Who are your LGBT heroes?

February is LGBT History Month so I thought it might be a good idea to talk about our LGBT heroes. Let us know in the comments who you admire and why.

Here are three of mine to start us off.

First of all, Dr Meg John Barker, who is an academic specialising in gender identity, sexuality and relationships. From their Open University profile:

Meg John is a senior lecturer in psychology at the Open University and has published many academic books and papers on topics including non-monogamous relationships, sadomasochism, counselling, and mindfulness, as well as co-editing the journal Psychology & Sexuality. They were the lead author of The Bisexuality Report – which has informed UK policy and practice around bisexuality. They are involved in running many public events on sexuality and relationships, including Sense about Sex, Critical Sexology, and Gender & Sexuality Talks. Meg John is also a UKCP accredited therapist working with gender and sexually diverse clients. Meg John’s 2013 book Rewriting the Rules is a friendly guide love, sex and relationships

I find their blog, Rewriting the Rules, a really useful learning resource, written in an engaging and interesting way.

You don’t have to be called Barker to be one of my many LGBT heroes, but you might think so, as my next one is our own Liz Barker. Her patient persistence in the face of opposition in the Lords on the most, to put it mildly, spurious grounds, over equal marriage, her raising of healthcare issues for lesbian, bisexual and transgender women in particular are wise and helpful. During that debate she said:

I have four specific points to put to the Minister. The first is to ask when Public Health England will put forward a strategy for promoting the health and well-being of lesbian and bisexual women. There is one for gay men; there is not for lesbians and bisexual women. Secondly, will NHS England develop a data standard on sexual- orientation monitoring? At the moment there is no monitoring of the way in which we interact with the NHS. Thirdly, the biggest problem is that GPs simply do not know how to talk to us. Can the Minister work with the Royal College of General Practitioners to develop some standards for questions to be asked of patients in a non-pejorative way? Lastly, in our work with GPs, could the health outcomes of lesbians and bisexual and transsexual women be part of the overall monitoring of GP practice?

We are citizens of this country. We are taxpayers. We support the National Health Service. It is only fair that we should expect it to recognise that we exist and should be able to access those services with dignity like everybody else.

My third hero is Sarah Brown, who was until 2014 a Councillor in Cambridge. She did more than anyone else to highlight the unfairness of the spousal veto in the same sex marriage legislation.

She was also brilliant in speaking out against the requirement that party members should go through police accreditation to get to Conference when we were in Government.

She summated the transgender and intersex rights debate at Conference last year when we passed a comprehensive policy to improve health and equalities laws. She said:

We have heard that trans people are treated poorly by equalities law. That it’s legal to fire us, that it’s legal to sack us from certain jobs, that it’s difficult to gain legal recognition, and even that process is subject to spousal veto.

Intersex people have no legal recognition at all. At the LGBT+ Lib Dems fringe yesterday, prior to this debate, we heard that intersex people are as common as redheads. The shocking way society treats them represents collective guilty secret shared by us all. The way the medical community treats both trans and intersex people betrays a medical community that has not learned from the decades it spent trying to “normalise” lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

Just as an aside, if you look closely, you’ll see several uses of phrases like ham-fisted and pig-headed. That debate took place the day the infamous story about David Cameron and the pig came out. The Conference bar the night before was a sight to behold as you could see the news spreading from group to group with huge amounts of mirth.

So who are your LGBT heroes?

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Jenni Hollis 14th Feb '16 - 12:38pm

    Great idea Caron!

    Mine is Mark Ashton, who was instrumental in the LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) movement – which in turn led to a progressive leap in the Labour Party’s attitude to LGBT equality. It’s 29 years since he passed away (aged just 26) – but he achieved so much because of his commitment to battling inequality and oppression in all forms.

    A bit more about him here: http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/sep/21/mark-ashton-gay-pride-film

    And if you haven’t seen the film ‘Pride’ yet – about Mark’s story and that of the Welsh miners in Thatcher’s Britain – watch it asap!

  • I met Bruce Galloway at the Union of Liberal Students (ULS) conference in 1983, the first out gay person I had ever met. He was chair of the gay liberals (I forget what they called themselves then) and I was completely shocked when not long afterwards he committed suicide.
    I joined the Young Liberals at the same time and got to meet the infamous David Senior who wore an astonishing pink suit. When I spoke to him he seemed rather shy, and yet at the same time he was an extrovert with some amazing song and dance routines, including the Alan Beith song that he wrote (Alan Beith was standing for leader of the Liberal party against Paddy Ashdown at the time). To the tune of “Baby Face” it went something like
    “Alan Beith,
    dynamic sexy Alan Beith,
    He’s not so boring really underneath,
    He’ll get you table thumping,
    He’ll get the adrenaline pumping…”
    – if anyone can remember the rest of the lyrics, I would love to know them!
    In the 1980s Young Liberal Facebook group there are all kinds of stories about what he got up to!
    And yet in those days supporting “gay rights” (LGBT rights came later), was tough and a lot more serious – not that it has ever stopped being serious.
    Names that jump out for me back then are Tom Robinson who famously sang the song “Glad to be Gay” which got into the charts, Ken Livingstone who was then the Labour leader of the Greater London Council and was incredibly bold, almost subversively so on this issue. He made me think on gay rights when I was a teenager and I decided to agree with him when previously I was, like my Tory parents, hostile.

