THE LOG BOOKS
Season 2 Episode 1 - “Please Be Gentle”
Presenters: Tash Walker, Adam Zmith
Producers: Shivani Dave, Tash Walker, Adam Zmith
Music: Tom Foskett-Barnes
Artwork: Natalie Doto
TW This episode contains stories about illness, death and ill-treatment and discrimination of people living with HIV and AIDS, which are terms used interchangeably in the log books and this episode because of the time period.
[Phone ringing tone]
LC: This is a log book entry from December the 21st, 1989, 6:45am: ‘I have just finished with a call with a nineteen year old man named John from Norwich who had been diagnosed HIV positive. His lover hit him, and walked out. John is full of self-loathing and can see no point in living. He eventually went off to sleep and I got him to promise to ring back in the next two to three days’.
Unknown: This is a tiny news clipping, from Capital Gay on August 24th, 1984, taped into the log book. “Sixty one AIDS cases, there are now sixty one cases of AIDS, according to the latest figures released by the DHSS. Deaths from the disease have also increased from thirty recorded cases, to thirty two”.
AZ: It just feels very scary because in these log book entries it’s starting to feel like, there is this thing and it is very real, and it’s growing. . .
TW: Yeah . .
AZ: You know, is this really growing? Is it just gay people?
TW: What is it? Yeah, what is it? What’s happening? I think just fear really.
[Theme music plays]
TW: You’re listening to The Log Books; stories from Britain’s LGBTQ+ history and conversations about being queer today.
AZ: In partnership with Switchboard, the LGBT+ helpline. I’m Adam Smith . . .
TW: And I’m Tash Walker. In this season, we’re reading through the notes made by the volunteers who took calls between 1983 and 1991.
[Theme music plays]
TW: Episode one, ‘Please be gentle’.
AZ: This is the first of three episodes this season where we’re going to be talking about the HIV and AIDS epidemic.
[Soft music plays]
AZ: When we were talking about planning this theme, HIV and AIDS, and realising that there’s so many log book entries about that and it’s such a huge part of our LGBTQ+ history, it’s going to be such a big part of The Log Books podcast, we realised, right, that we had to basically spread it over three episodes.
TW: Yeah definitely, and of course HIV and AIDS is still very much around today and pervades the entirety of this period of time that we’re talking about, but we really wanted to specifically dedicate those three episodes to HIV and AIDS directly. It’s not going to be chronological or definitive either.
AZ: Yeah, I guess we should tell listeners that there’s some difficult material coming, but there is also stories of life and living and strength and finding power and community through this time.
TW: Yeah definitely, and that’s one thing that’s really jumped out to us about the stories that we’ve collected. So you’re going to hear some voices from people who talk about their experience of being infected with HIV in the early years of the epidemic, including those who called Switchboard for help. We’re going to hear from a nurse and a doctor and of course, former Switchboard volunteers who heard about it all before anyone else. So let’s start, as always, by listening to the stories of those who lived it. Put yourself in Matthew’s shoes, a young guy, just going out for the first time.
MH: I’m Matthew Hodson. I first went to a gay club in 1983 when I was fifteen. I was still six years below the age of consent for gay men at that point, so I lied about my age, told people I was sixteen, I thought that was a bit better. And I went in and they were playing this incredible music, it was high-energy music, and I’d never heard anything like it and I had almost anticipated for the place to be full of people who look like John ? or people wearing long over coats or something like that, flasher macs, but instead it was full of gorgeous men with moustaches and checked shirts and tight jeans dancing to this incredible pounding rhythmic music and it was the sexiest thing I’d ever seen. And I met this guy, he was thirty two, he was American, he was a photographer, he was working on an assignment in London. We got chatting and he asked me back to his hotel . . . and . . we did what we did. And that was, fine, and I thought, ‘ok, tick, I’ve done that now’.
LC: I was living in a little village near Stratford-Upon-Avon. I was at home, at my parents. Hello, my name’s Leigh Chislett. There was a program on the telly called ‘Killer in the Village’. It was like Horizon, or Panorama, one of those and it was showing, I think it was San Francisco or New York, showing these gay men coming in with these purple leisions, these Kaposi's Sarcomas and their bodies had, they’d lost so much weight and difficulties breathing and again, I remember feeling very, very impacted by it and sort of scared but also intrigued. Yeah I was in a little 16th century cottage watching . . [Laughs]
[TV Program Plays]
Doctor: How long have you had those stomach pains altogether?
Patient: Hmm, actually, they started a week ago Wednesday.
Doctor: I see.
Narrator: The doctor suspects that John has an unusual form of pneumonia.
AZ: This Horizon documentary was really good at reflecting the confusion about what was going on.
