THE LOG BOOKS
Season 2 Episode 6 - “Right on, sister!”
Presenters: Tash Walker, Adam Zmith
Contributors: Julian Hows, Diana James, Lisa Power, Katherine Lee, Femi Otitoju, Hafsa Qureshi.
Producers: Shivani Dave, Tash Walker, Adam Zmith
Music: Tom Foskett-Barnes
Artwork: Natalie Doto
TW: This episode contains stories about attacks on LGBTQ+ people and biphobia
[Telephone dial tone, music]
LP: Log book entry, 2nd July 1985 A very irate woman has just phoned to say that she's seen a big flash convertible parked in the street in the east end with the windscreen sticker which says ‘a pussy a day keeps AIDS away’ can she do anything about it apart from A) complaining to the police and risking being ridiculed which she was willing to do or B) giving some local kid a few bob to take care of it? I can think of nothing. Car is green in colour. Please look out for it. And then there’s a note underneath from me. Lipstick on the windscreen works wonders and is by far the best use for the stuff. And someone else put underneath that. No imagination Lisa. [Laughter] That was a man!
Log book Reader 1: This is a log book entry from the 21st July 1988. Beware. Caller reports that Nottingham Special Clinic advised him to tell his employer he was HIV positive. He is now sacked and moreover homeless as the info was passed on. What can I say? Arghh!
TW: I just love that note from Lisa. ‘Lipstick on the windscreen works wonders’, I mean fair point, but really that blatant offensive language ‘A pussy a day keeps AIDS away’, I can’t believe that even existed as a sticker I think it’s disgusting. AZ: Yeah TW: And it’s not even true!
AZ: It’s a bit performative isn’t it? Because it’s a windscreen sticker it’s like [grunting] ‘I’m a straight lad and this is my outlook on the world’ and it’s just like really aggressive and stupid and patriarchal and horrible.
TW: Yeah it’s totally inflammatory and I think you can probably draw parallels to a lot of things that people say at the moment, not necessarily on their windscreen, more on social media but then I guess that if you look at that second log book entry. I mean, someone not only being advised to tell their employer, but then the employer firing them - it just shows you how much was at risk during this timeI think, all at because of the lack of education, understanding, that stigma bubbling away.
AZ: There’s a really hostile atmosphere going on at this time.
[Music] 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 Zmith.
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. This is episode six, ‘Right on, Sister!’ AZ: And we’re going to be talking about the atmosphere, as you’ll hear in the log book entries in this episode. The air is really sizzling with tension and hostility towards the LGBTQ+ communities.
TW: We saw a lot of that in season one. But now as we move into the 80s and early 90s we see that intolerance remain and indeed, increase with the backlash, misunderstanding and political aggression triggered by HIV and AIDS.
AZ: And the voices you’re going to be hearing in this episode come from people who didn’t conform to what their religion or government expected of them and the Switchboard volunteers who couldn’t even get the phones fixed because engineers were scared of catching AIDS. TW: And now for some more log book entries, which shows that intolerance which we know is always there bubbling away under the surface and people used HIV and AIDS just to simply give it more legitimacy. Log book Reader 1: This is a log book entry from December 1st 1985, 23:42. A West London caller phoned with an STD problem. He had visited Praed Street for treatment where the nurses were hostile and were bandering on about HTLV-III and the doctor told him to go back to Africa. He was obviously very distraught as he his a dancer and relies on his fitness for income. This problem has been going on for four and a half months and three visits to various clinics. Does anyone know of any other instances of this kind of racial abuse at this or any other STD clinics?
FO: Cus of course that entry just makes me feel, it just brings it all rushing back. Cus that was the other thing - my goodness, of people using AIDS as a catalyst for racism. Or rather again, another excuse for their racism. Any group that they could just use any group that they could weaponise. JH: You’re talking about a time where you know, the best jokes on television were ‘What does gay stand for? Got Aids Yet?’ [Laughs] You know that’s the general level of stuff we were having to deal with. You know I think, to a certain extent, if you are an out gay man, then I took the Quentin Crisp approach - pull ones collar up very high, do not look left, do not look right, do not invited glances from strangers, keep firmly on where you’re going from point A to point B, and you might get there in safety. And I think for a lot of us, that was actually what we were doing. LP: Miriam Stoppard had booked to come in with a film crew to film in Gay Switchboard, as we were at that point I think still. And the film crew literally got half way up the stairs and realised that they were coming to Gay Switchboard which was full of gay men, and they dropped their equipment and left and wouldn’t come back into the building. And my memory, this may be embroidering but my memory is that we held onto their equipment as ransom until they apologised. AZ: That piece of advice from Julian about walking down the street with your head held high and your collar up and just looking at where you’re going is really powerful on the one hand, but it’s also really really chilling that you have to be like that. And I think it’s something that everyone who is a little bit different in one way or another can probably empathise with. Trying to be confident to protect themselves and worrying about people who might judge you, or in this case worry, as people did in the street in the 80s that they might just catch AIDS from you just by walking past you in the street. And obviously we saw that happen in the story that Lisa talked about as well with the TV crew, they didn’t even want to come into the Switchboard building. TW: Yeah as Lisa said it was brought right to Switchboard’s door. No matter how hard people tried to avoid the judgement, it’s right there! But of course they went no further than that front door. But you know, Switchboard was affected by this discrimination in one of the most fundamental ways that any helpline could be impacted. It meant at times that volunteers couldn’t even do the basic operation of being able to answer the phones. Log book Reader 2: Log book entry 1st March 1985. 7328 is driving me mad. I can’t hear what the calls are saying and they can’t hear me. What we can both hear is the fucking crossed lines and ringing tones, who wants to join me in kicking BT?
