Pride at attitude change - but it has taken time
As the country marks 50 years since the sexual Offences Act, MICHAEL HOLMES talks to two prominent Fylde coast men on how times have changed for the better
Blackpool has been described as an ‘absolutely amazing place’ for gay people to celebrate their sexuality.
Its range of rainbow flag-clad bars, hotels, and the annual Pride festival, when thousands of visitors descent on the resort, has put the town at the forefront of sexual liberty.
Basil Newby who overcame persecution in the 70s and 80s to go and successfully run a string of gay-friendly businesses, including Funny Girls and The Flying Handbag in the town centre, said: “As the years have gone by, Blackpool has become as big as Brighton, and is the gay centre of the north.”
And Andrew Noble, 51, who founded Lytham Let Live after moving to the Fylde coast 20 years ago, said: “It’s very vibrant.
“It’s an absolutely amazing, very welcoming place.”
The pair spoke on the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, which decriminalised homosexual acts in private between two men.
It was seen as a landmark moment by some, and a catalyst of change that eventually led to gay marriage being legalised in the UK in 2014.
Others, including veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell, have voiced their dissent at the continued prosecution of gay men after that date.
Public displays of affection, including kissing and cuddling, saw gay people prosecuted under public order and breach of the peace laws as recently as the 90s.
Mr Tatchell said: “The 1967 legislation repealed the maximum penalty of life imprisonment for anal sex. But it still discriminated.”
The age of consent was 21, compared to 16 for sex between men and women, and the punishment for a man over 21 having sex with a man aged 16 to 21 increased from two to five years, he said. It continued to be a crime if more than two men had sex together, while gay military personnel could still be jailed until 1994, he added.
“Full reform did not happen until 36 years after 1967,” he argued in a comment piece for The Guardian.
Basil said he hid his own sexuality when he bid for a licence to run Flamingo in 1979, for fear of being rejected, and said engineers refused to fix the bar’s boiler in case they caught AIDs amid the epidemic in the late 80s.
But he said: “It’s a completely different ballgame now.
“On Pride weekend all the bars have gay flags outside. Even the bank did.
“In the 70s that would never have happened – you would have had your windows smashed in.”
Andrew, who came out aged 19, said he feels comfortable being himself in Lytham and St Annes, despite being scared of being the ‘only gay in the village’ when he moved to the coast 20 years ago.
He said he has been targeted by hate crime once since, but said he feels right at home.
He added: “I’m out all the time and I’m proud of who I am.”
Blackpool North MP Paul Maynard said: “We all know Blackpool has a range of entertainment catering for the gay community and I hope they continue to feel welcome.”
Two of the Fylde coast’s MPs are openly gay – Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden and Fylde MP Mark Menzies.