[TV Program Plays]
Narrator: John is the latest victim of a wide-spread epidemic of bizarre infections, all connected with AIDS.
Doctor: Are they high fevers?
Patient: Uh, 102.
Narrator: Infact, it was this rare pneumonia that first alerted the Centres For Disease Control in Atlanta Georgia, that something very odd was going on.
LC: I even think I might have watched it with my mum being there, and of course I wasn’t out as gay at the time or didn’t really know about that, so I remember slightly feeling, as you do at that age, slightly uncomfortable because I knew they were talking about people like me. And so, um, yeah, so I remember being slightly aware of it but I just, I don’t know, there was something about watching that documentary that really . . . one I was intrigued, but even then I thought, you know, something’s got to be done, this is just, yeah, so that was what it was like, and you must know this, this was 1983, ‘84, things were different.
[TV Program Plays]
Narrator: . . . and in America, this new disease has already become an epidemic.
TW: Watching this intriguing document today, we can experience something of the fear viewers like Leighmust have felt.
[TV Program Plays]
Narrator: In New York, this is Greenwich Village. Centred in and around Christopher Street, on the west side of this traditionally bohemian district of Manhattan is a vast community of gay men, said to be hundreds of thousands. Here, the killer disease has taken its greatest toll of death, and of fear among those who walk in its shadow.
MH: So the same week that I first went to Heaven, was the same week that I first had consensual sex with a man. One evening that same week, there was a documentary on Horizon Documentary, called Killer in the Village and it was the first documentary as far as I am aware that was broadcast on British television about HIV. And it said it was a disease for which there was no treatment, for which there was no cure, which was fatal and it was something which you could catch from having sex with an American, and I’ve just had sex with an American, and I thought, ‘I’m fucked’. [Sighs]
[Soft music plays]
TW: To so many people, you know, young people, people of all different ages coming out onto the scene and immediately facing AIDS.
AZ: Yeah it must have been so difficult and confusing and then also having those stories in the media like ‘The Killer in the Village’ documentary, the BBC Horizon thing that we played a little clip from which made this correlation with what was going on in America, and especially New York.
TW: And didn’t you say there was another story that you wanted to tell me about Lee?
AZ: Yeah, so, he also told me that he remembers being in a bar, basically, a village pub and he overhear these two older gay guys, I guess Leighwas only like sixteen or seventeen at this point anyway so, so basically anyone was older [laughs]. And they were talking about, that they had heard of this disease and they thought that it was an American thing and they were just like ‘oh, you know, it's going to be an American thing, we don’t need to worry about it, let’s just not sleep with any Americans basically.’ It’s really interesting to hear Leightell that story from the early Eighties and from the very, very early days of the epidemic because that was actually something that was really, really pervasive, as the documentary ‘Killer in the Village’ shows, it was perceived, from the British point of view at the time, to be this American thing, and then as you can hear in this next logbook entry, that was actually a wider perception. This fear of Americans.
Unknown: This is a logbook entry from January 15th 1986. The volunteer who took the call was David. ‘Man phoned to say he had an American friend over, aged 23 years, who was refused at The Golden Lion and asked to leave by the landlord. It wasn’t because he was thought to be younger and therefore underage, he had drunk only half a pint, then asked just for a coke. Person who phoned feared it was an anti-American AIDS fear. Can’t be verified as such but it might be worth bearing in mind for US visitors’.
Unknown: Well it was definitely 1984, I saw my very first copy of Gay Times lying around the house of a guy who was publishing my computer games and the headline at the time was ‘Gay plague overtakes America’ or words to that effect.
[TV Program Plays]
TV Presenter: John got AIDS through homosexual contact in America. It is the promiscuous nature of parts of the gay community which has helped spread the disease across the world.
John: Living in a very large city, it becomes a very lonely life and I found that, being, getting affection from anybody really, was important and I finally got a lot of affection from men.
TV Presenter: So, how much of a threat is AIDs to the general public? How contagious is the disease? Doctor Stuart Glover.
SG: This is not a contagion, this is not a disease such as the plague which is spread by contact. It's not like small pox which could waft through the atmosphere and the virus could survive outwith the human body. I think the public have been led to believe, misled even, that this is something that is spread by very, very social contact. This is not so.
NCS: It was a very frightening story and as I was already aware that it was illegal to be gay, or I was just becoming aware that it was illegal to be gay, and now I was finding that gay men were dying quite suddenly, and nobody really could understand why. So, more or less in the same week that I realised my sexuality, I also realised that it was not an easy position that I found myself in. And I pretty much slammed the door and didn't think about it for some years after that. My name is Neal Cavalier-Smith, I was a volunteer at Switchboard in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.