Log book Reader 3: Log book entry 28th May 1987, 3AM. The phone system is completely kaput. Just spoke to a guy who works for a communications company, he said he had all five of our lines ringing before it answered. Nothing rang this end. Seems all five must be ringing before anyone can get through. He said the only solution is to keep picking up the phone every ten seconds to see if anyone was on the line. Sod that! 3.30AM. Still completely dead, lost count of the number of times I’ve tried. 5.36AM. Still dead as a dodo.
AZ: I like the tone of these log book entries, and in fact, you and I Tash have read lots of log book entries [Laughter] TW: So many! AZ: We had to really really cut down the amount of entries that we could use in this episode as there were hundreds of volunteers writing really really angry notes, saying like, we can’t even do the work, we can’t even answer the phones - it’s a complete fiasco. TW: Yeah, if there’s any phone engineers out there interested in the history of helplines, the log books are the place you can find each and every one breaking down one by one. But yeah, it’s that fundamental thing of ultimately what Switchboard was set up to do, what it’s there for, why the volunteers are there. That’s to pick up the phones, to answer the phones, to speak to people and provide that safe space, that listening ear. AZ: And the caller is calling to speak to someone from Switchboard, right? Which in one very basic way didn’t even happen when these phone lines were confused, because there was one log book entry that we read from a man from Surrey who said ‘Phoned switchboard to say that he’s received around 20 calls that were meant for Switchboard’ and he was very kind and confused about this, and just phoned Switchboard to say like, look I think you have a problem because I keep getting these calls! TW: It’s so funny!
AZ: It’s mad. TW: Obviously it leads you to wonder what was going on with fixing them? And I remember the first time I heard this story, this sort of hearsay story at Bishopsgate Institute when I was talking to previous volunteers from the 70s and 80s, of how the engineers refused to come out and fix the phones at Switchboard for fear of contracting HIV, then AIDS. And I was so shocked, and I was like, I guess this is something that has rolled on throughout the years and it’s added and snowballed like rumour. But then the more people spoke to, the more I heard the same story told over again and again. And the more my shock and disbelief just moved to just real sadness, and I just, I still can’t believe what that must have felt like.
LP: I mean some of the problems we had around the fact that we were at the centre of the early work on AIDS actually rebounded on our ability to do things. I mean we were part of the Kings Cross British Telecom Switchboard. And it was the oldest most rickety one in the country by then. I mean they were slowly replacing all their equipment and we were right at the tail end of being replaced, and of course the completely insane influx of calls that we got after the leaflet went out and after AIDS started to be a big issue caused all sorts of breakdowns on the phonelines and you will see throughout the log books comments like ‘7325 is working but the ringer isn’t working, look out for the flashing light’ you will see ‘X7326 is putting calls through, even when it’s off the hook so don’t leave it so that people can hear what’s going on but you’re not answering, use it first’ All kinds of strategies that we tried to use to keep the phones in work. But we had real trouble with BT engineers, luckily one of our volunteers Julian was working for BT by the mid 80s and he would actually ring up the Chief Exec of BT and have a go about the fact that people were not repairing our lines. But there did appear A) BT engineers would not come into Switchboard because they thought they’d get AIDS there. But also, they were literally afraid that they’d get AIDS by working on the phone lines outside of our building! Which was so ridiculous and wasn’t true, but this was fed back to us. A combination of homophobia and AIDS phobo meant that a large chunk of the 80s is full of memories of us struggling to make the phone system work. And it got worse after the phone number was put out on the leaflet, because the government’s apology for doing that without telling us, we found that out before it actually went out - but only just - their apology was to pay for a fancy new phone system, which actually broke down more than the old one, and contained loads of technology that we actually found harder to use and we did lose some volunteers because they were literally have nervous breakdowns trying to answer the phones. JH: Well one of the fears that we had with our telephone service, which was being totally overloaded. Was BT engineers would not come in the building. They thought that they might be able to you know, pick it up by walking into Switchboard premises. Working on the line even! That we were homosexuals so of course we would be molesting them and doing things to them that would give them HIV. The crazy thing was about this whole thing, is that if engineers came to the building, they only needed to come in to see that