By Benjamin Francis Cassidy and Tom Potts
The People’s History Museum unveiled LGBT exhibition ‘Never Going Underground’ to a private audience tonight, marking the 50th anniversary of the first gay rights marches and Sexual Offences Act, passed in 1967.
Guests included actor and activist Sir Ian McKellen, star of the X-Men and Lord of the Rings franchises, alongside the Lord Mayor of Manchester and the hugely popular Mancunian LGBT historian Paul Fairweather.
Named after the campaign against ‘Section 28’, an infamous piece of legislation which forbade the “promotion of homosexuality”, ‘Never Going Underground’ charts the journey of LGBT activism from 1967, right up to the modern day.
The event included entertainment from the Manchester Lesbian & Gay Chorus, we spoke to Dennis, one of their members who’s been part of gay choirs for “30 or 40 years”, we spoke to him about the changes that he’s seen in that time.”The atmosphere is so different now than it was then. I lived in London, and being gay was still illegal. I’ve been in a marriage for 11 years now, and it doesn’t raise a hair anymore”.
He goes on to joke about the changes that have come from the decades of LGBT protest “We’re not exciting, or different anymore. We’re just boring and ordinary. If I’d realised that going all those marches, years ago, would make me mediocre, I probably wouldn’t have bothered!” although he reminds us there’s still work to be done “In an ideal world, we’d all be treated as equals, all the time, but it’s not like that. There’s still a struggle going on.”
Dennis offered us an insight into exactly why he’s always been a firm supporter of the gay rights movement: “We were just thinking about being able to walk down the street without fear of being queer bashed, because people decided that because we looked a certain way, or wore certain clothes. What we have is beyond our dreams”.
Another of the choirs members John Paul spoke to us about how events such as the unveiling of the ‘Never Going Underground’ exhibition hold a place close to his heart. ““These events mean a lot to me. I was quite badly bullied when I was younger, and sometimes I still am. I’m gay, and work as a Teaching Assistant in a school, and want to help any young people who might be bullied for saying they think they are, or might be gay”.
The exhibition was put together by a team of nine community curators. We spoke to Kirsty Dukes who’s been part of that team since June and how she feels about seeing her plans finally put on display to the public. “We never dreamed it would be this busy. It’s been brilliant, and quite emotional too. Everyone seems to be loving it, and having a great time”
Manchester has a long history of LGBT activism, playing host to the largest LGBT+ rights protest in the UK back in 1988 after the passing of Section 28.
The exhibition will run at the People’s History Museum from March 2 – September 3.