THE LOG BOOKS
Season 1 Episode 5 “You might well be very angry!”
Date: 02.12. 2019
Presenters: Tash Walker, Adam Smith
Producers: Shivani Dave, Tash Walker, Adam Smith
Music: Tom Foskett-Barnes
Artwork: Natalie Doto
AS: This episode contains stories about racism and stories with sexual content.
[telephone dial tone, music]
This is a poster pasted into the log book on November 3rd 1981. And it starts in all caps ‘DEFEND JUDITH WILLIAMS.’ If your employer told you that you were excellent at your job and then added that you were temperamentally unsuited for it -you might well be surprised. If you were then asked to resign you might well be very angry. Unlikely -well, that’s exactly what has happened to house parent Judith Williams.
TW: I really like how this entry ends – the last line saying ‘this is blatant discrimination and Judith is determined to fight her sacking. Support her struggle!’
AS: The poster is about this woman Judith Williams who was respected as an openly lesbian woman, it says, in North Wales where she lives and works. And she was working in a home for adolescents but even though she was well liked by other staff she was sacked because she was a lesbian and she refuses to deny it -in the language of the poster. So, the poster is calling on people to campaign on Judith’s behalf to say that this employment issue is very very unfair and that she shouldn’t be sacked because she is a lesbian.
TW: You’re listening to the Log Books – stories from Britain’s LGBTQ+ history and conversations about being queer today.
AS: In partnership with Switchboard: the LGBT+ helpline. I’m Adam Smith.
TW: I’m Tash Walker.
AS: Now when I think about moments of history like this where there was a clear legal issue to be fought it makes me think… what would I have done. And even today am I doing enough in the fight for rights for all sorts of people?
TW: It is a complicated question am I doing enough and what would I have done then? Even today, in 2019, where people cannot be fired on the grounds of sexuality or gender identity more than a third of LGBT people have hidden that they are LGBT+ at work for fear of discrimination. So there’s something still left over some hangover from these archaic attitudes from the 70s and prior to that time that are still impacting people today.
AS: I looked up the Judith Williams case and I found that the employer said that it ‘required its workers to be mature, stable, adults who identify with the conventional adult model normally accepted by society’. Which I mean it just sounds terrible and in 1981 that clearly didn’t include lesbians like Judith.
TW: Episode 5 - “You might well be very angry”
AS: Our theme this episode is rights and activism. And we’ve spoken to an early member of the Gay Liberation Front, and some activists in the Women’s Liberation movement …
TW: Someone made to quit his job for being gay as well as someone who feared she might lose custody of her son for her lesbian …
AS: And of course, we have spoken to all Switchboard volunteers who took the calls and heard these stories.
And to give us the overall legal picture first of all
Hi, I am Justin Gau. Barrister in private practice. I’m in my late 30s, which counts being 53 now. In the late 70s gay men effectively had almost no rights that we would recognise that they have … that we have nowadays. There were no employment rights, there was no inheritance rights for your partners assets, you were criminally liable for actions that would not be prosecuted with heterosexuals. You didn’t have the protection of the law - in terms of your health, in terms of your job, you had no rights to marry, you had no right to be in a civil partnership, in all those circumstances you were effectively a second-class citizen - and that pain of course drove certain people very firmly into the closet. Certain organisations were not allowed to employ gay men – so the police, the military, the foreign office. The Foreign Offices justification for not employing gay men was they’d be subject to black mail and when it was pointed out if they made it lawful to employ them, they wouldn’t be subject to black mail - they couldn’t quite follow the logic. So that maintained, I think until the 1990s or later. You were allowed to discriminate against gay men so it was quite possible to say in any walk of life – we will not employ you because you are gay. So teachers, lawyers, or all those sorts of things were simply would not be employed or would lose their jobs.
TW: As Justin says one of the most glaring areas of inequality was in employment law.
AS: Just like with Judith Williams, who we heard about at the top of the episode. And we have a similar story, actually, from Tony Whitehead.
I got the job at British Home Stores partly because a good family friend said - Well give it a go. I though well, ok. I’ll give it a go.