there was nothing wrong at our end. And we kept on telling them ‘Some of us work for British Telecom! There is nothing wrong. There is something wrong with the lines at your end. It is something wrong with the 400 yards away 837 exchange’ ‘Oh we don’t know about that, ohhh we’re not touching that’. It was almost as though they couldn’t go into their own switchrooms which were 500 yards away from Switchboard, the top end of Pentonville Road. And somehow they might get contaminated or pick up HIV from actually working on our equipment. That is how both the fears of homosexuality and HIV came together and created a total and mass panic. And also, you know if they were being a nice engineer to these homosexuals maybe their mates at the telephone exchange might think ‘Oh he’s one as well’. AZ: That story with the telephones shows about the discrimination and the intolerance and that sort of sizzling hostile atmosphere that we talked about at the beginning. On the outside world coming into Switchboard, or not, in the case of the engineers not coming into Switchboard, Tash was there ever any discrimination inside Switchboard? TW: We’re all capable of intolerance and discrimination and there was certainly a lot of that happening within Switchboard, one specific example was around bisexuality. DJ: As the 80s went on, there became more and more of a disconnect between how we treated bisexuality on the phones and how we we treated it in Switchboard, because we were always sympathetic and supportive to people on the phones, we didn’t try and say ‘you must be gay’ – or I hope most of us didn’t to people when they were describing bisexualy lifestyles. We supported people where they were. But on Switchboard, bisexual identity had never been acceptable, we had to define as lesbian or gay, but bisexual behaviour within that definition - being lesbian or gay - became more and more of a burden, as the 80s went on. And I can remember in my very early days at Switchboard a lovely volunteer called Bob who was also a parttime porn actor, talking cheerfully about the straight porn he’d been making at the weekend – you know, chatting away to me perfectly happy about this and nobody turned a hair! By the end of this period we were actively persecuting anybody on Switchboard who talked about bisexual behaviour, culminating I think towards a – I can’t remember when, but I think it might be towards the end of this period, or after the end of when you’re talking about – hysterical in retrospect, Special General Meeting where I and a male volunteer were pretty much put on trial because we refused to lie about the fact we’d had sex. And neither of us was redefining our sexuality. But there was an attempt, I think it was mainly an attempt by people who would quite like to chuck us off Switchboard to make us redefine. They didn’t give a toss if we were sleeping with each other, but they’d quite like to chuck us off cus they viewed us as trouble makers. But it was a ludicrous, ludicrous General Meeting and the man in question turned up, bless him, dressed in head to foot in bright red and introduced himself as ‘The Scarlet Woman’. And fascinatingly, there were quite a few lesbians - I say quite a few, maybe a dozen or more lesbians on Switchboard by now, and many of them expressed to me that they were shocked and even horrified and quite thrown by the fact that I had sex with this guy and I wasn’t going to lie about it, but they all stuck by me. Their attitude was ‘We’re not having the men pick on you for this. You’ve been a little bit of a disgrace, but you’re our disgrace, and nobody is chucking a lesbian off for this’. Which was actually really heartening, I mean, a proper sisterhood in action! [Sparse music plays]
DJ: Some of the calls that we’d get around HIV and AIDS was from bisexual women. Because if that, obviously having sex with men and having sex with women are obviously not necessarily the same time, or in tandem, or whatever - but they would then be concerned about if they were having sex with a guy that the guy might be bisexual too. It’s around could they catch AIDS and could they become infected? And then you’d have to talk through sex practices with them - because a lot of straight people at that time thought ‘well that’s the gay plague, that’s got nothing to do with us as heterosexuals we won’t catch it’. Which we of course know is complete rubbish, and we knew then it was complete rubbish. But the newspapers and the media and everything else wouldn’t highlight this, so therefore we had to try and talk bisexual women through this and of course the stigma around that time, and to an extent still is, around bisexual women and it was also the talk around lesbians who said ‘Well I’m not having sex with a bisexual woman because I could catch HIV or AIDS’ or ‘I wouldn’t sleep with them anyway because I don’t wanna go where a dick has been’ there were all these kind of issues at that time, and a real hatred almost of bisexual women by the lesbian community. Which was one of the issues why it was Lesbian and Gay Switchboard and not Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Switchboard or LGBTQIA Switchboard. It was just Lesbian and Gay. And there was a huge fight about getting