  • For me – Bernard Greaves, a Liberal who was trailblazing on what we’d now call LGB&T or LGBT+ equalities and liberation long before the names that usually get the public namechecks, before I was even born, and is still an active grassroots LGBT community champion today. Consistently working on changing life for the better on a plethora of issues, fashionable or not, with or against the tide.

    And Kate Bornstein, who managed to get words into print and out into the world back when life outside the gender binaries was so much more isolated and isolating. For many people her work was a vital oasis in a desert.

  • For me it would be Stephen Frears and Daniel Day-Lewis and Gordon Warnecke. I have no idea what their sexualities are (i know one is married to a female) however it’s just to say thank you for the audacity of directing and acting the two lead roles in the ground-breaking `My Beautiful Launderette`. It was the first proper representation of Gay men that I could relate to on screen.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Feb '16 - 12:35am

    Thank you Caron for the chance to pay tribute.As someone whose professional and personal life ie steeped in the arts and especially performing arts , mine would be from there and a list!

    Sir john Gielgud , outed by an incident with a man when it was illegal,brought before a compassionate magistrate and treated leniently ,contemplated suicide , didn t do it , I met him on the night of his last performance on stage , at eighty!What a man !

    Emlyn Williams , one of the earliest to be open about,in his case , bisexuality,a great talent , much neglected

    Theres only one thing to say about the next one , Sir Ian Mckellan !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Ellen de Generes, Angelina Jolie, and the wonderful Conchita Wurst, terrific current or newer ones !

    Two very personal
    Leonard Bernstein, one of my greatest cultural heroes ,more gay than bi ,happily married for over a quarter of a century , left his wife to live with a man , missed her , went back to her , then she died .He never forgave himself .In another era he would have been free to be open minus guilt .Tormented , loveable genius!

    The most personal
    Jeremy Brett,out as a bisexual,encouraged me as a youthful actor , asked nothing, gave friendship to many of us glad to have known a wonderful man and talent.An absolute LGBT and mental health hero , who , with an extraordinary larger than life personality , was an out sufferer as bi polar too , and died prematurely , much missed !

  • Chris Rennard 15th Feb '16 - 9:56am

    The Liberal Party in the 1970s was far in advance of other parties and the only party really championing ‘gay rights’ with a commitment to support the changes to the law set out in the draft Bill drawn up by the ‘Campaign for Homosexual Equality’ (CHE). It was much less easier supporting equality at the time, especially if you were still at school, and suffering snide comments about the policy and about Jeremy Thorpe.

    At that time, I greatly admired many people in the party who were gay or spoke publlicly and bravely in support of gay rights when it is was much harder to do so than it is today. Many of them were in the Young Liberals when I was a member. Of the people mentioned by Geoffrey Payne, I worked with Bruce Galloway in the Chesterfield by-election (1984), knew Bernard Greaves well (when I lived in Leicester) and of course I knew people like David Senior (Vid) and many other people in the YLs or Union of Liberal Students (ULS) who promoted the cause of equality in a much less tolerant era.

    But for a hero to nominate here, I have to say it is Harvey Milk. I read about him when I was in the sixth form and in the US or the UK in the late 70s it seemed almost impossible for someone who was openly gay to be elected to public office. The documentary and the book “The Mayor of Castro Street” and the film “Milk” are amongs my greatest sources of personal inspiration. More about Harvey Milk here: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvey_Milk

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Feb '16 - 1:27pm

    The above posters show, as on the issue of electoral reform and green policy , how frustrating it is that the Liberal , and I include good Social Democratic Liberals and liberals, were ahead on the issue of gay rights, and are now languishing in lack of support , despite the coalition partner being the most gay supporting Tories ever!

    One of my choices above , Sir Ian Mckellan, was of course instrumental in the campaign against clause 28.He came out in order to openly oppose it , and , at the height or depth of the AIDS crisis , did such sterling work .We must not therefore forget the contribution of the Labour party then , individuals such as Michael , now Lord Cashman , fellow actor of Sir Ian McKellan, then , terrific also with him in the groundbreaking play , Bent.

  • Louis Eaks

  • Here’s mine – John Campbell – http://www.queerty.com/aids-activist-john-campbell-dead-at-39-20070605

    Perhaps more a demi-hero than a golden saviour, but by shear force of will John did much good for many people, and against the odds of his early years.

    I knew him, he had a vicious wit, and could be caustic when angry, but he was a good ally for a true cause, and an honest friend.

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