If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, it was tough being a young gay teenager. It was not just the fact that an act of gay sex under the age of 21 was still illegal, our media reporting on all things gay did not reflect how I felt as a gay man. I had no role models and, as and homophobia was rife, I lived constantly in fear of discovery .
I did NOT relate to the acceptable face of LGBTQ plus on the telly, Danny La Rue, Larry Grayson, and John Inman, as this made me even more confused about my sexuality and gender. What type of role models were these? If this was what being gay was, and I was not like this, what was I?
I had long hair, wore Levi 501s jeans, white T-Shirts, James Dean style, and desert boots and, like so many other gay teenagers, found my porn in the photos of straight men. I could identify more within the men’s underwear section of the Freemans and Littlewoods catalogues that every poor and low-income household used before the advent of Amazon, although the joy of catalogues was that you could get the clothes straight away and pay back weekly. Why do I dwell on this Pride 2023? Because I truly believe the media portrait of gay men has NOT moved on since the 1980s. We are only acceptable on TV if gay men follow the old stereotypes of being camp, in drag, or are Love Island Style body beautiful. Mainstream TV still thinks that gay men only fit one of these stereotypes. Why is it allowed? How many gay teenagers find this offensive, impossible to relate to? Why as an LGBTQ community do we accept it?
Lesbians and the trans community have brilliant advocates and role models on TV, doing a hugely important role in helping young people deal with gender issues, which most teenagers have growing up, and yet gay men are still being portrayed as they were in the 1980s. Could this be in part why gay men in sport find it so hard to be open and come out of the closet? Ask yourself if women were treated on TV the way they were portrayed in the 1980s? Would you think it acceptable in 2023? If lesbians were only portrayed in the way they were in the 80s Cell Block H style, would that be acceptable? No. So I would argue why are the worst type of gay stereotypes the only acceptable face of being gay on the telly in 2023?
Pride month was once about protest. Today it’s a huge big business corporation marketing opportunity in which you are more likely to remember the advertising banners on the Pride march than you will those of us still demanding full equality. I am not demanding gay men are treated differently from any other, just that we are treated and represented equally and factually as we are and that Pride reflects its history, its heritage, its struggle and shows solidarity globally with the LGBTQ people of the 70 plus countries that still make being LGBTQ a crime. In this context it may seem superficial to just demand equality for gay men when, through my global multi-award-winning film, Liberty, Kath Duncan, The Untold True Story of the Struggle for Civil Rights smashing it with 31 International Film Awards across 23 countries this film festival season, for the first time the true story is told of how the LGBTQ activists of the past won freedoms, including the right to protest and right to free speech we all enjoy today. But, if pride is a protest, should not the G in gay have the same equality as all the other letters and groups under the rainbow coalition?
Ray Barron -Woolford FRSA is a Community Activist, Broadcaster, Author, Playwrite and multi-award-winning film maker. His latest Film Liberty is being screened on Sunday June 11th at 12.30 pm at Hatcham House, Queens Road, New Cross, London as part of PRIDE month. Globally the film is being screened at film festivals across the UK and abroad as part of this year’s film festival season.