bisexuals into Switchboard – but that is perhaps in a few minutes to talk about that! But there were those issues around that, so some women didn’t really want to talk to a bisexual woman, they would hand the call off, obviously that wouldn’t, you just wouldn’t go there now. I mean say if some woman said she didn’t want to talk to a bisexual women, she probably wouldn’t get on Switchboard - because that’s not where our community is at. But back then it was completely different. [Sparse music plays] TW: Diana told us about another experience she had at Switchboard, all the way back when she tried to join as a volunteer. [Sparse music plays] DJ: I was on a march, the ‘88 Lesbian Strength March and I was talking to a Switchboard volunteer to be honest, and she was quite attractive - so that would have been one of the reasons I was talking to her [laughter]. So we got chatting and stuff, and she said ‘well why don’t you phone up, it sounds to me you’d be ideal, why don’t you phone up and become a volunteer’. So that’s pretty much what I did, so I went along to my interview at Switchboard, there were a load of us there and you know there’s this really attractive woman sitting opposite me – I keep saying ‘really attractive woman’ [laughter] - but she was a really nice woman sitting there who was doing the interview, because I didn’t really know anything different at the time, because I’m an intersex woman, but at that time there was very little known, and I knew very little about it either. So, trans was a term that seemed to fit, from what I was going through. So I mentioned the fact that I was trans, that I’d gone through the whole system and all that sort of stuff. And that’s when she went ‘Ah, ok’ and she carried on through the interview, and then two weeks later I got a phone call from Lisa Power, who said to me – let’s meet up and have a chat about you being a volunteer. LP: I’m Lisa Power I’m a dyke who’s been around for donkeys years. Dee shipped up to an interview session, and at the interview session she was interviewed by a lesbian and a gay man, and accepted as a trainee. And subsequently, the lesbian who interviewed her swore that they did not know that she was trans. Now, I find that extremely hard to believe, and unkindly I think what happened was that they went home and got a flea in their ear for her being trans, because they subsequently were one of the two women volunteers who felt that she should not be on Switchboard. But they were two very influential women who were volunteers. And they did try and have her refused part way through training is my recollection. And there were a lot of different ideological issues going on at the time, so we had a row about transgender issues and a row about sexuality definitions all at the same time going on. We could have good tantrums on a good day. But Dee, Dee was a brilliant trainee. She was excellent, and as she pointed out to some of the younger lesbians on Switchboard she’d been a lesbian longer than they had! So you know, there was absolutely no reason why she should not be a volunteer. I mean, I don’t think I did anything remarkable, other than I just wasn’t having any nonsense. But I mean there were lots of the men who weren’t having any nonsense either. DJ: So, we sat there having a chat. And she said to me, ‘look, we really want you to be a volunteer - you’re the kind of women we really want, you know your knowledge and everything else, and your personality fits in really well. But you might face some difficulties as a volunteer. You might get some cold shoulders, you might get the odd comment. Although, if you’re abused in any way, verbally and that sort of thing, come and see me about it’. So, and then, I dunno whether at the time I was feeling particularly brave or anything, but I said ‘No I wanna be a volunteer! I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t be - you know, I’m a dyke, I know what I’m about and I think I could be useful’. So, I then came in and joined, became a volunteer and did my training - which was tough then, it was really tough training. You know, you miss a day, you’re out. You have to start again from the beginning.
[Sparse music plays]
Log book Reader 3: This is a log book entry from January 16th 1987. Someone phoned, a right nerd, who said he is gay and thinks this is immoral, against the church and all wrong and disgusting. He then complained because I wasn’t supporting and in agreement with him. Said he’s going to make a formal complaint.
AZ: I wonder who this guy is gonna complain to? TW: I have no idea [Laughter]. And so we can see from this log book entry that religion is starting to become a theme in Season 2. We always are led by the log book entries in the Log book podcast, and we didn’t really see many callers contact Switchboard in season 1 about religion. AZ: I think we were quite surprised in Season 1 actually, by the end of Season 1 that religion hadn’t been raised on the calls very much. And also, I know that some listeners of the podcast actually said to us - you know, why didn’t you cover religion? And like you said, it’s because we’re led by the log books. But it’s interesting now to see callers mentioning religion more in this period of the 80s.