AS: He told us about a first political action that he took in a very long line of political campaigning and it started entirely by accident.
The CHE was the campaign for Homosexual Equality, so it had a campaigning ethos. It was also, in many ways, a social group, so we’d sit and talk, we’d meet whatever. And I got involved and after being in Gay Soc in university it was a natural step. And so, Southern Television I think it was BBC Southern TV -I forget- made a little film about gay life on the south coast, particularly around the groups in Brighton. But there were these scenes where I was met, or I met a boyfriend at the station in Brighton and we kiss and then we walk off hand in hand or arm in arm. And that attracted a lot of attention. Certainly, attracted the attention of British Home Stores. So, I started o the Monday, the film was shown on the Friday evening, Saturday morning I was called into the manager’s office: ‘Was it you on the film?, because I don’t think any names were given. ‘Yes, yes it was me I am gay.’ Brilliant I thought ‘Did you like it?’ I said to him, well clearly not.
He said: ‘Oh, we don’t know what to do about this. This is serious.’ and …and so I was suspended -on pay -while they contacted their head offices and tried to get some idea of what to do. I told everyone in the group in Brighton, oh I felt angry… I was up for I felt … I felt angry … I didn’t feel cowed or apologetic at all. I was really just … I though well this is going to be interesting. So I contacted the local group. I contacted -I think it was then called the National Council for Civil Liberties. It seemed very fast to me because at the same time as actually … being really really up to be public about this I was then as I have always have been fairly shy person so it was an amazing … rollercoaster of feelings. Quite quickly we had demonstrations outside the store in Worthing -from which I’d been suspended- and there’s demonstrations spread to the major stores in different parts of the country and in particularly Oxford Street.
And that got a lot of media attention as well. But I mean it a good story for TV because you had for example men in drag going into the stores to protest loudly. And so when you think about it -from a distance -that probably made it a good story for the evening news.
And was I coming out to my parents I hadn’t lived at home really since I was 16. So I had to phone up my mothers and say ‘Mum tonight - in about ten minutes time is going to be on the 6 o’clock news that I had been suspended from work, there was something on the national campaign, it was on the news and yes, I was gay.’ Course I got a kind of reaction many people had reported mum said, ‘I always knew I just wondered when you got round to telling us and my father was going ‘Oh dear!’. One was upset and the other was not surprised. Mothers always seem to know. At BHS I was called into a meeting at the headquarters on the Euston Road, I think, not far from Baker Street. Big board room. I forget how many people sitting there but mostly men in suits -six or seven - I think something like that and people taking notes. And I was just grilled, interrogated, verbally beaten, for quite a long time. What it seemed to hinge on was that they were saying British Home Stores is a family firm therefore you being publicly identified in the media as gay, could bring us into disrepute and you know damage our family friendly reputation.
They went through my contract as a trainee manager very carefully and said -look what we are going to do is we are going to move you every time you public identify yourself as gay we’re going to move you again.
So, I would be zig zagging across the country from one store to another and we were talking about … not just sort of around the south coast - we were talking between London and the North and Scotland and whatever. And they just beat me down instead of insisting that they sacked me I just was physically and mentally exhausted - this was went on for hours. Just hours. I did the best that I could then under the circumstances. I didn’t beat myself up about it. These days we would call what happened constructive dismissal, I think. When I was the centre of so much publicity about this this discrimination at British Home Stores, I did hear from other people about how they were worried about coming out at work or indeed how they had themselves or knew of people who had lost their jobs because of being publicly identified as being gay. So this was an issue which affected many many people. And I think a lot of people were not able in the fortunate position I was in that I could get up and make a public fuss with a lot of support - because my situation in Brighton and then coming up to London was very different from some and from many many other parts of the country.
AS: At the same time sex -especially between men- was heavily policed as we heard in episode 4.
TW: Right, with such complex laws around sex in public and of course the age of consent between two men was high at 21 -before later lowered to 18 and then lowered again to 16 in 2001- to fall in line of the age of consent between a man and a woman.
So, this a log book entry from July 2 1978 and the volunteer is called Paul.