JA: I think the earliest things that struck me from that time, and I can think of two or three particular examples. I think the overriding sense I got was of uncertainty. There was a real uncertainty, from everybody. What is this? What do we do? My name is Jane Anderson, I’m a doctor and I specialise in HIV infection. So I qualified on the 1st of August 1984. I started my first job as a doctor and my first day on call was being on call for the AIDS ward at St Mary’s hospital. The professor of medicine, for people of my generation at that time, knew everything. You know, he had a huge knowledge he taught us and I remember him coming to see a patient with AIDS and he stood at the bedside and he said ‘I’ve never seen this before. I don’t know what this is’.
TW: So Switchboard was very much in the eye of this because people didn’t know who else to call if they read about it, and were worried, who do you call? You call Switchboard. I’m Tony Whitehead. Oh dear I don’t want to lapse into cliché, but it really was at the eye of the storm and an eye of a really nasty thunderstorm because this was, people were starting to die, not in huge numbers back in ‘83, but in numbers that were significant. Of course we were hearing all about it, so it felt to us, quite overwhelming.
TW: Hearing Tony talk about the direct impact on the calls to Switchboard, Switchboard being at the eye of the storm, you know, it does remind you how, what is happening in the LGBTQ+ Communities or in the media has a direct impact on the calls that we get to SwitchBoard.
AZ: Yeah and then to actually think about an individual person who may be someone who calls Switchboard under those circumstances. In this case, maybe someone who is just newly diagnosed with HIV or something and, shall we talk about George?
TW: Yeah, let’s introduce George.
AZ: Yeah, we’ve got to introduce you to George, who did not call Switchboard at the time but he is the kind of person who could have done. He was affected by the epidemic from the beginning.
TW: Shall we just let George introduce George?
AZ: You’re right, yeah. Here’s George.
GH: In 1982, I’d just come back from spending two years in San Francisco, taking part in the gay community experiment where gay and lesbians from all over the world gathered to try and form a majority community and it was magic because here was a chance to be the majority rather than the minority. To have the power, to have the freedom to really start to express who we were. So I had spent two fabulous, and very formative, years as a queer hippie really, taking part in that wonderful experiment that we all took part in. But when I got back in 82, I brought the HIV virus with me. I had picked it up sometime in the three years before while I was there. My blood was being used in the Hep B trials, which they were taking people who had been in America. So when the test came in 85, they back tested me and I was positive in 1980, so I’m one of the longest survivors of HIV. It was really like a personal tsunami, you know, being told you were going to die. I don’t think you can really have a worse sentence put to you in your life and then watching your lover, your friends, all die, and just sitting there like a ticking time bomb waiting for your turn to come, and it didn’t come. Hello my name is George Hodson, I’m a 71 year, out, proud, fairy, queer whose lived with HIV and been blessed to survive for 35 years.
Unknown: This is a logbook entry from October the 22nd 1985. The volunteer who took the call was Tony. ‘A caller from a northern clinic reports that his doctor has given him no information at all on the result of his test being positive. He was asked to go to a psychotherapist who gave him a leaflet from St Stephens, but has only offered to introduce him to someone else in the town who has AIDs and has come home to die. He is totally depressed, has cancelled his hospital appointment, and is still ignorant as to what it means and what he can do. Can others log their calls here that show the general incompetence of the medical profession, it might be useful annecdotal evidence later on’.
TW: This is a logbook entry from 5th November 1985. The volunteer who took the call was Tony. ‘I’m logging this, not as a horror story, but because it may as ammunition later. At about 12:15 today a man rang who had been discharged from the Whittington Hospital after a stay of about 10 days. He’d gone in with sudden weight loss, a viral infection, chronic asthma, and severe bronchitis, these symptoms have been alleviated and he had been given, obviously, and he confirmed this, a very strong tranquiliser. He had, he said, no idea what was really wrong with him. The doctors had been told by him that he was gay but if they had done an HTLV3 antibody test, they had not told him or informed him of the result. He couldn't get home, [inaudible], and was extremely confused, barely awake and still ill’.
Unknown: This is a logbook entry from August 18th 1986, made by the volunteer Jonathan. ‘St Thomas’ has treated some volunteers disgracefully in connection with HIV at their STD clinic. They have succeeded in bullying some very strong minded men into taking the test against their will. Another client heard their result from an orderly via a cleaner while waiting. St Thomas’ have a shocking record!. On the other hand, St Mary’s tried to talk me out of it. They only agreed when it was clear that I understood the issues and then gave me every opportunity to change my mind. Since then, they have been sensitive and supportive. Have other volunteers had experiences like that at St Thomas’? Should we be recommending people use this band of prats?’.