TW: Yeah definitely, and when it is mentioned in the log books it’s usually negative, it’s usually about Christianity. There are also some mentions from Muslim people and Muslim families, to do with shame and honour. And we’re going to be covering religion more in upcoming episodes but for now, we’re going to be hearing from Rebecca. RS: So growing up as a teenager, so it would have been from about the age of 7 right through to 18, I grew up in a very kind of religious household where yeah kind of the routine was church every Sunday, and going to youth groups associated with the church in between that, and there was no scope at all to discuss sexuality in any sense. You know, marriage between a man and a woman was a given, that was never engendered with any sexuality in itself. I’m Rebecca Swenson I am 45, live in London, and have been a Switchboard volunteer since 1988. Yeah it would come up in church sermons, and I remember being in church and the vicar saying, and it was quite horrible it was really striking with the venom he said it, if any of you think you might be gay you’d better pray to god for forgiveness. And I remember my little sister being there, who would have been about nine, under ten anyway. And her saying ‘That’s about you’ because there was no one else, everyone was 60s, 70s, 80s, there was my sister who was little, there were people there who were husbands and wives – it could only have been about me. And having that kind of spotlight shone on you was frightening and it was oppressive. And you don’t shake off easily that kind of feeling of being bad or feeling different. [Sparse music plays]
RS: There were so many clues really, I guess. I think things I would read for example, books that I would get from the library. And I remember my mum belonged to like a Sunday Times book ordering club, and I ordered a book from her book club, and it was - I can’t remember what it was, I think it was ‘Mothers and other Lovers’ by Joanna Briscoe - and actually saying that title out loud for the first time makes me realise why I got into as much trouble as I did - and it changed the types of books they then sent my mum, because they would kind of cater for your needs. So there were lots of clues, like books dropping through the letterbox. I remember there were lots of times where I was asked ‘Is there anything I want to talk about?’, but it just wasn’t, yeah I didn’t have the words for it. I don’t think it would have been handled particularly well. I was encouraged to have weekly chats with Bishop’s wife. And in hindsight it’s very obvious now what those chats were about, but I quite enjoyed them [laughs], yeah we would chat about everything other than my sexuality - much to her frustration! [Sparse music plays]
KL: This is a log book entry from August 14th 1987, it’s a clipping from TNT Magazine and it reads - Nun defends condom use. A Catholic nun who defended the use of condoms, stood by her comments despite a public reprimand from Melbourne’s Catholic Arch Bishop, Frank Little. Sister Mary Lee Moorhead a Victorian Council of Churches General Secretary and a member of The Society of the Sacred Heart was rebuked for her comment after a churches conference on AIDS last week, that the use of condoms might be necessary to prevent the spread of AIDS. The Archibishop spokesman Father Francis Hermann said in a statement, Sister Mary Lee Moorhead is expected to follow Catholic teaching on sexuality. The volunteer who taped it into the log book has written; Right on, Sister! [Sparse music plays]
KL: Although I did volunteer at a convent and was bullied by a nun [laughter] but not anything to do about sexuality. She just kept telling me that as I couldn’t iron shirts I’d never have a husband, because I couldn’t cook pies I wouldn’t be able to keep a man happy [laughs]. My name is Kathrine I’m 54, I had my teenage years in Lancashire in the early 80s. I was about 15, I was very nerdy, I was doing my Queens Guide and there was a community service angle of this, so I went and worked in the kitchen, and she just had me as a little slave really. There was some really elderly nuns there, and for all I know, I mean they could have had celibate connections, but they were you know, nuns that had their sort of special friend in there. I was brought up Catholic. My dad wasn’t religious in any way, but my mum had us going to church every Sunday and doing all the sacrements, there was never anything about relationships or marriage, but there was this big presumption - I think from my mum, the way that she was brought up - that you kept yourself until you were married. And you know, certainly this was even in the 80s, that you would be a virgin when you got married. Or certainly save yourself for the person that you would end up marrying. And I always would just think that I’d get married and have kids. My parents were from a working class background, grammar school kids, and very very aspirational. So the whole focus on our household was really education. The pressure, more than the moral pressure, was to pass exams and get to University. The sort of irritation that either of them had about boyfriends, would be that they’d be getting in the way of that, heaven forbid that if I were to get pregnant - the world would end. And I really thought that if I got pregnant, it would have been the end of everything. So, the sort of gay side of me was just completely buried and it was a fantasy life. So, I’ve got two pamphlets here that I’ve found when I was looking for the diaries, why I’ve kept them, I don’t know - probably for historical record and guidance. So one is from the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland, and the other is the Catholic Truth Society but based in Eccleston Square in London. And the one in London cost 10p and is called ‘Going Steady’. I think probably my mum had them for herself and just gave them to me. So this is someone who was born in the late 1930s, left home in the 50s and in the 1980s was giving this to me. Or it could have been my grandmother. So my grandmother, who I loved very much, but was incredibly religious - she was always giving me little sacred heart pictures to keep me safe - so yeah, this is it. It’s all about going steady boy-meets-girl, all little sections and then it says. ‘Before marriage a girl would do well to realise that the handsome curly haired boy who made her twinkle from head to toe in femininity and feel like a goddess is really a whore house of sexual activity, who is only stopped from turning his fantasies into a reality by respect for her feminine person. Should she cheapen her femininity or allow it to be cheapened, and so destroy his respect, she must share the blame of the consequences’ which I knew to be pregnancy.
[Sparse music plays] TW: It’s really interesting for me hearing those memories and those stories, specifically because I was brought up Catholic. I went to Catholic school, I went to Catholic camp, church camp - right here. You know I went to church school, every Friday we had catechism. It was so integral in my life, in my every day and in who I was. AZ: Isn’t catechism a club in Plymouth?
