there was when civil partnerships were introduced, heterosexual people could not have them so it wasn't really full equality. But now I'm not sure what more there is to do.
Harry - I think that there is still the odd person who is homophobic and that's still around but the population will just age and that people are learning about LGBT at a much younger age and they will grow up and it will become less and less a stigma. We just need to wait for that to happen.
Paul - It's evolution rather than revolution and that's true of all things.
How young is too young to be learning sex ed? That's in the news recently,
Paul - I would say 15 or 16 is when most are sexually active so I would say 15 or 16.
Harry - I'd say younger, my little sister is 10 and you can go into puberty at the age of 12 so it is good to know these things. I'd say 11 or 12.
Paul - I didn't know what sex was at that age. I think children grow up too fast.
Harry - I think sex is far more acceptable to talk about these days and as its become more acceptable due to it being in pop culture.
Paul - It's thrust at you from all directions. You only need to turn on the TV.
Coming back to Manchester, the Pride main stage is moving out of the Village. Do you think that's bad for Pride?
Paul - It will lose its focus. It'll happen somewhere else but it might be over a wider area.
Harry - I don't think Pride will stop or be less popular. Brighton Pride has the festival in the park and then you go all the way to the other end of the city for the gay clubs and bars. I think from my perspective, I've only been to 2 prides in Manchester and I've loved both of them and it kind of broke my heart a little to hear it's not going to be in the Village anymore but it'll be interesting to see what it's like next year.
Paul - It depends where they put it. If it goes out to Heaton Park as some have said I think that's a bit of a mistake. The other that's been mentioned is behind Piccadilly at Mayfield which is not very far away, that's walking distance.
Is there a need for a Gay Village anymore?
Harry - Yes.
Paul - I would say yes. It's changing certainly, as you can see there's all this building work but it will evolve.
Harry - I think the village is a symbol to me and it's allowed me to experience gay culture. I think to have that pinpoint to where it is, is really nice. I think if we did lose the gay village then I think people who were in my position 2 or 3 years ago would come to Manchester and not really know where to go so it's nice to have it in a certain place.
Paul - Did you watch Queer as Folk? Is that how you found out about the gay village?
Harry - yes but I didn't realise it was based in Manchester when I first watched but since coming here it's like that's exactly where it is.
Are there any issues around the gay village that you feel are particularly problematic? Drugs or crime?
Paul - Well yes as I live just round the corner and at kicking out time at 5 in the morning it's carnage out there especially on the weekend. People are openly trading drugs in the car park opposite me on Bloom Street. I wouldn't say the police don't want to do anything about it but they don't want to do too much cos all those people would then disperse, they know where they right now.
Harry - I don't see any issues specific to the gay village I see a lot of issues with people getting too drunk and careless. Potentially drugs...
Paul - Which does happen everywhere though.
Harry - If we're talking just about the gay village there's nothing really specific. There's a few odd homophobic attacks but few and far between but I wouldn't say there's anything specific.
Paul - On that point when it's closing time at Cruz 101 half the people causing trouble are not gay. People have got fuelled up on god knows what and that's the issue.
Do either of you have any closing remarks?
Paul - Where we go for the future politically I don't think any of the parties have a gay or straight agenda at all.
I think the only party that is anti LGBT at the moment is UKIP and they're irrelevant as far as things go. Apart from the 'T' where the press is particularly unpleasant, certain newspapers are horrible in the way that they discuss trans issues I think we've reached a point now where the gay community is almost fully accepted in the UK.
Paul - I'd agree with that.
That's the end of the interview and I would like to say a huge thanks to Harry and Paul for what I think has been an interesting conversation. Please look out for more of these style interviews in the future and let us know if there are topics you want us to look into?