[Soft music plays]
TW: Just some of the reactions from the medics in those entries. I mean where is the counselling?
AZ: Yeah, I guess you get the sense that even the medics probably don’t even know what to do. How to handle this information, how to handle the patients and knowing that the situation was actually so bad, if you got a diagnosis.
TW: Yeah, that’s so true, I mean no one knew what was going on.
AZ: So now we’re going to hear from Marc who told us about his own day of diagnosis after coming out onto the scene.
MT: I was coming home from work. I think I was fifteen, and I met this guy at a bus stop and he was just gorgeous, just stunning and turns out he’s a couple years older than me and he was my first boyfriend. I’m Marc Thompson, I’m fifty-one, and I came out in the summer of 1985. He introduced me to some of his friends and I remember my first black gay party, it was the night of July the 13th 1985. I remember it clearly, Live Aid was on and so we went to this party and it was filled with black gay men. I mean, my mind was blown and I was set for life, kinda. [Laughs]. You’d go in, they were usually in somebody's house, these weren’t clubs you know, there would be, you know, a DJ, you know, playing songs that I knew, my parents knew, my older cousins and stuff had played so it was very very black, british. ? and rice always, sometimes you’d get Jamaican patties, good bar, you know, rum. The usual stuff. The party would go like this; during the early parts of the party there would be soul, R’n’B, so what was current at that time, right. You might get Luther Vandross, Cheryl Lynn, Sharon Reg, you might get a little bit of soft disco in there, little bit of funk, some Diana Ross classics. Then throughout the night it gets more reggae, but usually the reggae that we’d grown up on at home, or popular hits. Then as the night would wear on, then you’d get lovers rock. So that black British slow jam kind of stuff. And that’s when you’d get a slow dance, you know, or as we would call it, crubbing. So, you’d get somebody or they would invariably get you and you’d start slow dancing up against the wall, you know, very little movement but a lot of action. [Laughs]. These are men who are second generation windrush, you know, because this the first genaration of black gay men born or migrated, here creating their space and their live, first ever, hadn’t ever happened before.
MT: It was end of November, ‘86, and I had a test two weeks before and did not expect a positive result, so I trotted along. As I said, I had lunch booked with a friend that afternoon and thought I’d be in and I’d be out. So I'd gone and I remember getting the results and just being, just, blown, just completely stunned, and, because I wasn’t expecting it. And it was really, you know, people talk about HIV being a death sentence, or was a death sentence, it wasn’t, I wasn’t given a death sentence, right, I wasn’t told by a Doctor ‘you will die in six months’, it was ‘we don’t know, we really don’t know’ and that was the hardest thing, you know, because you didn't know what to plan for, if you were going to die, and it was shame, all these things. I remember leaving to walk to see my friend, and I got diagnosed at Westminster Hospital which is at Millbank, it’s luxury flats now, and walking from there to Oxford Circus and all I could think about were two thin- three things really, one, telling my mum, two my grandfather, not telling him but my relationship with him, because I was so close to him and three, that’d i’d never have children and I always knew, even when I was reconciling my gay stuff, I always knew I was going to be a father, that was part of my plan, no two ways about it and at that moment, that option had been completely taken away from me, in that time. So, it was, there wasn’t anger at that time, that came later, that came much later. But there was a lot of sadness and disappointment and hurt. I did make the lunch date that afternoon and I just met this guy, I mean we met at a club, and we were going to have a date and I told him that I’d just, because I was, as you can imagine, completely shocked, because I’d just got my results and I had to tell him and he was so cool, I mean, so cool, just like, ‘You’re going to be ok’. I mean he was scared as well. We didn’t date, we didn’t go on to date. And to this day, whenever I see him, I make a point of saying, you know, ‘you kind of saved my life’, because if I’d got a negative reaction from that first person who knows where I could have ended up. And I told a couple of friends, at the time, and before I knew it, it started to just come out and I’d find out from people, like ‘Oh’, you know, or i’d meet a guy and I’d tell him and he’d say ‘Oh I already knew’ or, you now, and it was just horrible and so, that built up years and years of anger and resentment and I just couldn't be in that space, I felt really unsafe. I felt really, really unsafe, really angry, I think it was more anger, so I had to kind of withdraw.
TW: That story just shows, shows me how HIV affected interpersonal relationships, you know.
AW: Mhm yeah. So shall we go back to George now and hear a bit more about a big relationship in his life? Actually the love of his life? A man called Sam.