Call from a 16-year-old guy. Parents have found out he’s been getting screwed by a 40 year old man and are informing police. He was more worried about the man than himself. He’s been screwed about four times three of them by the man and he intends to say he is very promiscuous and completely gay - hoping to get his friend off the hook. Does anyone know if this is likely to do any good and if not, what will?
Also, can it be proved by medical examine how many times he has been fucked etc? Can he, at 16, be made to undergo medical examines against his will? Any ideas at all? The caller is ringing me on Monday as his parents came home, and he had to ring off quickly.
AS: And there are two replies in this log book entry from two different volunteers.
The first one says when these situations arise the parents rarely understand that not only is the senior party liable to be prosecuted but also the kid.
And the second reply- from a different volunteer in different handwriting- says he can be made to undergo a medical examination which can detect he has been fucked although not how many times.
He should persuade his friend to contact solicitor asap.
When I started out as a barrister back in the 1980s gay sex was only legal between consenting adults then aged over 21 - in private. It was -slightly embarrassing to have to say -bread and butter for baby barristers in the criminal world still to be able to pick up the brief to defend and/or prosecute people for offence of gross indecency and also absurd, certainly by current standards, absurd pornography offences. And indeed entrapment, of course, there was still police - young classically - young male police recruits who were considered to be pretty enough were shoved into tight shorts and t shirts and sent into public lavatories and snaffled a few sad old men who got their willies out.
My name is Damian Lochrane and I was a barrister until 2009, when I became a circuit judge sitting in the family courts in Essex. The impression that we always had - it is possibly unfair -but the impression we always had was that the police, I think still are, and then were, were interested in the statistics of recording and prosecuting successfully crime. The reality was that the way in which those offences were prosecuted meant they were easy statistical success for the police. First of all of course there was a significant public embarrassment involved in any kind of publicity surrounding those kinds of offences and so the incentive for anybody who was entrapped into that kind of offence - or encouraged, perhaps -into that kind of offence was to get it over and done with as quickly as possible and that involved a plea of guilty or a caution of some kind. And that was a tick statistics for the police, of course that was a nice plus for their statistics and it involved very little paper work and very little involvement in serious prosecution etc.
TW: Whereas the laws around sex largely affect men - the laws around child custody affected lots of women.
AS: Femi tells us more.
One of the biggest risks for woman when they came out as lesbians that they might lose custody of their children. So, in the late 60s, early 70s, this had been pivotal for lesbians and there were groups called the Lesbians Mothers Group who worked with women to help them try and keep custody of their children. It was very very important that woman left - say the family home - with their children before, if at all possible, that their partner found out that they were lesbian because if they did make representations to court then that would be seen as reason enough - their lesbian would reason enough for them to lose their children.
Log entry September 24 1975. Volunteer was Eric:
Woman rang to ask if I knew anything about a case of a woman who was living with another woman who was refused custody of her child - in spite of medical evidence that the child would have been better off with mother. This was ,for a case now, very similar which she wanted the info to help her with. Said ring back Angela - just in case you know anything you about this case or any other. Also sent her to Sappho.
PS just realised I didn’t ask her which side she was on – probably the mothers.
It was one year when Women’s Own put the Switchboard phone number in its diary and suddenly we started getting calls from married lesbians who were literally sneaking downstairs at one or two in the morning to phone us while the family was asleep. And they knew that they were lesbians - quite often they were in love with the woman next door or something like that or their best friend or whatever -and they had agreements that they would not tell their husband or leave their husband until the kids had grown up and left. Because lesbians never got custody of their kids in those days for starters. Either their kids would go to the father and if he didn’t want them, they would go into state care because lesbians were thought to corrupt their kids. Gay men who left their wives wouldn’t get any form of access either. So, they were literally just waiting to be able to come out until it would not destroy the family.