TW: [Laughs] No.
AZ: That you went to every Friday?
TW: [Laughs] It was it was at the church up the road!
AZ: What does listening to Kathrine’s stories, her Catholic upbringing and her family make you think about and make you feel today?
TW: In part it makes me feel a bit sad, because it reminds me of my grandmother who had died before I realised I was gay or come out, and it was sort of after her death that I started to pull away from my religion. She was very very religious, Irish Catholic background. But yeah it does make me feel quite sad, in part because I struggled a lot when I came out. She was very close and important to me, and I wrote a lot about whether she would accept me. And it still does bother me a little bit now, although I know of course she would because she meant so much to me. But she was of course Catholic, as was the majority of my family and my Catholic family do accept me now. But it does remind me about how I really started to understand my identity as a Catholic person, and that was at school in a religious studies lesson where I was learning about you know, a sort of overview about what we were gonna do in the term and they were talking about abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, of course things that the Catholic church stands strongly against and I got really really upset and I remember going home and crying, and shouting at my mum. Saying ‘how could you have brought me up in this religion?’ AZ: Really? TW: ‘How can I stand up and say I’m a proud Catholic and I’ve just found out what this means?’ AZ: How did she take that?
TW: She took it really well actually and I ended up saying I didn’t want to be a part of it and she accepted that and I left the church. AZ: Hm. Religion is a really big part of a person’s life, if they are raised with that. Leaving that behind is never going to be easy, it’s always gonna be a wrench. Even if, you definitely know for sure that you want to leave that and move on and live in a different way. It’s really really difficult.
TW: Yeah it is and I think there’s something really complicated about religion. Where, you obviously have the religious faith aspect of it, but you have this culture you have this family, you have history it’s so much more than just a religious practice it’s identity. AZ: And we know that at the heart of religion, in fact all religions, is the practice of compassion, understanding and loving and caring for each other. You know whatever is laying on top of that - books, verses, practices, fabric, candles - all of that, at the very base level is compassion and obviously religion I am sure has helped countless LGBTQ+ people. One of my friends, his actual first gay experience was at a Christian camp, they sat around, they sung songs they did prayers together. And he sort of looked up to this friend who was a couple of years older than him as like a spiritual leader. And then basically, he fell in love with him [laughter] and took it from there. But, anyway I have to ask you Tash, what was your experience of Catholic camp? What was it like?
TW: Yeah I was young, I was in primary school when I went, a couple of years in a row. I have to say that I have nothing but peaceful, calm memories about it. The main thing that I have that sticks in my mind, with any sort of irritation, was having to do the washing up and being on the washing up rota.
TW: But no, it was, I remember being…
AZ: Well, cleanliness leads to godliness!
[Sparse music plays] Log book Reader 4: This is a log book entry from 30th October 1991. Call from a guy whose lover was diagnosed HIV positive three years ago by his GP. The GP then kicked him off the practice. Today, the lover was diagnosed negative at the STD clinic after three years. They have been advised to sue. The GP had told him to go to church and pray. I wrote this because I was stunned. What a world. The volunteer was called Patrick.
[Sparse music plays]
KL: We were in a relationship, but I never would say, ‘oh this is my girlfriend’. I mean it was, in gay circles yes, but not in the wider world. In the wider world we were just very good friends who shared a flat together. One Easter holidays I went home and the girlfriend she rang me and obviously from the tone of the conversation, my mum was curious and so confronted me about it, and I admitted that we were together and she just went absolutely crazy. I mean, she was just shrieking and screaming and then she said she was going to call the GP. And I just left, I just picked up and left. So that was back in Lancashire and I just got the train back to London and I didn’t speak to her. You know she used to ring me or write to me regularly. So she wrote me a letter saying that she had been in touch with the GP and that the GP had found a psychotherapist for me to see. This was about 1987, you know it’s not like back in the dark ages. So what the GP was doing I really don’t know. But I ignored it. And I just ignored all contact from her for 6 months. I don’t know what my dad thought was going on. I had my little sister at home, and I really loved her to bits. So it was hard not being in touch with her. But I just knew I had to protect myself. And then one day, completely out of the blue my mum rang me talking about the weather, talking about what Grandma was upto like nothing had happened.
Log book Reader 5: So I’m going to read the log book entry from the November 1985 log book. This is a newspaper article that was pasted into the log book titled ‘No Tolerance for Lesbians’ which reads; We in Barnet have some gay people in our community I feel sympathy for them, for nature has dealt them a hard blow making their row even more difficult to hoe. I’ve met some gay men who largely seem gentle, educated and civilised in spite of the unnatural life they lead I regard them kindly, as friends. I find it difficult however as hard as I try, to reach similar tolerance for the female, I regret I cannot say lady gays. Sometimes I wonder if it is their obvious lack of attraction, let alone affection for men, that makes them so strident, rude, aggressive, and utterly abusive where no need exists. They make themselves the object of mirth. Even Labour MP’s are quoted as saying ‘You should build a new Jerusalem not Sodom and Gomorrah’ and another Labour delegate has publicly blamed this unnatural act for the spread of the killer disease AIDS. It gets queerer and queerer when these folk wish to control the normal population, as do their equally strange but possibly in other way, comrades in socialism. M Lester, member room, Town Hall Hendon.