GH: One always wants to share one's love doesn’t one? I was working in Singapore for a year, which was like, it’s ok but it’s like the dreariest town in, you know, I’m an old hippie and there was no dope, and you got smacked if you spat out any chewing gum but I just got my head down, it was an introduction to Asia. So one holiday I thought ‘oh bugger this, I’m off to Bangkok and I’m going to smoke dope and dance the night away’, and I ended up in this wonderful lady boy club with this exquisite drag and then I saw this tall handsome man with a black moustache and he was wearing like an officer and a gentleman outfit, which is a sign of the civil service used to wear, and I was on the dance floor, I had had a thai stick in the taxi going there and hadn’t smoked for a year and was just way out of it and I could see he was watching me and I thought, ‘yeah, that looks nice’ and I hadn’t had sex for a year because in Singapore you know, you have sex, you have your willy cut off, almost. So, I thought, ‘wow he’s so lovely’, and he moved next to me and started talking in beautiful English and it was just, that wonderful moment that hopefully we all get a chance of having in life, where you ‘ting’ with someone, you just know that this is someone who you can create things with, who you can share things with, who you can grow with and we were never apart for the rest of our time. Eight years before he died, which wasn’t enough but it was still very powerful. I’ve got a lovely picture I'll show you when we finish, of Sam, a portrait in my bedroom.
LC: This is a logbook entry from March the 7th 1987. ‘Caller Patrick from York had an antibody positive test with no counselling at all. Had his lover Martin die of AIDS three weeks ago, wouldn’t talk to me but knows my name, called at 4:13 on March the 8th, hence the incoherent scribble. He could call back at any time. Please be gentle, he’s scared stupid’.
GH: Bless the doctors, they took this failed chemotherapy drug and gave it to people at huge doses, I mean they didn’t know what they were doing, and it was AZT trials that killed more people than HIV at that time. My partner Sam, was offered the choice of it, we both were, Sam went on AZT and shrivelled and shrunk and was dead in six months. I said I don’t want to go on it, I want to just carry on. I’d seen so many people die but of course to see your grand passion die in agony and degradation as so many of us did in the bad days was awful, awful. And I still carry him with me, with this cancer, when I was going through the MRI scan, I visualised and pulled him around me like a kind of suit of armour, if that makes any sense. Those we lost and loved, we still, I still pull them up and bring them to me when I’m in crisis or scared. Those that we love and lose, we don't really lose, they’re just our guardian angels behind, so when we need them we can pull their energy and their love and their memories to us to stabilise us, to strengthen us, to give us equilibrium, to love us still and to remind us that we need to love ourselves as well.
TW: Oh my god.
AZ: It’s really sad but really gorgeous at the same time to hear George.
TW: Yeah, do you want to? Shall we just try?
AZ: Listener, if you want to take a pause at this moment with us.
AZ: We’re just having a breather.
TW: Okay, we’re back, we’ve had a little break.
AZ: And we’re going to go into hearing from someone who helped to care for patients with HIV and AIDS.
LC: Hello, my name’s Leigh Chislett. At the age of twenty-one, I started work in an HIV ward in central London. When I finally got to work in the sexual health clinic, there was, you started to see people come in with their partners who couldn’t breathe and these awful Karposis Sarcoma and really, so it was really quite shocking, just to see that change so I think I was there when it really started, when we thought, ‘we’ve got a problem here, it’s hit London’. So even before I got to the HIV ward, I was working on a surgical ward as a student nurse, I was coming to the end of my training and you know, as I said before, I was this jolly nurse who was always joking and that sort of thing. And we got a patient, I remember his face so distinctly. It had got out on the ward somehow with the families and things, that we had somebody with AIDS on the ward and I remember that the relatives were coming and saying they wanted their families moved. They said they wouldn't have, they didn’t want their family’s near anything like that, or with somebody with AIDS. Part of it was fear, part of it was hate. And I remember getting really, really angry during the shift and then I caught some of the relatives, there was like a little glass window on the door, you know, and people were peering through the glass and I remember just getting, I said, ‘excuse me can I help you?’ and it was just ghastly, it was so demeaning and dehumanising. I just, the sister said to me, ‘you’re very quiet today Leigh, are you ok?’. And I said ‘No, I’m not ok’, I said, now this is where I get emotional, I said ‘you’ve just treated that man like an animal in the zoo’. I just said ‘I’ve never been so ashamed to be a nurse, let alone a human being’.
DJ R: One particular story stands out in my mind, and this was actually of a young guy at the London Lesbian and Gay Centre, not too long after I first started to DJ there. So it would have been around 1987. I’m DJ Ritu. He was only sixteen, he’d come into London from somewhere north in the country and everyone loved him, he was such a sweet boy, really. Very clearly gay, you know, very clear about who he was. Used to quite often wear shorts and like little bobby socks and a pair of DMs and the way his haircut, you know, he was just very beautiful, and we all knew him and were really friendly with him and we were around him for the best part of the year before he committed suicide when he found out he was HIV positive. It was just, you know, heartbreaking, I mean, that was his life, finished, at sixteen. Sixteen going on seventeen. So yeah, it was a difficult time, I mean I was very clear that even if I was in anyway at risk by being friends with gay men who were positive, then I would take that risk. I was very clear that I would support my friends, my gay male friends and I wasn’t going to be scared away and I was not going to treat them like lepers. I’m very glad I made that decision.