We ended up going to court and having to battle for custody for my son - which was very difficult. And I had to go to the Strand in London, which was daunting, but it was something I did very much on my own. My name is Elaine. Even though my brother was gay and lots of my friends were gay …his friends. Coming out myself was such a different journey. I think that’s mostly because I had a son. When I was going through the breakup with my husband, I felt that because it was something that in the early 80s was almost out of … certainly my experience … about what would happen to me - how will I keep my son. Fortunately for me I was a low earner at the time, so I had legal aid. So, I got probably the best brief in London on legal aid. She fought for me to keep custody of my son. It was a very difficult time I have to say if any time I’ve had a difficulty in my life I just think look what happened there. And I actually went to the court on my own because I wanted to follow that journey - and it was quite daunting when I see it on television that huge great door. It worked out ok. I think the most difficult thing for me was having to stand up and to own who I was in a very public way. And the fact that the prize at the end of my bravery -I guess- was that I would hopefully keep my son. Because leaving a man for a woman in those days I think was seen as quite shocking. And I was very fortunate that I did actually get joint custody of my son.
AS: So many people coming against so many battles coupled with the sweeping changes in the 70s. More and more groups we rebeginning to emerge and organise
TW: Yeah and joining the likes of Campaign for Homosexual Equality and the Gay Liberation Front whose UK branch was formed in 1970 - inspired by the movement in the US which erupted after seeing the effects of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City.
AS: And I spoke to Ted who was there on the first march organised by the Gay Liberation Front in London.
The fact of the majority of lesbian and gay people were forced into the closet was a fundamental issue that needed to be challenged by GLF - if we were going to progress in anyway. Now as I understand it the very very first public demonstration in central London by lesbians and gays was the youth group of the GLF meeting together and organising a march through central London from Hyde Park, along Oxford Street, down the Haymarket to Trafalgar Square - in protest against the unfair age of consent laws. At the time ff you were a gay male you had to be over 21 and you were only allowed to have sexual congress with another adult over the age of 21 and it had to be in private. Because it was initiated by young people from the Gay Liberation Front it was … the main theme was always for gay people to be out. Right. And to show that we had pride in ourselves and to confront straight people with the reality as opposed to the stereotypes that they were aware of.
So, in the early 70s a book was published called Everything You Want to Know about Sex and it was published by David Rueben whose prejudices were so obvious that they couldn’t be hidden in his very unscientific and misleading information about sexuality generally. But his targeting of the lesbian and gay community was clearly very hostile and full of inaccuracies. Statements such as - gay men can’t have any lengthy relationships and if they do they are just nothing but bitterness and back biting and insults. And in accuracies about our sexual behaviour - such as saying that most gay sexual activity involves shoving cucumbers up our anuses which is obviously just absolutely ridiculous. And so Gay Liberation response to this by creating a massive papier mache cucumber, which we painted green. And we took along to the offices of Pan Books in December 1971 and we had the editor of the first gay newspaper, Dennis Lemon, bending down in front of this cucumber and we waved it around his bottom to show our offence at the way that our sexuality was being portrayed.
TW: Although the GLF had a massive impact at that time it dissolved in the mid 70s and some members went on to form a little volunteer led organisation called Gay Switchboard.
AS: That is amazing. You can only imagine what it felt like in the air - this big moment of change and organisations coming out of what was then the Gay Liberation Front like Switchboard. This electricity of change in the air led to all these meetings, and discussions, and groups. And that what the next few log books show.
This is a log book entry November 19 1975:
Speakers and film wanted. Surrey University Gay Society are having a discussion meeting on the political aspects of gayness on December 3. They want to find speakers and if possible, a film. Please contact Sylvia with suggestions.
This is a log book entry from March 18 1976:
Meeting Friday and Saturday. Caller rang regarding an entry in this weeks’ Time Out which reads as follows ‘Conference on politics of sex. Papers on abortion, rape, gays, pornography, prostitution, and the age of consent. 11- 6 both days at Central London Poly School of Communication. Fee £1 per day. George Melly playing Friday evening.
AS: There was nothing about the rights of transgender people on that conference agenda.
TW: Yeah, and Chryssy who told us about her own transgender journey - remembers how and why it was not considered in the late 70s.
People’s ideas of their rights of trans of people in 1970s -quite simply, they didn’t have any. And I suspect it wouldn’t be a question that many people would ask because I think the known assumption that and correct assumption was that they didn’t have any rights. In the 70s I don’t think there was a distinctive group or campaign for gender-based rights – I mean transgender based rights. Lots of feminist and campaigning feminist campaigning is always been trans inclusive its just not true to say that second wave feminism was trans exclusive. But it has always been a contested area of inclusion or exclusion and obviously continues to be.
