Observer column: 24 August 2018
Come out this Sunday
Last August, Hastings experienced its first Pride Festival. The theme was the 'Summer of Love', celebrating 60 years since the decriminalisation of male homosexuality. I was very pleased to do the opening speech - suitably dressed for the 'Summer of Love' theme. That first Hastings Pride festival was a big success - described in the national press as one of the best pride festivals in the country.
This Sunday, Hastings Pride is back for its second year. And the theme is 'Alienation' - so the dress code focuses on space and aliens. Watch out for some colourful, star-spangled outfits. The procession sets off at 11am, through the town centre to The Oval. I shall be with other councillors and council officers on Happy Harold, our much-loved 1928 Hastings open-top trolley bus.
The 'alienation' theme has a serious message to it though. LGBT people are still victims of alienation and discrimination, in their day-to-day lives. There are 72 countries where homosexuality is illegal, and a handful where it's still punishable by death. Only 23 countries recognise same sex marriages, but that number is growing each year as LGBT rights become more widely recognised. Public opinion has changed dramatically in recent years too.
In the UK, male homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967, although it was to be many more years before LGBT people enjoyed anything approaching equal rights, with same-sex marriage not being recognised until 2013. During the 1980s, public attitude moved backwards in its recognition of LGBT rights, partly because of the 'gay plague' publicity in the popular press resulting from the dramatic rise in AIDS cases, and an arguably homophobic Conservative government that introduced legislation banning councils and schools from 'promoting homosexuality', and not repealed until 2003. Since then, public attitudes to LGBT people have gradually become more enlightened.
Around 80% of the population in the UK now support same-sex marriage, compared to 50% just fifteen years ago. However, attitudes vary enormously according to age, with older people brought up in less enlightened times. Even now, people aged 16-25 are six times more likely to identify as gay or bisexual than people over 65.
However, LGBT people still suffer discrimination in their day-to-day lives. There are over 7,000 homophobic hate crimes recorded by the police each year, a number that has been growing in recent years, although LGBT people are now more likely to report hate crimes. And there are over 10,000 men still alive who were convicted and often imprisoned for homosexuality offences before decriminalisation in 1967. Alan Turing, the wartime code-breaking mathematician and Hastings resident, was forced to undergo 'chemical castration' as a punishment for being gay, as recently as the 1950s - a cruel and irrational punishment that probably led to his suicide in 1954.
But this Sunday will be about having fun and celebrating diversity - something we do so well in Hastings. There's a full programme of live music and DJ sessions throughout the day and evening, as well as community stalls, market stalls, food & drink, and a family funfair. We can celebrate how far public attitude and legislation has progressed since I was born, just a couple of months before Alan Turing's suicide. It was always wrong to criminalise people because of their lifestyle and mutually consenting sexual preferences. So let's enjoy a festival of glittery aliens, space invaders and Jedi Knights as we celebrate how we now recognise the rights of everyone to enjoy their lives without unfair discrimination or harassment.
Council Leader's column