LC: I went into this young guy, and you know, he was stunningly good looking, not that that matters, but he had this big purple lesion on his nose which was the Kaposi's Sarcoma and you know he was very quiet, very shy and you know, and I’d go bursting in as one might, ‘Hi how are you? I’m Leigh, I’ll be looking after you today’ and I really was struggling to engage with him, really struggling to engage with him. And you know he was saying the odd yes or no. And as I was in the room, he looked, I don't know, he looked deflated, he looked sad. He opened some tin foil that was on his little table in front of his bed, and he opened this tin foil and it had some little samosas, I can’t remember, somebody had brought him some food in, because at the time people, some of the cleaners wouldn’t go in the room you know to bing their food in. So he had this little tin foil and he started eating some food and I said, ‘oh that looks nice’, I said, ‘God they look really lovely’ and he looked up at me and he said ‘would you like some? Would you like one?’ and I said ‘oh yeah, yeah, that would be nice’ you know, just being greedy. So I remember and I said ‘that looks really nice’, so I was eating one and he suddenly got quite emotional, you know when you can see somebody is trying to fight back the tears, and then he sobbed, I mean, sobbed like it was just, it was so pitiful to watch, and at first I thought I’d done something wrong and I didn’t realise what I’d done wrong and what I realised is, is I’d accepted his food and I couldn’t quite get my head round it, that he’d felt so isolated, and so, I don't know, like a leper that somebody would take his food and you know [inaudible]. I think we both cried frankly.
[Soft music plays]
LC: There was a guy on the ward who, his partner, he was a big sort of bear of a guy and his partner was in and his partner had got this Cryptosporidium and he really, his cheeks were protruding, I can’t. I hope I don't offend when I say this, but he was thin like you see, do you know those images of people coming out of concentration camps? And I hope I don’t offend, but that’s the only way I can describe it. His teeth . . .it was just so sad to see, you know. Especially when you say the photograph of him on the thing, but his partner would not leave his side for one moment. Not for one moment. So he would ring the buzzer and say ‘Leighwill you sit with him whilst I go to the toilet?’, and you know. And occasionally i’d say ‘Please go for a coffee, I promise you’ and he used to get this bowl and lift his head up, because he was so weak, and wash his hair, and get this little pink sponge and just slowly clean his teeth, and you know he used to, Leigh, Leigh, gently, be gentle with him’ and his partner, you know with every ounce of his strength would try and hold his hand and it was just. In some ways it was sad and pitiful but I think what I learnt from that is, I didn’t know that gay men could love each other. Nobody had taught me that, nobody had taught me that, isn’t that weird when you think about it? And that was, after he died, and after I witnessed that, I knew and I vowed, I would never be ashamed of my sexuality again. Because not only could I see two men love each other, I’d never seen love like it. I didn’t know two human beings could love each other like that, so I think that had a real imprint, I didn't think of it consciously at the time but I think that had a real, real strong impression on me.
LC: And I guess the other thing that impacted me was a guy called Paul who was a sex worker. He used to tell me about all his sexual exploits and that, and I was again, twenty-one, young and innocent, not so much now, but I was young and innocent [laughs]. And he used, and I loved him, he was, you know all [imitates cockney accent] ‘Alright you lot?’, very much like that. And you know, I got really close to him and I remember, I remember going into his room and he’d lost a lot of weight and his legs had really swollen and had these huge Kaposi's Sarcomas, and I walked in and he’d cut his jeans off, these little white jeans, and he cut them really short, you know, he had this Hickman line, you know we used to put lines in because they had so many different drugs, and this little T-shirt and you know, he was unwell and I said, ‘What are you doing?’, and he said, ‘I’m going to pride’. He said, ‘I’m going to Pride and I tell you what, you’re effing coming with me!’ and I couldn't go with him but we got him there. He went to pride. And you know, he was going ‘I don’t care Lee’ and at the time we used to have this pancake makeup to try and cover the lesions and he goes ‘No! That’s Pride eh’.