AS: So, Tash in late 1978, of course, gay activists in London would have been preparing for what was going to be the 10th anniversary of the Stonewall uprisings in New York by creating a special sticker for people to stick on them and wear when they went out.
TW: But as we heard in episode two there were often risks involved in wearing something such as a badge that outed you so this Stonewall sticker was pretty discrete simply saying ‘Stonewall and 69.’
AS: And so, we found the log book entries where there is a bit of a dispute between volunteers about this because it looks like not everyone approved or even understood.
This is a log book entry from December 31 1978. New Year’s Eve:
Can anyone tell me who apart from middle aged American gay libbers is going to understand the significance or relevance of the stone wall stickers. Why are they so vague?
This is a log book entry January 4 1979:
Re Stonewall Stickers. Yes, they are deliberately vague. This helps with their appeal to people in pubs and clubs who wouldn’t wear a gay badge. It makes people wonder what the hell it is all about? Some people have said they quite like the 69 bit as well. As well as this a series of stickers and posters will also be appearing between now and June carrying the same basic design and lettering but with progressive “gay” content. Those of you have worn them may have noticed people asking what you what Stonewall is about the idea is that you explain it and they understand.
AS: The march for freedom that lesbian and gay activists were on of course merged with similar long walks around women’s liberation and racial justice.
TW: Evidence of which can be found in the pages of the log books.
This is a log book entry from May 22 1978. It starts in bold caps.
VERY IMPORTANT. As their elections hopes have been squashed by the anti nazi league - the nazis types are turning increasingly to open violence to achieve their aims with the attacks and murder of Asian people in the East End. So we expect the worst. I was feeling enthusiastic about a new sense of gay pride and solidarity which I had encountered at the events I have been to this week. But the bomb attack – was it sent in gay pride week by coincidence -and the near riot and police assault on two women in the Marlborough last night just show how vulnerable our gay movement is and how many enemies we have.
SC has been to see the injured manager in hospital and reports that his facial injuries are not as serious as was feared but his hands are badly burned and he may have to have skin grafts.
This is a log book entry from September 9 1975:
Meeting at Nucelus, 11 September. If Gay Switchboard is interested - can go along. Ring for correct time - I forgot to get it. Also they are organising a demo against the National Front and want to help to get gay contingent.
NF AGM at Chelsea Old town Hall Kings Road Saturday October 11, 10am to 6pm.
This is a log entry November 1 1981. Volunteer Pete.
I thought Gay Switchboard was a non-political organisation? Why is the Gay Switchboard banner on the CND march? Surely gays should be working in and marching with existing groups than being separatist.
Comments added by Gus:
Gay Switchboard is not political? Is this the dictionary definition of non sequitur?
At the time I was on Switchboard I had already been involved in the women’s liberation movement -as we called it at that time. In fact, I had been involved with that first and that was my first love and my first source of support as a lesbian. The two movements -at that time – they didn’t feel to me that it as though there was very much overlap. So the gay agenda and it we called it the gay agenda we had to work quite hard a bit later to make it the lesbian and gay agenda seemed to be quite different. So gay man were concerned with the age of consent, pretty policemen, importuning and with lesbians we were concerned with lesbian custody, and … things about lesbian sexual health. So, there were different agendas
AS: And within Switchboard itself political personal tensions rose mainly around the male volunteers - who didn’t seem to recognise the extra struggles of the women. Which would later cause some serious ruptures in Switchboard. Tash, you’ve got a log book entry about this …
TW: Yeah, there is this entry which is pasted into the log book July 8 1976 its typed up and its entitled ‘Sexism’ its an issue about a poster for the lesbian group which was removed and replaced by a poster publicising a Switchboard benefit. But it goes on to say ‘whoever removed the lesbian group notice did not pause to question his right to do so nor the priorities which he affected in so doing’.
