Normally at this time of year Jack and I would be out in Soho celebrating Pride with friends and strangers. This year is a bit quieter, but with everything going on in our world I believe Pride’s message of inclusivity, diversity and personal courage is needed now more than ever. So if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to share with you a little of my story as it relates to Pride…
Born in ’78 I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s when the word gay (and all its synonyms) were used at school to describe anything that was weak, rubbish, or less than. I was also taught from a religious perspective that homosexuality offered a one way ticket to hell. Whilst I didn’t identify as gay until I was 19, I was certainly discouraged from some of the ambiguous feelings I felt before then as I went through my teens.
“As a young Barrister in training… I decided to take the risk of being outwardly gay from the start…”
At 19 I fell in love with my first boyfriend whilst studying law at Bristol Uni. We had met at a party – and there were the feelings – and it all just clicked. We were together for a couple of pretty blissful years before we split just after I moved to London to take the Bar. By then I was happy to identify as gay and it was pretty exciting to now be living in (arguably) the international gay capital of the world, London. I made the most of it (!) and one of my more surreal memories is taking Graham Norton as my date to the Inns of Court School of Law Graduation Ball in 2001.
As a young Barrister in training at 12 Kings Bench Walk, I decided to take the risk of being outwardly gay from the start, and the fact that I was able to do that is to pay tribute to the bravest Judges and Barristers who came out to the ridicule and violence of press, public and profession in years gone by. Part of Pride is remembering the heroes that fought for freedoms that are already taken for granted. It was an honour to be elected as Chairman of the Bar Lesbian and Gay Group and wonderful to see that organisation continue to thrive today.
“…I also remember looking at all of the faces of the commuters on the train watching the scene – none of whom intervened or said a word…”
It wasn’t all completely smooth sailing though – there were occasional homophobic remarks even amongst colleagues and frequent slurs hurled at me on the streets, particularly when holding hands with another man (which still sometimes feels dangerous today).
One evening in 2003 as I was on the train home from court I decided to put my arm around my boyfriend at the time. A group began throwing food at us and calling us homophobic names. When we got off the train at Clapham Junction three of them ran after us and assaulted us on the platform. I remember not feeling any pain as everything slowed down – I also remember looking at all of the faces of the commuters on the train watching the scene – none of whom intervened or said a word. We were also disappointed by the police who never followed up on our report. In the end I drafted my own statements and sent them in – but never received an acknowledgement or reply.
“I hope that society can open its heart to become more educated, inclusive, and wise…”
So, when I was cast as the face of Pride in 2005 I was pretty excited to be associated in a small way with the great history of gay pride. Being gay in a straight world has taught me the importance of knowing myself, standing up for myself, and I have come to understand the damage that is done when young people are brought up in a society that does not represent them as equals or offer them healthy role models. As I see my trans brothers and sisters and people of colour continuing their fight for equality, I hope that society can open its heart to become more educated, inclusive, and wise. I hope I can too.
Despite everything, I feel hopeful that the trajectory of our world is moving us closer to equality, to peace, and love.
Love is love.
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By Neil Seligman
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