LC: ‘Oh Lee’, he said, ‘I wish people would stop telling me I’m brave’. He said, ‘I want to live, I don’t want to die. So I’m not brave, I just get up in the morning, take a breath and hope I'm here the next day’. I was going on a weeks holiday and somebody said ‘oh Paul wants to speak to you before you go’ and I went, ‘oh ok ok’ and I went ‘oh, you know, i'm going on holiday for a week’ and he said ‘oh LeighI’m probably going to be dead by the time you come back, will you come to my funeral?’. [crying]. Sorry I’m feeling emotional. And it was very matter of fact, and he was right.
AZ: It was obvious that something as big as this was going to hit Switchboard right? I mean Switchboard had been setting itself up actually for eight or nine years, probably to be able to deal with something as big as this. There's' this logbook entry from October the 2nd 1985 in all caps, underlined, it says, ‘Warning, Rock Hudson has just died, you know what to expect’.
TW: Well actually, I don’t think it did realise, I don't think anyone realised that this was going to be happening, or coming. You know it was this tsunami that hit the communities that like Tony mentioned earlier on. Extra calls, you know, all of this reaction in the newspapers, we didn’t know what was coming, no one did. And I think another really important thing to remember is that, you know, that Switchboard volunteers were there to support the LGBTQ+ communities but they were also from that community. And it's no surprise that it would come home to Switchboard.
LP: We did start to lose volunteers as well, and that always makes you really concentrate on what’s going on, when people you know start literally just disappearing from the phone room and then you hear that they’re in hospital and then you’d hear that they’d died. I’m Lisa Power and I was a volunteer on Switchboard between 1979 and 1994. And people often didn't actually say what they had, I mean even the volunteers on Switchboard, we were the most out, gay people in the UK. We were the most well equipped to handle all of this and even we couldn't talk about it when it was our friends. You know I can remember being at home and getting a call about somebody, George Meikle, not George Meikle as in you would think, but George Meikle is probably the correct pronunciation, it’s a Scottish surname and that he had died and I just burst into tears. You know, we were not immune to what was going on, in fact we were at the heart of it.
SC: Logbook entry 3rd of February 1987. ‘I’d recently got the result from my HIV antibody test; positive. Doing all the right things; phoning Body Positive, seeing the Health Advisor at the clinic and so on. The one thing I really want to do right now, I can’t. That’s to talk to other antibody positive people at Switchboard. The reason I can’t, is that I don't know who you are. How does being antibody positive affect the way you see Switchboard? How does it affect your phone work? And so on, and so on. I'm not yet ready to come out ,other than to certain individuals within SwitchBoard. So after an early morning heart to heart with Frieda (the number one dyke in town) the suggestion is that her pigeon hole could be a mailing address and she’ll pass on any messages unopened. So far we seem to have been fairly lucky as regards AIDS, but it's getting closer to home on a daily basis. What’s the point of saying that we welcome applications from antibody positive people, though it’s some time since we last made that plain in public, when we’ve got no support system there. I’m not sure what I'm saying we should do, but I think we’ve got to do something and yes this is my way of dealing with the news. Please drop me a line care of Frieda. How can we help ourselves? How can we help if one of us becomes ill? How many other questions are there? Hope to hear from you soon, love, sorry no name yet.
TW: You know, that was an anonymous entry, even at the heart of the LGBQT+ community, Switchboard, people were still struggling to come out as positive. Imagine that volunteer who couldn't put their name to this entry. Just imagine what it felt like asking for help in that way.
AZ: Yeah because, at that moment, people like that anonymous volunteer really needed support, they needed to feel a community around them.
GH: Well at the height of it, it was magic, we were like, you know, those penguins that huddle together in the cold on the documentaries, we were like that. We were huddled up trying to survive and one by one like a herd, we were picked off by this virus.
TW: I can’t imagine what it felt like at that period of time and I can’t imagine what it feels like to be someone who is still alive today who lost so many people throughout the Eighties and Nineties. Yeah, and what's happening to the LGBTQ+ elderly? Specifically the HIV positive elderly? You know, where’s their community? Whose supporting them?
AZ: Yeah, so moving into the final section of this episode, bringing us up to date. Let’s hear from George again. He’s going to tell us about the kind of support people like him need today.
GH: What I’m worried about is, and this is quite an important personal point, the lack of my feeling of sense of community at the moment. I think the younger people of different communities have forgotten about us old survivors. We were warriors, we fought, we gave our lives and there’s a group of us like myself who now are not being respected, not being remembered, we’re the forgotten. We’re very small now, again a bit like Holocaust survivors, who are dying out. But for me, I’m seventy-one now, I haven’t worked for thirty years. My work was surviving and now, if I take a fall this afternoon I’m going to beshipped off to a homophobic care home because I have no money, I have no choice, I have no savings and that’s very scary that I can’t be who I want to be in my final days and form, it doesn’t take a huge amount to form, a little group of shared accommodation where we can be safe with each other and looked after, a bit like the London Lighthouse used to be, where we can have our last chapters without having to worry about dying to Vera Lynn on the loop [Laughs]. But i would ask the younger generations of peoples of different to just think about spending some time and effort together to form a kind of community of safe accommodation where we can be looked after with dignity and that’s what I’m really hoping I- but I’m old and tired now, but I’m hoping that some of the younger activists will see the need to honour and remember us in this way.