[Sparse music plays] Log book Reader 5: Volunteer writes: This letter is in the pro-gay Hendon and Finchley Times on the 24th october. Please write briefly to the editor, no need to answer their idiot points. Perhaps ask how such an NCP could be elected to Barnet Council? He is counsellor Malcom Lester, Tory MP, the more letters the better. Dudley.
AZ: It’s worth noting that that letter from a counsellor in Barnet council was published in the Hendon and Finchley Times, a local newspaper. Tash to note, whose constituency was Finchley during these times.
TW: Tell me Adam.
AZ: I think you know. [Laughs] Well it was the constituency of the person who was also the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. You did know that right?
TW: I did yeah. AZ: [Laughs] I dunno I just think it’s worth pulling out that connection. So Malcom Lester, the Barnet counsellor who wrote that letter probably knew Margaret Thatcher.
TW: And of course this letter is a really really good example of the kind of negative atmosphere instilling these negative feelings in the press, that people are reading, the general population are reading. And of course as always people react in a number of different ways. The two main ways that people tend to react are you know, getting angry, getting loud, marching down the street, wielding banners and others don’t feel able to do that and they sort of hang back a bit.
KL: I remember going to London Pride in the late 80s and standing hiding behind a pillar in Trafalgar Square and feeling so emotional about seeing all those people. Not only so many gay people, but also that they were so strong and courageous to stand up and march. And I just couldn’t, I was scared of being seen on the six o’clock news and what my wider family might think. So although I’ve never witnessed any real homophobia, apart from the odd catcall, I mean even in Brighton if I’m holding my wifes hand, you still get looked at now which I don’t like. Or still being shouted at by drunk people around St James street. But no real physical threat, but I’ve always had this inner voice you know of not feeling good enough, equal. Well it was obviously a deep shame that I wasn’t matching up. You know, my parents because of their backgrounds always seemed fearful of, well, status was always important to them. And to be gay clearly wasn’t even in my dads consciousness, because he was so shocked in 2004/5 whenever it was. We have to come out all the time, you know whenever I work freelance or in a new work situation I have to come out by mentioning my wife. In the past I used to just fudge it with partner, I mean maybe it’s the sort of moral Catholic morality that I was brought up with. But society doesn’t even now, always value queer people. There’s always a feeling that you’re still having to sort of fight.
AZ: Tash can I tell you a little bit about why Kathrine wanted to tell that story when I interviewed her. She was really keen to talk about inner homophobia because she feels like it’s had a really really big impact on her. You know it’s not just her Catholic upbringing. It’s being raised in Britain in an era of hostility towards lesbians like her and that she never really felt confident enough to be political with a big P to fly a banner or anything like that. And she wanted to say that and as we talked about how and why she was gonna tell us that story for the podcast, she basically said something like ‘I’m not one of these important people, I’m not one of these people on the march, I’m not this brave historically significant people’ and I was like, hold your horses Kathrine, you are incredibly significant, what you’ve done you know - all of these stories you’ve told us about you know the way that you spoke to your mum and kind of lived your life.
TW: Yeah totally it’s interesting that she said that, and that’s actually something that’s popped up a couple of times with the people that we’ve spoken to throughout this period, or have memories of living and being out during this period or not. And that’s that they don’t feel that their story is worthy of being told. Which you know, for you and me Adam, as thirsty history nerds it most certainly is. And I think it speaks to something that we need to address that’s wider, and that’s about redefining what activism is and what that really means. Ultimately, activism as we understand it in the wider context is protesting, it’s marching down the street, it’s throwing things, you know it’s breaking things it’s getting arrested. So, really if you think about what activism actually means, it’s pushing against the boundaries of something, of society and here these people were definitely pushing against the boundaries of a heteronormative society and you know, they are part of our history and their stories are so fundamental, and so important and we’re both so happy that we can share them.
AZ: Yeah. Well whether you’re marching down the street, or challenging your mum about why it’s ok that you’re gay, it’s all about responding and being reactive within your context. Living your life and yeah as we’ve heard from Kathrine with her Catholic family etc. Or whether you’re a monk in a monastery. So we’ve got a log book entry about this.
TW: Yeah this is so fantastic. This is a log book entry from the 23rd March 1990 at 4am the volunteer took this call.
