OPINION - We cannot forget that people like me were second-class citizens for so long

 (Evening Standard)
(Evening Standard)

Like many LGBT+ folk who came of age in the Eighties, I worked out a tough lesson young — that any sort of future happiness would probably be lived partially outside of the establishment. Religion called us sinners, schools behaved as if we didn’t exist, the police treated us as a criminal menace, Governments legislated against us, the press demonised us and comedy ridiculed us.

These things stick with you. At the time, I didn’t think about the laws I was unwittingly breaking at 16, when everybody else was legally allowed to have sex but us.

Petitioned for jury duty at Southwark Crown Court in my forties, I felt forcibly shocked by a sudden memory jolt walking through the airport security cordon in the foyer. What might life have looked like if somebody had caught me back then?

How long ago this all seemed on Wednesday lunchtime, during an engagement that I won’t forget in a hurry. I’d been invited to read from my book, Good As You, a pop-cultural roadmap to British gay equality, part -memoir, part-recent social history to the unequivocally brilliant staff and volunteers of my local cancer hospice, St Josephs, Hackney, to mark the start of LGBT+ History Month.

Greeted in the lobby by the hospice dog, Derek, an unusually yappy and attentive attendee, this was a chance to share stories with perhaps the most sensitively resilient branch of the establishment. It was an absolute honour. An implicit understanding of what the LGBT+ community faced during the timeframe I cover in the book, 1984-2014, during the volcanic HIV/Aids epidemic, hung over the event. I learned that day that the first patient at St Joseph’s suffered from Kaposi’s Sarcoma, the skin cancer commonly associated with Aids.

Each year, in six since publishing, I’ve had an array of calendar reminders of why I wrote Good As You in the first place. Last year a corporate bank playing inclusivity and diversity catch-up invited me in. Two years ago, Victoria Beckham recommended the book on her company Instagram. Being included like this on an annual basis goes a long way towards reconciling the divisions sewn when ‘gay’ was a casual byword for being a public menace.

I hated History at school. The entire subject left me with the empty sensation that gays were invented sometime around Joe Orton’s murder, David Bowie putting his arm around a bloke on Top of the Pops and Peter Tatchell arriving in London.

Looking at the brilliant LGBT+ history display in the coffee shop of St Josephs, a real jewel in Hackney’s crown, was a stark reminder of why this month matters. For 29 days, we get to feel that little bit closer to as good as you.

Catherine queen of the valley

Is Sunday about to become the most sorrowful sabbath? Are we about to see the death of blunt-speaking queen of our hearts, Calder Valley detective Catherine Cawood?

As speculation grows feverish about how Sally Wainwright has finalised the 16-year stand-off between Cawood (Sarah Lancashire at her most iconic) and problematically hot felon Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton at his terrifying peak), the countdown is becoming one of those moments social media temporarily sheds itself of toxicity to communally speculate.

Happy Valley’s return has lent some cross-generational excitement to the dryest January. At the heart of it is a hero for our times, avenging angel in hi-vis, unofficial angel of the North. This beleaguered emblem of Broken Britain manages to put a wry laugh into the grimmest of circumstances. For the love of God, send her to the Himalayas. She deserves it, does our Catherine.