MR: I think sadly from the work we do as well, that's not uncommon to hear that. Especially the fear of having the smallest of accidents and then having to be put into care, that you don't have the decision over. I think that, at Tonic especially, that’s why we want to make things happen as soon as possible because the demand is there. We know that there's, in London especially, the demand for LGBT-specific older housing is enormous. Hi, I’m Matthew from Tonic Housing. We are working to create vibrant and inclusive LGBT-affirming retirement communities. Some of the challenges that we’ve faced, and this isn’t just at Tonic, this is across the sector as well, is trying to explain the need. People seem to assume that you kind of, especially being LGBT, you get to a certain age and that’s that kind of, that element of your life over and then you’re just an old person. You fit with every other old person and that's that. But it’s obviously not the case and we've got such a rich history that is not being looked after. Stories are disappearing, people are not being given the support that they need so. One of the things that George's story has reminded me of is a statistic from our recent Building Safe Choices report, and that statistic says over 15% of respondents identified as having HIV when they were asked about their care needs. Now that survey had over 620 responses which makes it the largest of its kind of older LGBT people done in the UK so far. Another big, big challenge and quite dark issue is that LGBT people are feeling like they have to go back into the closet in order to feel safe. Whether that’s extra care, housing, social or medical care. And the reason for that is because a lot of staff are not trained for their specific needs that the community has. It's getting better but it's again it’s just, it's nowhere close to where it needs to be. I think our final challenge in this is kind of beyond just our community, this is an age thing. We’ve got a really bad culture in the UK when it comes to discussing aging. We don't do it like other countries, you've got countries across Scandinavia, Europe, the U.S where all the living and retirement communities are a big deal. It's just the natural part of life. New Zealand is another example. Whereas in the UK especially, I’ll use a phrase my nan and grandad have said, ‘you live your life, you kind of hit sixty, seventy, and you’re thrown on the scrap heap’. Whether that is, taken to a care home, left alone at home, there's not option of the in between. And that's kind of what we're kind of trying to do here. At the minute what we’re trying to do is open a shared ownership scheme in central London, and it’ll only be small to begin with. Obviously the enormous dream is to have a Tonic building from the ground up and it’ll have hundreds of places for people to live in. But unfortunately that’s not how the housing system works in the UK. So we’re starting of small, it’ll be shared ownership to begin with but the long term dream is that once we’ve filled those, and we’ve already got a register of interest and that is filling up really fast. Once we’ve filled those, we can then use that as evidence to different councils across the city to say, ‘here is the backlog of people that we know who are ready to move into a place’, or they may not be able to buy, they may need social housing or they want to privately rent, we can then move forward once we’ve got the collateral from the first place and hopefully begin to open more Tonic communities. We’re doing all this important work behind the scenes at the minutes and it may not look like much from the outside, but one of the key phrases that I want to keep using, and in the marketing especially is that moving in is just the start, the start to the rest of your life and it's a place to live your life's out and it is, I think, just the beginning for housing generally, for LGBT people.
GH: I mean I don’t know if this can go out on your podcast, but I call for people to gather and use their individual skills to help create this much needed facility for our elders, for us old queens because we’ve given so much.
AZ: In the next episode, we will be continuing the story of HIV AIDS.
TW: Focussing on all the responses from Switchboard, to doctors and also the government.
AZ: Calls to Switchboard are confidential so to bring The Log Books to life, we’ve changed the callers names. The Log Books is produced by Shivani Dave, Tash Walker and Adam Smith, 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. These ratings and reviews really help others to discover the show. You can send us your feedback, and stories to email@example.com or join the conversation on social media with the hashtag, #TheLogBooks.
AZ: 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 . .
AZ: BFI National Archives . .
TW: The folks at ACast . .
AZ: MACE; the Media Archive for Central England . .
TW: Peter Zacaroli at West Digital . .
AZ: Content is Queen . .
TW: The staff and volunteers at Switchboard . . .
AZ: And all the contributors who shared their stories.
TW: Switchboard continues to take callers from 10am to 10pm everyday. If you’re affected by any of the issues in this podcast, or need to discuss anything to do with your gender identity or sexuality, you can call Switchboard on 0300 330 0630, email firstname.lastname@example.org or instant message via switchboard.lgbt, where you can also donate money, or time to help.