February is LGBT history month and I wanted to blog about it because it’s important. But not being part of that community, I don’t want to write about my experience and perspective, because it feels irrelevant. This is not about me and I do not have a right to that story. So instead, I’m going to tell you about someone I used to know and his story because it opened my eyes to what other people go through.
Back in 2000, I was a student at Reading Uni (yes, I am that old) and, like many students, I worked in a bar part-time. Since I worked at the same bar for over a year, I got to know a number of the regulars there. One was a lovely gentleman called Chris. He was very quiet, calm and gentle and I loved talking to him. He was very interesting and a good listener. He was also gay. Chris would probably have been in his mid-50s when I knew him and one day he mentioned that his knee was giving him trouble and he needed a minor op to clean it out. When I asked, he told me the story about why he had a dodgy knee.
A couple of decades previously, when he was in his late teens/ early 20s, he was heading home after a night out in Soho, London. At a quiet tube station, he was set upon by thugs who beat him up. One of their methods of torture was to take a knife and ram it under his knee bone and wiggle it about to destroy the ligaments and joint.
He was beaten so severely, he was knocked unconscious and left for dead.
When he eventually came round, he saw a pair of heavy boots in front of his face and he thought that was it, that was the end.
Thankfully for him, the pair of boots belonged to a police officer, who helped him and got him to hospital and the pair remained friends for life (or at least as long as I knew Chris). Needless to say, Chris recovered from the attack, although he lived with the permanent damage to his knee as a reminder.
Chris’ story has stuck with me for all these years, because it was the first time I had truly understood the personal impact of the systematic hatred and discrimination against the LGBT community. To this day, I cannot fathom why someone would do this to another human being. Yet despite what he had been through, he did not have an ounce of hate or anger in him.
Chris was adopted as a child and had a mostly happy childhood, but his father was a High Court Judge at a time when homosexuality was still illegal, so he never told his father he was gay. And he was in a relationship with a Catholic priest, so his relationship was also secret.
No-one should have to experience such hatred, or have to lie about who there are, just because of who they love. Yet this is the world we live in. And whilst laws may have changed, this has been very recent, and prejudice and discrimination still exists. We need to listen to the stories of people from the LGBT community and acknowledge the damage and hurt caused so that we can all live equally.