TW: Had a brilliant call from a gay monk who was running away from his facist bishop, wonders never cease. The volunteer writes. I’ve never heard a man of the cloth use ‘fuck’ so much in the same breath as ‘our blessed virgin mary’. Amen.
AZ: Tash, true or false do you think this monk was really gay and had a fascist bishop? TW: Do I believe in the fascist bishop? Is what you’re asking. I don’t know, but it’s great.
AZ: And a monk who says ‘fuck’?
TW: [Laughter] It’s great to see someone still holding on to what they believe in and standing up for both their religion and sexuality. You know people who are queer and religious today are still often excluded from both of those communities. And also let’s not forget about the biphobia that is still so present in today’s LGBTQ+ communities as well as wider society. AZ: Yeah and it’s interesting to hear these stories about biphobia within Switchboard in the 80s because it seems to us looking back now that binaries were much more entrenched then. Like the organisation was literally called Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, and you’d think that as we were moving on and tearing down certain words and certain ways of thinking about people that you’d think that biphobia would have gone by now. TW: I totally, totally agree. And it’s really important to really recognise how much biphobia still exists today. So we spoke to Hafsa who shares her experience with us.
HQ: My name is Hafsa Qureshi, my pronouns are she/her. I’m a bisexual Muslim woman. I’m also disabled, neurodivergent and very vocal about being queer and a person of faith. Something else I’ve noticed sort of anecdotally outside of the LGBTQ+ communities is the perception that bi women particularly, are seen as being promiscuous or that bi women will still want to be with a man or just pretending to be bi for the sake of attracting men. Whereas bi men don’t have that representation at all. It was actually recently Vineet, this campaigner activist had a hashtag going around saying #BisexualMenExist and it was really powerful to see bi men come forward and talk about their experiences. But they are still often told well you’re either gay or straight, there’s no in-between, and that rigidity when it comes to bi identities is still present to this day. Myself as a bi person, I’m just a nerd. I don’t drink at all, I play board games until late in the night, you know I’m a very boring person. And that doesn’t really align with the stereotype of a bi woman or an LGBTQ+ person and I think that stereotype does still maintain in certain areas and in certain cultures as well. When I sort of came out as openly bi as a South Asian person, as an Indian, within my community there was a perception of, well you’ve ruined your life now, because you’re gonna go off the deep end. You’re gonna start drinking, you’re gonna take your hijab off to do XYZ. And nothing had changed about me, I was still the exact same person, but the perception people had of me had immediately shifted. And there was a concept about trying to save me, trying to cure me as well. Nowhere near the extent of something like conversion therapy, but I think a lot of bi people hear ‘well you can just be with a man’ or ‘you can just be with a woman’. I mean again they’re negating bi people existing, but you can just be with the ‘right’ person and then you don’t need to think about it anymore. That in itself is biphobic. Because it doesn’t matter who I’m with, I’m still bi, it doesn’t change that. And then we look at language and think about someone being bilingual that doesn’t imply that only two languages exist in the world. When we look at language in a reductive way, it really affects how we look at the community as a whole, and in my experience within communities of people who are LGBTQ+ identifying, still leads to biphobia. I still have people asking me if I’m an ally, I still have people wondering if i’m still ‘bi’ and that’s still happening today in 2020. I think that when we look at LGBTQ+ identities and sexuality people think that they’re incongruous, you can’t be one and the other and I think that stems from the perception that LGBTQ+ people live a certain raucous lifestyle and the perception of religious people being very penitent, sitting in a corner and praying and that’s all their life is. Neither are correct in my opinion, I think someone can have faith and still be LGBTQ+ because to me it’s as inherent as the colour of my eyes. And to me my faith is so deeply entrenched in who I am, how I live my life, for me being a Muslim is what makes me happiest. And being bi and identifying as bi is just part of me. And to ask me to remove one or the other is ridiculous to me. It’s like, can you change your eye colour? No I can’t! [Laughter]. One of the main challenges actually for me is being a visible queer Muslim on social media, and sort of other media as well, is not just people not understanding what my identity is or attacking me for it. Because I’ve kind of reached the point where I don’t really care, I am who I say I am. The thing that affects me the most is when I get messages from other Muslims and there are so so many of us, but they are so afraid of being out, of being open, even on social media even in an anonymous way they are so afraid of being out. I'm not trying to reach people who think I don't exist, or think I shouldn't exist I don't I couldn't care less about them to be honest. I want to reach people who are just like me because I know there's so many of us, there are so so many of us. I want to reach them and just say it's okay, you don't have to be out to every single person but I really hope there's at least one person you can talk to about who you are. Whether they know you by a username a nickname or your real name.
[Music] AZ: We’ve mentioned the anti gay law Section 28 a few times already this season.
TW: So it's time to dedicate an episode to it, coming next. 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, Adam Zmith 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. 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. Switchboard continues to take phone calls from 10am to 10pm every day. 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.