And then a bit later on it states: ‘this two when for most of us the women’s group is the only group which gives us a firmer sense of commitment to Switchboard - to have to use the space marked personal trivialising our purpose and belittles our aims. Why don’t we have more women on Switchboard? Why is sexism always discovered elsewhere never at Switchboard. Why don’t we have more women on Switchboard?’
AS: So, hearing all these stories makes you realise that Britain’s come a long way in legal rights like equal employment law, protections from discrimination, even marriage -which of course people in 1974,when Switchboard started, could never imagine that there would be such a thing. It never comes up in the log books as something that people write about – the idea of marrying your same sex partner.
TW: And it makes me think about how far we’ve come just thinking to do with custody rights. The idea of having to plan your coming out around not only leaving someone, not only your career, the fear of losing your job - but also your children and your whole life becoming completely ripped apart.
AS: Does that still come up on call today?
TW: We get people contacting Switchboard whose children have just left for university or their opposite-sex partner has died, and they’re still waiting for those key markers in their lifetime in order to look at their sexuality or gender identity.
Yeah, there are some many things that jump out to me from what we’ve heard. I love Ted’s story about the cucumbers and the way that you have to find a sense of humour sometimes in activism to push through and keep at it, I suppose.
AS: But activists also need a little down time so in the pub after a recent GLF meeting Dan and John - representing two generations of activists- told us why the GLF is preparing to return.
There’s a reason obviously why it’s called Gay Liberation Front rather than Gay Assimilation Front because it is looking at much more interconnected, deep seated manifestation, of freedom for everyone because they are seeing that the fight against racism is the same fight against sexism, the same fight against homophobia and looking at the root causes which multiply them all. There has been a really interesting conversation between the people who started the modern pride movement - which was obviously born out of the Stonewall uprisings - and the corporation who co-opted a deep politicise and pacified it. The Pride in London Corporation which involves turning into a commercial miniaturist nightmare
It achieved legal change, but we’ve lost the social demographic surroundings that made gay liberation possible as a lifestyle.
A whole different movement that is evolving -there is a new inspiration amongst the younger generation that were making links people back then and are planning to take our revolutionary movement forward.
These legends have been at it for nearly 50 years so the 50th anniversary of Gay Liberation Front - the main conversation out of tonight was one event -a major event -at the beginning to kind of set the tone and to build connections. Obviously we have seen hate crime double in the last ten years with less prosecutions. So really about reclaiming space being proud of who we are - building a strong united front. I’m really excited about a series of actions which look at the common areas which oppress us like the breakdown of the health service, so building queer response to that or the thing around the Home Office - around their refusal to quash the convictions of gay men who are convicted pre partial decriminalisation. Because I would have been one … it’s not the sole reason I am doing it but reflecting on it …I would have been in prison for ever. And there is obviously examples of people who got convictions for being found in a toilet once!
AS: You can tell in the log books at Switchboard that there are these tensions between gay men and lesbians and no-one is really talking about bi sexual people or trans gender people. There are sometimes other words used for some of those but there are all these different categories of people - even within the categories. You know in lesbians there is butch vs femme that kind of thing and the categories are just changing all the time
TW: That is what we are going to look at in episode 6 which is going to be about definitions.
TW: Calls to Switchboard are confidential so to bring the log books to life we’ve changed the caller’s names.
AS: The Log Books is produced by Shivani Dave, Adam Smith and Tash Walker in partnership with Switchboard: the LGBT+ helpline.
TW: If you think other people would like The Log Books please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. These ratings and reviews really help others to discover the show. You can send us your feedback and stories to email@example.com
AS: Our music is by Tom Foskett-Barnes and our artwork is by Natalie Doto.
TW: Thanks to Stef Dickers and team at the Bishopsgate Institute.
AS: The folks at Acast,
TW: Gareth Mitchell at Imperial College London,
AS: The staff and volunteers at Switchboard.
TW: And all the contributors who shared their stories.
45 years on Switchboard continues to take phone calls from 10am to 10pm every day. If you are affected by any of the issues in this podcast or need to discuss anything to do with gender identity or sexuality you can call Switchboard on 0300 3300630; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or instant message via switchboard.lgbt where you can also donate money or time to help.