'There’s no guarantee for tomorrow': Gay Shrewsbury couple explain why LGBT History month is so vital
On July 1, 1972 Geoff Hardy marched through the streets of London.
He was accompanied by 600 others and stood proudly with a banner in hand on Trafalgar Square – he was part of the first national Pride rally and proud to say he was gay.
“You can’t live on your knees saying sorry for who you are. You need to stand up and look the world in the eye,” says Geoff from the front room of his Shrewsbury home overlooking the River Severn, where he lives with his partner Peter Roscoe.
The couple, who were the first gay men in Shropshire to become civil partners in 2005, help organise the Shropshire LGBT History Month in February.
“People did not cheer us and the police did not love us,” said Geoff recalling that first Pride. “It was a small march, but it was incredibly exciting.”
Geoff, now 68, was born and raised in Hertfordshire, and from a young age found other males attractive.
“The 1950s were very different to now,” he says. “Gender roles were very definite and there was only one way of looking at the world, and it certainly didn’t include me. I grew up knowing what I wasn’t, I couldn’t find myself, I just didn’t exist and had no reference points for the things that were going on within me.”
Geoff was bullied throughout school, but was very studious and became a political activist during the late 1960s counterculture and peace movements. But it was only when he moved to London, in 1971, to study at Goldsmiths University, that he saw an advert for Gay Liberation Front (GLF) meetings.
“There was and underground press and part of that was a paper called Ink,” he said. “I was sitting in my hall of residents reading and there was a little advert for GLF meetings at a hall in Notting Hill.
“I walked around the hall one way, then the other, then someone came and asked if I wanted to go in. It was terrifying. But when I went in I think for the first time in my life I relaxed. I had found my family.”
The GLF considers the fight for gay rights as part of a wider battle for equality, including race, gender and class.
“They’re similar struggles,” he said. “The other thing which was incredibly powerful for me, was that being gay was not the problem, the prejudice was the problem and the only way we would win the fight to be recognised was to come out.”
By this time the Sexual Offences Act 1967 had been introduced which de-criminalised private homosexual acts between men aged over 21, while at the same time imposing heavier penalties on street offences.
“It annoys me slightly when history has written that the law de-criminalised being gay in 1967,” he added. “It didn’t, but it was a step forward which left the door open.
“It gave the impetus with counterculture for us to say we’re not going to take this stuff anymore. It was come out, tell everybody who you are, and the problem of prejudice is their problem not our problem. The problem of living in a society with prejudice was our problem, but we could change that, and amazingly enough we were part of changing it.”
In 1994 the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act lowered the age of consent for gay men from 21 to 18, and in 2001 it was further lowered to 16.
Meanwhile the gross indecency terms in the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 – which criminalised sexual activity between men – were not fully withdraw until 2004.
In 2005 same sex civil partnerships were granted, and gay marriage was permitted from 2014.
Peter, 66, who grew up in Macclesfield and
also became an activist in London, met Geoff on a bus in the capital in 1980. After a few years they decided to move to the countryside and came to Shrewsbury.
“You were visible here in a way that maybe we weren’t in somewhere like London,” said Peter. “But it was all fine. You’d come across the off bit of prejudice here on there, but so did our black friends when they came.”
Their move to Shropshire coincided with the HIV and Aids epidemic.
“It was a horrendous time,” said Geoff. “Then it was if you’re queer then you’re definitely a danger. We saw friends die. People who we had campaigned alongside died horrendous deaths. People who were younger than us.
“Every now and again you get rashes, night sweats, headaches, feeling sick, and in that period you were just like ‘oh my god this is it’. We were enormously on edge.”
Nonetheless, the couple settled into life in Shrewsbury and have seen the fruits of their campaigning in action.
“I will see two young men walking hand-in-hand laughing and they are not aware of what they are doing, which is stunning,” said Geoff. “We do hold hands, but we know we are doing it. We are so programmed with the history we’ve had that we are still self concious.”
The pair have researched the history of LGBT movements in Shropshire and say it is crucial to learning lessons for the future.
“The decision in America where the Supreme Court effectively ruled that transgender people are banned from form the forces in the US is a recent roll back,” said Peter. “It makes you realise you can’t take things for granted and get complacent. We’ve come this far, but there’s no guarantee for tomorrow.”
There will be a full month of events. Visit shrewsburylgbthistory.org.uk