Michael Taylor (left) and Neil Summers.
Michael Taylor, who presents Music Therapy with Neil Summers on Tameside Radio on Sunday evenings, reflects on the role music has played in the cultural shift of accepting people for who they are.
One of the most positive social developments in my lifetime has been the acceptance of who people can love, writes Michael Taylor.
It is a basic fact that some people love other people of the same sex. Sadly it’s also true that the ability to accept that, live with it, and respect those that do has also been a constant.
Music, film and theater has played such a strong and positive part in that cultural shift. Shamefully, professional sport is woefully lagging in that respect.
But the journey to how the Pet Shop Boys and Years & Years were celebrated as Glastonbury headliners and equality has been achieved was never smooth.
None of my school friends were confident enough to ‘come out’ though obviously many years later did as they either moved away or found a space and time that meant they were more comfortable doing so.
In my first week at University in 1985, one of my new flatmates told me he was gay, but begged me not to tell the others. It feels shocking writing that in 2022 at a time when my sons and their generation are entirely comfortable with who people are and who they are attracted to.
But this was a time when assaults on gay people were frequent. Discrimination was rife, and in 1987 the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher introduced Section 28 of the local government act to ban the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality. I remember marching against it in Manchester and celebrating its eventual repeal ten years later.
It was also the age of AIDS, which was misunderstood and often dismissed as a ‘gay plague’ with public figures like Manchester police chief James Anderton providing the commentary: “Everywhere I go I see evidence of people swirling around in the cesspool of their own making.”
Artists that we celebrate as gay icons – Boy George, George Michael, Elton John and Freddie Mercury – were hounded by the tabloids and forced to deny they were gay, or live a public lie in sham marriages.
The early pioneers of being gay and proud were Jimmy Sommerville and Tom Robinson – who’s anthem Glad to be Gay – did so much to shore up support story of how new wave music fans could make the link between left wing agitprop and the struggle for gay rights .
But Sommerville’s band Bronski Beat and the 1984 hit Smalltown Boy dramatically upped the ante for projecting the gay experience into the public ether. The video featured a young gay lad first hooking up at the swimming baths, then getting beaten up, arrested for it, and chucked out by his angry parents.
The sleeve featured the numbers for gay helplines and a reminder that the UK age of consent at 21 was out of step with many other western countries.
I remember Sommerville being critical of other artists that everyone knew or were assumed gay – like the Pet Shop Boys – for not being as overt as he was. When PSB’s Neil Tenant eventually came out in an interview with Attitude magazine in 1994, it was all set up as this big deal, which seemed unfair and placed a large burden on him when his contribution to gay iconography and self-confidence was pretty obvious.
Still, as a mark, we’ll be recording a bit of a Pride special on next week’s show.
You can listen to Michael Taylor and Neil Summers on Music Therapy on Tameside Radio 103.6FM on Sunday evenings from 9pm to 11pm. Click here to subscribe and catch up on previous shows.
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